Charisma is a really interesting and powerful personal quality that remains elusive for most people. Whilst it means different things to different people, it is generally accepted as having a strong personal presence and warmth that sets someone apart and enables them to more easily influence others. Certainly the example of someone having an aura when they walk into a crowded room is a common one. Another is the feeling that when in conversation with someone charismatic they are paying you complete attention as though you are the only person in the world at that moment.
The opposite of presence is the feeling you get that someone isn’t really listening, that they are just pretending to pay attention or worse yet, when they are looking at you their eyes are actually searching over your shoulder to see who more important they should be talking to. There is no bigger charisma killer.
I used to think that it was a quality people are born with but in her book, “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism.” Author, Olivia Fox Cabane, suggests that you can learn Charisma thanks to scientific and technological advancements.
She reinforces the importance of charisma with the observation that “with attention spans getting shorter and shorter you also have to make a bigger impact in a shorter amount of time in order to get their attention, capture their imagination and get them to follow you. Charisma can help you make a big impact fast.”
In her book and subsequent interviews with Rachel Salaman she describes Charisma as having 3 components –Presence Power and Warmth.
You can develop charisma by being more present, for instance one quirky but effective technique is to focus on the sensation in your toes. This forces your brain to sweep through your entire body and it gets you very physically present. You obviously do this only for a split second but you can do this several times per conversation it will get you very immediate.
If you find your mind wandering because the conversation isn’t particularly interesting to you, you can pretend that the person you’re speaking to is the lead character, the hero in an independent movie, in a quirky movie and you know how even the most uninteresting character can become fascinating if they’re the hero of the movie you’re watching, pretend that they’re that.
Or you can also focus on the exact colors of their pupils. Everyone’s pupils are a fascinating amalgamation of colours so you can try that.
Power is not what you actually have, it’s what you project. Just like with warmth or presence, people will accept whatever you project, this is all the more true with power. Power is essentially a question of body language.
Yes, other things do come into play, the way people dress, the perception we have of their social class, of course their accent, the perceived level of education ,but frankly body language is number one and what we’re really looking for is the body language of confidence because if someone appears confident, we assume that they have something to be confident about.
The body language of confidence is being the big gorilla who is the alpha male on his territory and he is looking to intimidate other gorillas off his territory. What he would do is pound his chest with his fists as it makes him loud but also as he is inflating his chest and swinging his arms to the sides, he is making himself look big and scary. In human beings this is exactly the way we see how confident people are , in that how much space they are willing to take up.
This is illustrated through the work on body language by Professor Amy Cuddy where she found that confident people simply tended to get more space. They draped themselves over the chair, they used two chairs, they put one foot on the chair, they sat on the desk, they put their feet up on the desk.
Non-confident people make themselves small.
So, imagine yourself as a big gorilla by stretching your fingertips to the ceiling and then stretching them to the sides of the room, drawing in as deep a breath as you can to make yourself as big as you can, that’s going to make you take up more space. Imagine doubling up in size as you inflate, that’s being the big gorilla.
There is an instant boost in your body language because physiology and psychology are so linked. This boost in body language in turn produces an internal chemical boost to make you feel more confident which then of course reflects itself in increased confident body language which then gives you yet another biochemical boost. It’s a virtuous cycle which grows upon itself but needs you to get it going.
Warmth is harder for a lot of us because warmth is uncomfortable and many of us did not develop warmth growing up. Warmth is what I call the messy one, the uncomfortable one, and yet it is absolutely critical because you can have high power and seem impressive but have low warmth and that will not make you charismatic. The way to develop warmth, this is where visualizations really come in, is learning how to tap into your feelings of warmth for another person, even a pet, even a stuffed animal, and bring that forth in whichever conversation you’re in right now.
The brain does not know the difference between imagination and reality, so as soon as you imagine a being, whoever that might be, for whom you have great affection, the brain will send the same cascade of warmth enhancing chemicals through your body which will then affect your body language as it would if that being were actually present. So you are essentially using the placebo effect to your advantage.
What are the obstacles to developing Presence, Power and Warmth?
There are a few but the biggest one is the Imposter Syndrome, which is the feeling that people get that they don’t really know what they’re doing and it is just a matter of time before they’re found out and exposed as a fraud.
This feeling actually hits 70-80 percent of the population and it gets worse the more intelligent and educated people are, possibly because the more you know, the more you’re aware of how small your knowledge is against the sum total of knowledge in your field and therefore the more likely that the Imposter Syndrome will hit.
All of these three characteristics of Presence, Power and Warmth can be inhibited by something like the Imposter Syndrome. This is because if you are trying to be present in a conversation but in your brain there is this constant nagging voice going “it’s just a matter of time before you’re found out and exposed as a fraud,” half your attention is going to go to beating that back.
Sometimes its worse as internal critical voices start saying mean things to you in your head.
Let’s imagine for instance that you say something and your brain goes “Oh God, that was stupid,” as a natural reaction your face is going to wince the minute you hear that internally so that wince was self-directed, that tension in your face was against yourself but the person speaking to you doesn’t know that, all they know is that while you were listening to them, looking at them and perhaps thinking about them, they accurately saw this tension in your face so naturally they are going to assume that all this was about them.