Photo courtesy of Mitchell Jordan
The first time my wife met one of my closest friends, she leaned over to me, and simply said, “that laugh”. My buddy was blessed by the gods with one of those deep, whole body types of laughs that is impossible to fake, and equally impossible not to laugh along with. Top this off with a friendly face and a personality that reinforces his positivity and with little to no effort, wherever he goes, he leaves a memorable impression on everyone he meets, actually everyone within earshot.
A word we often associate with someone like my friend whose demeanour immediately puts people at ease while simultaneously igniting a room is “charisma”. Most mortals are not blessed with this type of superpower, I certainly wasn’t. In fact it could be said that I fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, as I grew up with a severe speech impediment. I especially have a difficult time with words that start with the letter “m”, and being that my name is Michael, the word “charisma” was seldom used in my vicinity.
After 38 years of studying charismatic people as an envious on-looker, I have come to the conclusion that the key to being “charismatic”, is working with the strengths you already possess and showcasing them in a way that is authentic and natural to you as an individual.
Below are 6 characteristics that run consistent in charismatic people that can be achieved by anyone as long as they are willing to put in the work.
1. LET YOUR BODY LANGUAGE BOOST YOUR SPOKEN WORD:
If you are anything like me and a bit more introverted than extroverted, use the strength of your body to add confidence to your spoken word. In a now viral TED talk, Harvard researcher, Amy Cuddy provides a strong argument that you can raise your own confidence levels by simply being more aware of your posture. Give it a shot for just 10 seconds and sit up straight (think Superman or Wonder Woman) and breath. The effects are real.
2. PRACTICE BEING PRESENT IN YOUR DAY TO DAY CONVERSATIONS:
The average person interprets speech at an average of 500 words per minute, but most people only speak at a rate of 150 words per minute, leaving plenty of time for mind wandering on the part of the listener. This is again where your non-verbals can come into play and help you to come off as someone who is an attentive listener, a key trait in charismatic people. When listening, be cautious of your micro expressions when you start to loose concentration, give a subtle touch that reinforces your support for the individual you are speaking with. Take advantage of the fact that most people get bored in conversations and their bodies show it by practicing being more present in each conversation.
3. PUT THE FOCUS ON OTHER PEOPLE:
According to Brett and Kate McKay, owners of the highly successful blog and podcast, “The Art of Manliness”, the key to charisma lies in, “the paradoxical secret of charisma is that it’s not about trumpeting your good qualities, but making the other person feel good about theirs”. Again, this is great for the introverts out there for the simple fact that shining the spotlight on others allows for some of the light reach the person doing the shining. By asking good questions, and giving those on the receiving end an opportunity to showcase their best qualities, both people end up looking good, a win-win situation, which is the basis for all great relationships.
4. CONNECT PEOPLE AND FOCUS ON THE INTRODUCTION:
Being known as a “connector” is a skill that will always be in demand and if done properly can really boost your reputation as someone who is charismatic. The truly charismatic want the people in their circle to succeed and are constantly working to expand it. When introducing someone, take the extra time to throw a compliment into the mix by saying some variation of the following, “Hey Ian, this is Steve, the guy I was telling you about who is great with problem solving and may be able to really help you address the challenge you are facing”. Three things happen here. Steve looks good in the eyes of Ian. You look good in both the eyes of Ian and Steve. You look good when Steve and Ian indeed do connect and praise your name going forward, creating a touch of mystery around you, which never hurts in building charisma.
5. GET UNCOMFORTABLE, THEN PRACTICE “STORY-TELLING”:
I know I said that this was a list for introverts to become more charismatic and here I am writing about “story-telling”, but it cannot be avoided. Being comfortable talking about yourself when the conversation turns in your direction is key in creating charisma, and “story-telling” is on this list because it is something that each of us can control and get better at with practice.
All of us have stories of our personal accounts of overcoming an obstacle that show our vulnerability. These “failure” experiences, or “hard lesson to learn” stories, delivered with a light-hearted, yet confident delivery, can go a long way in gaining charisma points. There is no better way to get good at this than getting down on paper a handful of these experiences and recording yourself on your computer prior to taking them to the streets. The difference from “take 1” to “take 10” will be immediately evident, and the more times you tell it, the more you will be able to gauge the engagement levels as you will learn when to raise your voice and when to pause for effect based off of the response of those on the receiving end.
6. AVOID ALL NEGATIVE TALK:
There is a fine line between talking about your short-comings and failures in a light-hearted way, and complaining, and those that master the difference, win. Tony Robbins is fond of saying, “the quality of your life depends on the quality of your questions”. This is a tough skill to master as most of us, present company included, have been oblivious to a big mistake that we have most likely been committing our entire lives.
Odds are high the last time you met with someone you lead with some form of, “What´s up?” or “How is it going?”. This may seem harmless, but what we are really doing is unintentionally leaving the future conversation up to chance, leaving the door open for a laundry list of negative things to come our way. Try starting out your next conversation with something like, “What´s going well in your life right now” or “What is the best thing to happen to you in the last month?” and take note of the high quality conversation that follows.
The best part about becoming more charismatic is that each of the things above can be practiced with each encounter. You can practice your stories with your family and friends before telling it to new people. You can be more conscious of your posture and how “present” you are in each conversation. You can cut out the complaining and lead with positive questions to steer conversations and make other people feel good about themselves. Like any skill it, becoming more charismatic just takes practice and having the guts to fail in order to one day succeed.