This article ”When management videos fail” was brought on the Danish “Kommunikationsforum” (The Communication Forum) Monday the 2nd of February 2015. Article by Maria Prohazka from Levende Streg.

You probably know the drill. Your marketing team has scheduled an interview with your CEO to talk about the new strategy. This choice of communication is authentic – a professional video interview with top management. That’s good communication, right?

No. It’s not! Most often it’s a bad idea to use video interviews, even if your chief executive has had lots of media training. But why is that so?

The answer to this very intriguing question has to do with how our human mind and body work. And even though we don’t often talk about the autonomic nervous system in business life, we should really take it into consideration – especially when we plan our communication.


We know it already: Sender-receiver models, 20 percent are the words, 80 percent is all the rest. But why is it then that companies all over the world choose to combine the usual intranet article with a lukewarm management video. We see it time and time again! Particularly when the message is really important, sensitive or delicate.

Sure, the chief executive is a man or woman of power – and that brings value to your message. But let’s be honest: how many top executives do you know to be truly awesome on video? You can probably mention a few that are ok. But truly awesome and awe-inspiring? We don’t all work with Steve Jobs! And does it even matter?

As you see, this executive has neither body gestures nor face expressions. He tries to hide his discomfort, but his eyes give him away. Notice how his face expression doesn’t change even though he’s talking about what a successful year it has been.

And that is what counts. Because nervous systems are contagious! We call it emotional contagion.

A large herd of animals on the savannah stands at the waterhole. Occasionally they look up to check for danger like predators, and as soon as one of them picks up something the feeling spreads to the whole flock. In just the same way we pick up vibrations and markers from other human being and their nervous system – also when we see it on video.


In the middle brain there is a neucleus (a small cluster of neurons) called amygdala. The human autonomic nervous system (the portion not volitional and conscious) is regulated among other things by the amygdala.

The amygdala is also the spot that activates our fight-or-flight-mode. The human autonomic nervous system works in a way, where it always check and decodes the micro expressions of other people – in the search for danger signals from our surroundings. And we’re so good at sensing and decoding the signals that we have a clear feeling of the whether the message communicated feels safe – and we can believe it – or whether we need to keep our guards up.

This executive seems very nervous and unfocussed. Notice his eyes. And the way he cocks his head. His back is bend (he doesn’t feel confident – and mentally he’s not in surplus). You can tell his manuscript is lying beside him on the table.

Also your receiver’s amygdala is activated when they have to listen to a ”person of power” from the company. Because there is something at stake all of a sudden. And your receiver will find him or herself in an uncomfortable situation. This means that the brain is on overload to read between the lines when a chief executive speaks up.

So now you can see why it’s a misconception to think that top management will be the best choice for the company videos. Especially when the message is truly important or delicate. In those situations there is even a greater risk of misinterpretation of the message. And many people are prone to overanalyzing such content. You’re pressing the “fear button” of your receiver. And then they won’t pay any attention to your message.


If you keep what you’ve just read in mind and combine it with the newest studies in neuroscience on leadership, management and empathy you should be alarmed.

The newest studies show that people, who feel powerful – or are holding top posts – have more testosterone in their bodies. That means they have less activity in the part of the brain that has to do with empathy.

Here is an example of the good looking video. From Fast Company’s “30 Second MBA” -video series, here with Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez. If your CEO communicates like this, then you have nothing to worry about. He is attentive, have smiling eyes and no apparent discomfort. He has an open expression and relaxed throat muscles.

That means that you have a double risk on recipient and sender. Your receiver reads extra carefull between the lines. And your sender has a particular impact on your recipient’s nervous system, because of the power relationship, but probably also because of nervousness and decreased empathy in front of the camera.


If the result of a management video should be positive, it is crucial that the manager’s nervous system is at rest. It is often not enough to be media trained – it requires a natural charisma which is contagious and motivating. At the same time the leader must be completely convinced of his message without underlying agendas.

In addition, it is important to create emotions in people when you want them to remember a certain message. The reason is that emotion and memory are closely tied together.

If conditions in your company can not live up to that, you can minimize your risk of miscommunication, if you just publish the article.

You can also choose a video form that communicate without so much noise (eg. A narrative video or an animated video). If a message is of potentially unpleasant nature, it is easier for the recipient to grasp when it’s from a neutral place – which can not be read between the lines.

Example of use of mirror neurons: The live drawing video form, made popular by RSAnimate, has been accused of only being a fad, but there is actually a reason why so many people have seen the videos. When you watch the hand drawing, your brain’s mirror neurons thinks that you have been a part of telling the story. Note that the cheap imitations, where the hand is obviously fake, doesn’t have the same effect.

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