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My words, my world…

If you are rich, you sound nice too!

I am a big fan of Farhan Akhtar. In 2001, he came out with a movie called “Dil Chahta Hai” and redefined Indian cinema. He is extremely talented and proved that he can script and direct movies. In 2007, with “Rock On”, he proved that he could act as well. But wait, he does not stop there. He also proved that he can sing and this is where things get interesting. He has also proved that he can be a brand ambassador and do modelling as well. Some of the brands he currently endorses are Amway Nutrilite, Britannia Nutrichoice, Code Fashion, Ford Aspire etc. You might see him on prime-time TV or on huge hoardings in metros and in many malls in smaller cities as well.

I am not an expert of songs or voices. But I find his voice very raspy and unpleasant to my ears. I cannot stand most of his songs. Huffington Post did a piece on him in 2016 titled It’s Time To Speak The Difficult Truth About Farhan Akhtar’s SingingBut despite that, he gets invited to perform in rock-concerts around the country. How do the audiences tolerate him? He has his own rock band that does regular gigs in hip circles.

Farhan Akhtar even got featured on the cover of the Rolling Stones magazine in 2016 despite his horrible raspy voice. The Cover of Rolling Stones!!! That’s like having me on the cover of the Vogue magazine. What’s going on here?

I was so intrigued by this observation that I decided to do a little digging on this topic and found a scientific explanation. Farhan Akhtar’s singing popularity is a text book example of a cognitive bias called the “Halo Effect“. Because he is a famous director, actor, model with a greek-god physique that was carved by Michael Angelo himself, his popularity overflows and spills over to other areas like his singing skills. This could create a bias in his audiences who may perceive that he is a good singer too.

Let’s take another example. I teach communication and my research focuses on how audiences react to messages from leaders. This week, I saw a short talk from Richard Branson. He has these series of talks for entrepreneurs called the A to Z of Business. The one I saw was called “P for Presentations”. I immediately opened it and expected it to have a nice message from Branson on how to give Presentations. But at the end of 30 seconds, I felt that Branson was struggling with his words. The content was hollow and the ending was terrible. I was a little disappointed. I looked at the shares and views. They ran in thousands.I went to the page on the Virgin website where this video is hosted. It has some kind of blog where Branson explains the concept more. Here is what Branson says in that blog “One of my all-time favourite orators, Winston Churchill, very cheekily once said: “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”“. Not only this statement is out of context, it is extremely insensitive as well. I saw the comments below. There were a few women who felt offended by his remark but they got buried in the other comments of praise. I was bewildered. This was clearly a shoddy video with bad content. So then why are people around the world going gaga over it?

No surprises again. It is the “Halo Effect”. He is Richard Branson, an underdog who fought British Airlines, a self-made billionaire and a successful entrepreneur, and a media mogul. And just because he is super rich and successful, he can get away with such shoddy presentations and such insensitive remarks. Here is that video and here is the link to that blog

So what does this mean to communication, presentations and charismatic leadership studies? I guess there are many answers. But I would like to leave you with one here in this blog – it means that the charismatic qualities of the speaker play a big role on how their audiences perceive them. If you are already a well-known or popular or a powerful person, your audiences will agree more with you more regardless of your flaws because of the Halo Effect. But if you are just starting your career or don’t have the charismatic qualities, your audiences will scrutinize you more harshly because there is no Halo Effect. So you will have to work harder to make an impact on them.

About the Author

Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Check his online course Present with Confidence and his latest book Public Speaking Kaleidoscope. Follow him @godhwani. Read his other posts on medium or LinkedIn


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