The ABCs of Charisma

James BondNearly all of us want to have at least some charisma. Especially for those of us who are public speakers, who work in sales, strong charisma helps us to engage audiences, build rapport with prospective clients, and create opportunities for personal branding that can greatly enhance our revenue capture. In a word, people with strong charisma tend to have an easier time making money, establishing relationships, and getting what they want out of life in general. On the other hand, almost no one wants to be the guy nobody likes. Most people I run into think I’m very charismatic, yet I was the ‘nice guy’ everybody hated in school. So you won’t be surprised to know I believe charisma can be developed.

What is charisma, then? It comes from an ancient Greek word that meant ‘gift.’ In sacre writings of the Christian faith, it was used to describe spiritual gifts given by God. Today, it’s defined as:

cha·ris·ma
kəˈrizmə/
noun
  1. 1.
    compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.
    “she enchanted guests with her charisma”
    synonyms: charmpresencepersonality, force of personality, strength of character;More

  2. 2.
    a divinely conferred power or talent.

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of a divinely given gift, that’s okay. Think of it then as personal impact. The truth is that to a great degree everyone has at least some charisma, and we can work to improve on our own particular type of charisma.

Now, most of us tend to think that charisma is an inherent trait, and popular culture tends to reinforce this belief with such expressions as ‘you either have it or you don’t,’ and the extreme charisma of celebrities and historical figures seems to enforce this as a fact. I beg to differ. however, and I’ll tell you why.

To some extent, some people are naturally more charismatic than others, yet charisma itself appears to involve conscious effort. There’s a story about Marilyn Monroe going shopping with a friend of hers, and not being recognized by anyone. Her friend was was puzzled by this, and Marilyn, it’s said, told her, “I’m not on stage.” Marilyn then ‘turned on’ her charisma, and before long, she was being mobbed by fans.

In my own small way, I’ve noticed a difference between how people react to me when I’m on stage, and when I’m just trying to leave the venue. When I spoke at an event at The Hard Rock Cafe here in Toronto recently, some people even noted that I was ‘different’ on stage. Indeed, my public speaking tends to attract far more business than all my other channels for attracting clients. To some extent this is because of the content of my speeches, but a good deal of it is because I’ve learned to ‘turn it on’ when I’m on stage.

All charismatic people, when using their charisma, apply what Andrew Leigh, author of Charisma: The Secrets of Making a Lasting Impression, refers to as the ABCs of charisma:

  • Aim. What you want to achieve. This should be specific. When I’m on stage, my aim is to inspire the audience to believe that they can achieve far more. In personal interactions, I’m usually just aiming to make other people feel free to be themselves, because that helps me to see how I can help them.
  • Behavior. Some will say ‘just be yourself.’ I’d say there are specific behavior traits which can be used to reveal your best, most authentic self.
  • Chemistry. The interactions and relationships which occur with others. Think of this as a continuous feedback loop. If you’re not aware of the personal chemistry between you and others, your charisma will suffer setbacks.

We’re going to examine charisma-enhancing behavior in the next post, but for now I’d like you to begin observing your aim  or objective when you’re interacting with others, as well as your own behavior and the resulting personal chemistry. Don’t be in a hurry. Improving your charisma takes time. Once you’ve made some definite observations of your present use of charisma, you can do the following for an immediate shift in its impact:

Smile. A genuine smile conveys warmth and friendly intent.

Make eye contact. Lack of eye contact will make people think you have something to hide, or that you’re not confident.

Use open body language. To put it simply, this is when no part of the body covers the midway point of the bisected body. Crossed arms, for example, usually indicate resistance, hostility, or skepticism.

Relax. Most people don’t bite. Really.

Speak up. Charismatic people tend to speak clearly and calmly.

If you’re really struggling with your charisma, I’d recommend  Andrew Leigh’s book for an in-depth approach. In my next post, I’ll go into detail on how to improve your use of charisma to hep unleash your vision on the world.

Keep the faith!

-Sam