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Senior Leader Communication Skills: Studying Arianna Huffington

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

We included Arianna Huffington on our "Best Public Speakers" list because of her visual presence, use of humor, and top-down leader communication. Arianna Huffington is an author, syndicated columnist, political commentator and businesswoman. She is a co-founder of The Huffington Post, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and the author of fifteen books. She has been named to Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes Most Powerful Women list.

Leader Communication

We analyzed Arianna Huffington’s 2016 interview with Inc. Magazine's Executive Editor Jon Fine. In the interview entitled "Why Sleep and Success Are Inseparable", Arianna discusses the measurable costs of "productivity culture" and sleep deprivation as well as outlines strategies to increase sleep intake for improved professional function.

Arianna Huffington’s greatest leader communication skills:

  1. Visual Presence: She often smiles and raises her eyebrows which opens up her face (2:23-2:41). This gives the impression that she is warm and approachable. She also maintains good eye contact with the interviewer while briefly looking away as she appears to address the room (5:40-6:21, 6:50-7:15).

  2. Humor: She uses humor throughout the interview. At 4:55, she tells early gym goers, “forget it, just sleep in, and it's going to be much better for weight loss”. Also, when countering the interviewer, she assertively says, “no, the correlation you are drawing is not accurate", but then sweetly adds, "she says politely” (6:40-6:45). Humor builds rapport with the audience and can make a tough topic more digestible.

  3. Top-down leader communication: She uses top-down leader communication even when responding to objections. She starts with the main idea and then gives supporting points. For instance, when she says, “the counter [to successful people who don't get enough sleep] is the cost to mental health”. She then goes on to share examples from several different countries (3:45). This structure for communicating is more assertive.

What Arianna Huffington could do to improve her leader communication skills:

  1. Filler Words: She uses a few filler words, most notably “eh”(1:30, 3:15, 4:00, 6:43, 7:03). To eliminate these, we recommend she give herself a moment to collect her thoughts. While pausing may make the speaker feel uncomfortable, it can be very powerful from the perspective of the audience. In fact, a pause of 3 seconds is sufficient when you want to add emphasis and a 9-second pause is effective when you want the audience to respond.

  2. Upspeak: There are times when she has rising inflection at the end of her declarative sentences (1:39, 2:26, 3:45). When overused, this 'upspeak' can make responses sound more like a question which is a less assertive way of speaking.

  3. Gestures: While she does show good use of gestures such as the karate chop (1:25), the pincer (2:42), and the key point gesture (7:15), she often uses a non-gesture that we call “the claw” (1:50, 2:45, 7:20, 8:19). This is not a precise gesture because it isn't emphasizing anything in particular. Therefore, for the greatest impact, we recommend resetting to a neutral position such as hands on the thighs and only raising her hands to highlight specific parts of her message.


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