Q&A: Be more influential in business

You might think that charisma is something you either have or you don't. But the ability to get people listening to you, and to influence their actions, makes a huge difference in business - and it's a skill well worth developing

Didi Hopkins, senior trainer for the National Theatre's Theatreworks business training programme, explains what personal impact is, and how you can maximise yours.

What is personal impact?

Personal impact is about what you bring into a room, and what others read from that. People get a very good idea of how you're feeling and who you are from how you look and behave.

They might automatically judge you without knowing they're judging you - certainly they're reading you. Personal impact is about being yourself with more skill, and making the most of what you've got.

Can charisma really make a difference in business?

The ability to harness your own personality to influence a group can make a huge impact in the workplace. A tiny change can make a big difference in terms of the way people perceive you.

Actions like varying your tone of voice can really affect others.

Can charisma be learned?

Charisma is not a little bit of magic dust. It's about having presence - being able to listen, answer and field questions, rather than hanging on to a script you've learnt.

Think about Bill Clinton, or any leader, who people talk about as having great charisma. They are able to walk into a room and engage with the people there. Their skill lies with deflecting attention from themselves to their audience.

How can I make a bigger impact when networking?

Ask yourself what you are going to the networking event for. Is it to get your business card out, make a quick connection and run away, or is it about building relationships? If so, you need to be relaxed enough to just have conversations with people.

Think about being a host, even if you're not the host, and taking care of people in that room, rather than just going in for the kill. Take your time, smile and be interested - you'll take your focus off your own nerves, and turn your attention to your audience.

How can I make an impact at business meetings?

Think about first impressions. Take some slow, deep breaths to calm you before you enter the meeting. Then think about how you're going to walk in. Are you going to walk in upright and look confident? Make sure you smile.

You can rehearse. Practise opening a door, walking in, smiling and sitting down. It sounds daft, but it works.

How does body language alter people's perceptions?

There are no hard and fast rules, but to be able to stand upright, to be open and to smile and look at people shows that you want to be there, with them.

Eye contact is very important. Sometimes people go into meetings and are so anxious that they just look down at the floor and wish they weren't there.

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