6 Questions with Leadership Expert Antonie Knoppers ‘93, MA’95

photo of Antonie Knoppers holding his book, Leading with PresenceAntonie Knoppers ‘93, MA’95, is a leadership and communication trainer, speaker and coach as well as the author of the book Leading with Presence: Fundamental Tools and Insights for Impactful, Engaging Leadership. We were able to connect with Antonie in advance of an Oct. 8, 2021, virtual visit to Brandeis International Business School to learn more about his book, his time at Brandeis and his top communication tips for students. 


What are common mistakes you see people make when it comes to body language and professional presence?
Slumping, fidgeting, taking up less space, using too little volume when they speak, not connecting with others. The list goes on, but those are the most prevalent mistakes I see people make.


Your book, Leading with Presence, explores the use of non-verbal communication to connect with others and gain trust. Can you share a few tips with our students as they prepare for interviews and professional roles post-Brandeis?
So the biggest takeaway is for students to realize just how important non-verbal elements, like posture and voice, have on others. We often think that the content will do the work and that’s all that matters. But if you slump in a job interview, barely make eye contact and don’t connect with the interviewer, chances are you won’t gain the trust or exude the confidence and enthusiasm necessary to land the job. If your body language and voice don’t support what you’re saying, most people will not believe you. Research has proven this.


How did your time at Brandeis shape your current career path?
My time at Brandeis was absolutely wonderful, and I look back very fondly at my 6 years in Waltham. I feel that the professors and the nurturing atmosphere at Brandeis allowed me to pursue all my interests and that Brandeis really supported me in all my endeavors. Brandeis has a very supportive atmosphere. In Yiddish we would say “heimish.” The university pushes its students to thrive and succeed, but it’s not a cut-throat atmosphere. I was able to be an Economics major while at the same time be active in the theater community. Now that I’ve been teaching for the past 12 years as well as acting, I can see just how much my time at Brandeis has influenced my current career path.


As you say, you’ve been a trainer and teacher for 12 years. How has your teaching shifted since the pandemic, and are there areas you encourage people to focus on more now that the business world has embraced remote work?
As we are all working more online, there are many challenges we never had to deal with before Covid. I always tell my participants in the online Presence workshop the following: In order to avoid people multi-tasking or becoming disengaged, you not only have to make your content relevant, but you have to support it with your body language and your voice. If you speak with a monotonous tone, people will start thinking about what to cook for dinner instead of listening to your pitch or presentation. If you slump in your meeting, the message you are trying to convey with conviction will fall flat. Therefore, you have to make sure you use an engaging voice and have your body language match what you’re trying to convey verbally. That means elements such as grounding, sitting aligned and looking into the camera when you have an important message to express.


Does being a introvert or an extrovert impact your ability to become a successful leader?
A lot of people ask me in trainings about this. They think that being an introvert means that it’s harder to be in front of other people, or that it’s harder to be expressive or communicate more clearly or with Presence. But being an introvert only means one thing; it is much more exhausting for introverts to be socially interactive. That’s it. It does NOT mean that an introvert automatically has less Presence or is weaker at communicating. I have seen introverts deliver VERY effective speeches, presentations and pitches. They will just want to take a long nap afterwards!


What can students expect if they attend your “Becoming a Leader” workshop on Friday? 
After Brandeis, you will have to do job interviews, give presentations, attend networking events and, coming from such an esteemed university, most likely manage direct reports quite soon in your careers. This event will give you tools how to inspire, motivate, enthuse and convince others using your body language and voice. Crucial elements to succeed in the business world!


For more helpful tips, pick a copy of Leading with Presence and attend Friday’s CSE event, Becoming a Leader with Antonie Knoppers ’93, MA’95!

By Rachel Wasdyke
Rachel Wasdyke Director, Corporate Engagement & Strategic Communications Rachel Wasdyke