Faces vs. Facts: What research suggests about emotion in thought leadership

How can you become an executive thought leader?

You’ve got great data.
You’ve done the analysis.
You’re ready to rock their world.
But there’s still one problem:
Nobody’s going to believe you.

Well, almost nobody, if you’re a C-Suite type. Research shows that the vast majority of people — some 63% — simply aren’t going to trust what you tell them if you’re a top corporate executive. The annual tracking study in question (the Edelman Trust Barometer) cites, among other perennial corner-office sins, “inauthenticity of communications” as one of the prime causes of your credibility gap.

I thought of this during my recent interview with Brian Walker, CEO of AE Marketing Group, when, off camera, he said he’d counsel other CEOs to — of all things — be vulnerable.  Be authentic. Be human. And let the world feel it.

Trust trumps facts and emotion dominates reason

Now, it’s not about convincing your market that you’re a good, kind, feeling person — we’re talking business, after all (and everyone who’s been around the block more than once should recognize the inherently transactional nature of relationships for profit). No, it’s more that top executives need to be transparent, open and honest if they want to be trusted. Because — for better and worse — trust trumps facts and, as yet other research shows, emotion dominates reason in our decision making (and that applies in both B2B and B2C contexts).

Consider what Alan Zorfas, Chief Intelligence Officer of insights firm Motista had to say in the Branding Roundtable I moderated on “The EQ of Branding.” He reported that “Motista’s [decade’s worth of] data on every major consumer-facing and B2B category shows that emotional connection with a brand always predicts higher customer value.” In other words, brands that want to create value must create an emotional link.  And when it comes to thought leadership, you are a brand. But exactly how can you make that emotional connection with your hoped-for audience?

Seeing is believing: Brand face beats brand voice

 Too many would-be business thought leaders obsess, almost exclusively, about their thoughts. Yes, your thinking has to be useful, insightful and, hopefully, original. But even the deepest, most disruptive idea will fall flat if it doesn’t connect, if it doesn’t make the leap from well-reasoned observation to interpersonal “aha!”

Researchers have long known that getting to “aha!” is much easier face-to-face than strictly intellect-to-intellect. Nearly 50 years ago, Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer in researching non-verbal communication, offered this formula about the power and persuasiveness of faces: “Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling,” adding that “facial expression will dominate and determine the impact of the total message.” The upshot? Let your audience see you. Up close. Personal. And with regularity.

Video captures both the thoughts and the thinker

All of which brings us to the power of video in creating thought leadership — specifically simple, strong, focused-on-the-face video interviews of you, the thinker (and other thinkers you choose to include in the conversation). On video, you’re not just explaining your thoughts but bringing them to life right in front of your audience. They hear your words, but they also feel your passion. They see how flush with intensity you are, or how you exude confidence in your well-thought-out conclusions. They size you up, and then mark you down as either believable or not.

Nowhere does the old maxim about seeing is believing apply more thoroughly than with thought leadership. How do you think TED talks initially got so popular —via the TED whitepapers? No, via the TED conferences, on the TED stage, one person to many, but still, crucially, person to person.

For thought leaders to go viral, there’s nothing like “emotional contagion”

Impact and believability are the core benefits of capturing face-borne emotions on video — but there’s another significant advantage. It’s related to the phenomenon of “going viral,” because people “catch on” by observing. If they can see you and hear you, in person or on video, their brains are actually more capable of taking in both the knowledge and emotional context you’re imparting than if they simply read your words. Researchers have even posited the idea of “mirror neurons,” emotional receptors in the brain that help you internally reflect, and integrate, the emotions you’re seeing and hearing. So when you smile or are enthusiastic in a video, your audience smiles and feels enthusiastic, too. They’re catching on, and so are your ideas.

Lights, camera, believability

With that in mind, return to answer the original question — how do you become an executive thought leader?

You’ve got great data.
You’ve done the analysis.
You’re ready to rock their world.
Now put your best facts, and face, forward…
on video.

For a face-to-face explanation (in person or on Skype) of how this approach can boost the impact of your thought leadership efforts, please contact our Chief Conversation Officer.


About the Author
Chuck Kent, the Chief Conversation Officer at Lead the Conversation, is a writer, brand strategist, content creator and expert interviewer. He is also a Contributing Editor for Branding Magazine, where he created and moderates the monthly Branding Roundtable (which keeps him in constant conversation with business leaders from around the world).

Lead the Conversation is an executive content creation service that makes it easier for busy top management to develop authentic, compelling thought leadership content, such as videos, bylined articles and blog posts. We also create opportunities for conversation leadership, such as interview series and other forums.

Lead the Conversation provides a practical way to develop authentic thought leadership content for busy executives. We also help the C-Suite create and lead industry conversations, to which they can invite other leaders, turning prospects into relationships

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