Can Soft Skills, Like Charisma, Be Learned? Work in Sports Podcast e135

Soft skills are so important for getting jobs in the sports industry... but can they be learned? Can you develop attributes like confidence and charisma? Listen in, because we're going to talk about it!

Hi everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, Director of Content for and this is the Work in Sports podcast.

Quick housekeeping note – I didn’t publish an expert interview last week for the first time in over a year! It was Thanksgiving and when I published an episode on the day before Thanksgiving last year…it bombed, and it was kind of a wasted effort.

So you know what… I didn’t publish one this year, and I’m totally OK with that. I also ate a lot of stuffing… but as a vegetarian there was no turkey. Actually, I take that back, my brother in law came over and brought a 20 lb turkey all for himself.

No he didn’t eat the whole thing… I’m guessing he still has leftovers a week later.

Anyway, before I get any further off track – since there was no expert last week, this week is Indiana Pacers Community Relations Coordinator Kristina Wedseltoft – it’s a great interview I think you will all like very much!

As for today – I had a question come in that really challenged me, which I love. Here goes:

From Nathaniel in Michigan,

Hi Brian, thank you for the podcast, your effort is greatly appreciated. I have a question I’d love for you to dig into for the podcast. You’ve talked many times before about getting the interview means you’ve already passed the “skills test” and that during the interview is about your soft skills, like charisma and cultural fit.

Well, I am the living proof you are correct in your assessment.

I have the skills needed for the industry, and I keep getting interviews, but I can’t close the deal. I am an introvert, and so much of it stems from my lack of charisma. I just don’t have that swagger that I see exuding from others. I know I don’t have this element, so I retreat mentally into my corner.

My question is two-fold – Is charisma something you can develop and learn. And how can an introvert get a job in the sports industry?


Wow. This is a big one Nathaniel, and I really thank you for asking it. It takes a lot of courage to admit and acknowledge your weaknesses, but it’s also the first step in fixing the problem.

Let’s talk about charisma first – it is really just a person with compelling attractiveness. Everyone is naturally drawn into this person. But I think the idea gets overused. There just aren’t that many people who are truly charismatic. Many people think they are – you know that guy right, the one who thinks he’s ruling the conversation and wooing the crowd, all his jokes are hitting, but in reality everyone is thinking to themselves, “Oh my god will someone shut this guy up”.

To be truly charismatic, I believe, starts with intentional listening and engaging where appropriate -- anyone can do that.

Charisma isn’t about trying to be the loudest voice or get the most laughs… it’s about making the other people around you feel special. We’ve been around people who talk about themselves a lot, their experience, they accomplishments, their successes – this is not being charismatic.

We’ve also been around people who listen with eye contact, ask smart follow up questions, are present in the moment, share their own experiences where relevant. That’s being likeable, that’s being connected to the moment --- that’s being charismatic

It’s about presence. Presence is all about being truly engaged with others, showing the other person that they have your complete attention. 

Ok ,so how do you take action with this concept of presence – since I’m all about actionable advice - How do you develop presence:

  • Pay attention to every word that comes out of someone else's mouth.
  • I read this suggestion once and it stuck with me - Imagine you're watching a movie or reading a book and you're slowly learning about the main character. Invest your attention and your focus on them.
  • Do not sit there and think about what you're going to say while they talk. It might seem like the proactive thing to do, but it only shows that you're not really listening, just preparing to retort.
  • I was in a parenting class once, and they talked about whole body listening. No distractions, no multitasking…intentional full-body listening. That’s your goal when speaking to people.

After presence and listening – charisma is about confidence. Now, Nathaniel, this is probably where you get tripped up, and I’m guessing many others do to.

Confidence is so important in the sports industry.

Think about this scenario for a second – Nathaniel says he’s introverted, so some superficial, unknowledgeable sports career advice person may advise that he leans into a job in analytics, something that would let him crunch numbers in the corner.

That’s BS advice.

Here’s why – even number crunching spreadsheet loving analysts need to communicate their findings with the decision makers. They need to tell a GM or a coach or a scout how they came to a certain conclusion about a player, or a team they are facing or some other scenario. They must be able to share their data with confidence, or no one is going to react to their work.

There is no job in the sports industry that exists in a vacuum. Every job requires confidence.

So how do you develop confidence? More actionable advice coming up:

1: Be OK with your ignorance. This is something it’s taken me years to learn, so I’m not saying it’s easy… but it did unlock a lot of trapped confidence for me. Here’s what I mean, you don’t know everything, stop comparing yourself to everyone.

Storytime – I started at CNN Sports Illustrated and I was so lacking confidence, because I imagined everyone around me knew more than I did. I looked at peers heard them cite some obscure stat, or make some incredibly insightful analysis…and thought, “Oh crap, I’m in over my head.” None of this was true, I was not in over my head, but I let everyone else’s collective knowledge make me feel insecure.

Then one day, this is going to sound random but stick with me, I’m working on my car with my father in law. My father in law was a total badass. Mans man. Knew everything about carpentry, welding, cars, home repairs… you name it. I looked up to him in many ways. We’re working on my car and I ask him a question and he says “Good question… I don’t know”.

Now, that may not seem like much. But for someone with all the knowledge in the world to be confident enough to say “I don’t know” and know it wasn’t going to reflect poorly on his ability or competence was the ultimate in confidence.

In my career I had a hard time saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” because I imagined people judging me for my ignorance.

Be OK with not knowing everything. Saying with confidence, “Good question, I don’t know…but I can find out” is pretty powerful stuff. It’s a shift from the defensive, fake it til you make it, I’m going to pretend I know more than I really do… to just being curious and being open to learning something you acknowledge you don’t know.

Confidence comes down to how you feel in your own skin, and your own mind. Nathaniel, if you are getting interviews that means you have the skills – lean into those things you feel most confident about. Lean into the things you know that you know. Start from there.   

Confidence is an aura too. It exudes from you. Once you recognize it’s OK to not know everything, and that there are things you know very well…you’ll start to stand up a little straighter and feel a little more like smiling. Now confidence is looking a lot like charisma.

Remember charisma isn’t about being the yuck it up guy, the one talking the most or the loudest—it’s about being the person people want to engage with and want to connect with.

Last thought on charisma – being able to engage people in conversation is an important part of overcoming introverted tendencies and developing charisma. This is the nightmare situation for many introverts I know…so I want to keep this simple.

There are two things everyone can do to spark conversation:

1: Ask questions of the other person. If you are introverted or fear you lack charisma, keep it simple by letting the other person do most of the talking. How do you do this… by asking questions of them! I’m one of those people that hates small talk, it’s fake and superficial so I’m not great in those scenarios. What I’ve learned to do if always flip the burden of conversation onto the other person by asking questions of them. My wife jokes and says I have a cheat sheet of questions always running through my head. Like we’ll be at a family reunion, and every conversation is just me asking questions of people and listening. She laughs, because she’s knows it’s my technique… and it always, always works.

2: Being nice. It is so much easier to get a conversation going by being nice and smiling. A simple smile and eye contact is the easiest way to give the person you are speaking with a feeling they are special in that moment… and that is the crux of being charismatic.

So to sum this up… it is possible to become charismatic and to learn to be magnetic. And once you learn these things you can apply them to your interview process.

Eye contact, smiles, asking questions, having a presence, embracing your own ignorance, slowly building confidence in yourself and your own skin. All of these things will contribute to a better experience in life…not just in the interview.

Wednesday… Kristina Wedseltoft Indiana Pacers Community relations coordinator  – talk to you then!

By Brian Clapp | November 26, 2018
Sign In or Register to access all articles and insider tips for help in your job search.

Search for Sports Jobs