The most common charisma myth is that you have to be naturally boisterous or outgoing to be charismatic. One of the most interesting research findings is that you can be a very charismatic introvert. In Western society, we place such emphasis on the skills and abilities of extroverts that introverts can end up feeling defective and uncool. But introversion is not a terminal handicap. In fact, as we’ll see, it can be a strong advantage for certain forms of charisma.
It is also a myth that you have to be attractive to be charismatic. Countless charismatic figures were far from fitting classic standards of beauty. Churchill was not generally considered handsome and certainly not known for his sex appeal. And yet he was one of history’s most influential and powerful leaders.
Yes, good looks do confer some advantage. But it’s very possible to be charismatic without a striking face or figure. In fact, charisma itself will make you more attractive. When instructed to exhibit specific charismatic behaviors in controlled experiments, participants’ levels of attractiveness were rated significantly higher than before.
Last but not least, you won’t have to change your personality. In order to become more charismatic, you don’t have to force yourself into one particular personality style or do something that is against your nature.
Instead, you will learn some new skills. Through charisma training you will learn how to adopt a charismatic posture, how to warm up your eye contact, and how to modulate your voice in ways that make people pay attention. Three quick tips to gain an instant charisma boost in conversation:
- Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of your sentences.
- Reduce how quickly and how often you nod.
- Pause for two full seconds before you speak
These are simple tweaks, not deep value changes. Your personality will stay the same as long as you want it to. Charisma is a skill that can also be developed through conscious practice, and because we’re interacting with people all the time, we get to use our charisma tools on a daily basis.
First Your Inner State
Being present—paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in your thoughts—can yield immense rewards. When you exhibit presence, those around you feel listened to, respected, and valued.
Because your body language telegraphs your internal state to those around you, in order to be charismatic—to exhibit presence, power, and warmth—you must display charismatic body language. Because your mind can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, by creating a charismatic internal state your body language will authentically display charisma.
In terms of achieving charisma, your internal state is critical. Get the internal state right, and the right charismatic behaviors and body language will pour forth automatically.
Overcoming the Obstacles
To be charismatic, you must first learn to overcome the primary obstacle to charisma: internal discomfort.
Skillfully handle internal discomfort with a three-step process: destigmatize your discomfort, neutralize your negative thoughts, and rewrite your perception of reality.
Destigmatize and dedramatize uncomfortable feelings by remembering that they are survival instincts and a natural part of the human experience. Think of others who’ve gone through this before—especially people you admire—and see yourself as part of a community of human beings experiencing the same feeling at the same moment.
Neutralize unhelpful negative thoughts by remembering that the mind often distorts reality and filters your environment to highlight the negative.
Think of your negative thoughts as graffiti on a wall—you may find it an ugly sight, but just because you see an ugly sight doesn’t mean you’re an ugly person.
Rewrite reality by considering a few helpful alternatives to your current perspective. For maximum effect, write down your new realities by hand and describe them in vivid detail.
The Power of Visualization
Creating an optimal mental state is crucial to unleashing your full charisma potential.
Visualization can help you create the right mental state and thus the right charismatic body language. To make visualizations most effective, vividly engage all five senses in your imagination.
Just as professional athletes and performers do, plan a gradual warm-up to reach your peak charismatic performance. Before important events, avoid experiences that would impair your mental state and plan warmth- and confidence-boosting activities instead.
Your body affects your mind. Flip the visualization technique on its head and practice adopting the right posture and facial expressions to access more of almost any desired internal state.
Using Your Body to Change Your Mind
Try out the following postures to see for yourself just how powerfully the arrangement of your body can affect your mind and your feelings.
First, adopt the body language of someone who’s utterly depressed. Let your shoulders slump, your head hang, your face sag. Now, without moving a muscle, try to feel really, truly excited. Go ahead, try to see if you can create any excitement without moving. It’s nearly impossible.
Now do the opposite. Physically spring into excitement. Jump up and down as if you’ve won the lottery, smile the biggest smile you can, wave your arms in the air, and while doing all this, try to feel depressed. Again, it’s nearly impossible.
Here are a few more physiological changes to play with:
For confidence, assertiveness, and to be able to emanate gravitas, imagine playing the role of a military general—take a wide stance, puff up your chest, broaden your shoulders, stand straight, and confidently put your arms behind your back. Feel the effect of this posture internally.
For a boost in both energy and warmth, stand up, stretch your hands as high up as possible, inhale as much as you can—imagine your rib cage expanding, doubling in size—make the biggest smile you can and look upward, hold for a second, and then relax everything.
Charismatic First Impressions
First impressions happen within seconds and can affect not only the rest of the interaction but also the rest of your relationship with that person.
People feel most comfortable with those who are similar to them in some way, including appearance and behavior.
Do your homework and decide how much you want to adapt your dress and word choice to your environment.
A good handshake can go a long way. Likewise, a bad one can leave an unfavorable and lasting first impression. It’s worth spending some time perfecting the right way to greet someone.
Great conversationalists keep the spotlight on the other person and make them feel good about themselves.
Know how to gracefully exit a conversation, leaving others with positive feelings.
Speaking With Charisma
Never interrupt people, and occasionally pause a second or two before you answer.
Get graphic: use pictures, metaphors, and sensory-rich language to convey a compelling, charismatic message.
Use as few words as possible, and deliver as much value as possible: entertainment, information, or good feelings.
To emanate vocal power, use a slow, measured tempo; insert pauses between your sentences; and drop your intonation at the end.
To emanate vocal warmth, you need to do only one thing: smile, or even just imagine smiling.
Approach difficult people individually and choose the right charisma style for each person and each situation.
Express appreciation for their help or positive impact: it’ll make them rationalize their actions in your favor.
When delivering bad news, get into a state of compassion, and show warmth and care in your timing, body language, and verbal language.
When delivering criticism, get into a state of goodwill, and focus the request for change on specific behaviors rather than on personal traits.
When delivering apologies, show presence in hearing them out completely, show warmth in your apology, and show power in how you’ll correct the mistake or prevent its reoccurrence.
With phone and e-mail communication, use all the tools you’ve learned for in-person communication.
Presenting with Charisma
Your presentation should have one main, simple, crystal-clear message, supported by three to five key points.
Support each point with an entertaining story, interesting statistic, concrete example, or vivid metaphor.
Make your presentation short and entertaining. Watch the value of each sentence.
Arrive early if you can; walk the stage to visualize and own it.
Use a wide, well-balanced stance and take up as much space as possible on stage. Limit superfluous gestures that distract the audience’s attention.
Speak as if you’re sharing a secret with the audience, telling them something special and confidential.
Use smiles and fluctuation to warm your voice.
Keep eye contact for one to two seconds per person.
Pause frequently and deliberately to show confidence and add drama as well as give yourself a chance to
The Charismatic Life: Rising to the Challenge
Charisma changes the way people relate to you, and challenges come along with the benefits. You become more of a magnet for praise, but also for envy, and you may be held to higher standards than others. And at the highest levels, being charismatic may set you apart enough for it to be a lonely experience. Sharing credit, expressing praise for others, and showing vulnerability can help mitigate these possible side effects. People may also feel more comfortable with you in the moment, and open up in ways they regret or feel ashamed of later.
Charisma can also be powerful in the wrong ways. People may want to follow you even when you’re wrong, rely on you too much, or take unjustified risks because of their faith in your ability to fix anything. Charisma is a powerful tool that you need to use responsibly.