The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
Olivia Cabane

Ended: March 8, 2014

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.
I’ve also taught these charisma tools at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, after UC Berkeley’s business school asked me to create a complete curriculum for charisma and leadership.
CHARISMATIC BEHAVIOR CAN be broken down into three core elements: presence, power, and warmth. These elements depend both on our conscious behaviors and on factors we don’t consciously control. People pick up on messages we often don’t even realize we’re sending through small changes in our body language.
We may think that we can fake presence. We may think that we can fake listening. We believe that as long as we seem attentive, it’s okay to let our brains churn on other things. But we’re wrong. When we’re not fully present in an interaction, people will see it. Our body language sends a clear message that other people read and react to, at least on a subconscious level.
The good news is that even a minor increase in your capacity for presence can have a major effect on those around you. Because so few of us are ever fully present, if you can manage even a few moments of full presence from time to time, you’ll make quite an impact. The very next time you’re in a conversation, try to regularly check whether your mind is fully engaged or whether it is wandering elsewhere (including preparing your next sentence). Aim to bring yourself back to the present moment as often as you can by focusing on your breath or your toes for just a second, and then get back to focusing on the other person.
Being seen as powerful means being perceived as able to affect the world around us, whether through influence on or authority over others, large amounts of money, expertise, intelligence, sheer physical strength, or high social status. We look for clues of power in someone’s appearance, in others’ reaction to this person, and, most of all, in the person’s body language. Warmth, simply put, is goodwill toward others. Warmth tells us whether or not people will want to use whatever power they have in our favor. Being seen as warm means being perceived as any of the following: benevolent, altruistic, caring, or willing to impact our world in a positive way. Warmth is assessed almost entirely through body language and behavior; it’s evaluated more directly than power.
The combination of power and warmth would have been very rare and very, very precious: a powerful person who also viewed us kindly could mean the difference between life and death in critical moments. Figuring out who might want to help us and who has the power to do so has always been critical to our survival. That’s why our reaction to power and warmth is wired so deep. We react to these qualities as we do to fat and sugar. Our ancestors survived by having a strong positive reaction to fat and sugar—they aided our survival and were scarce in our original environment. Though they’re abundant today, our instinct remains. The same holds true for charisma: though the combination of warmth and power is far easier for people to attain today, it still plays powerfully on our instincts. From lab experiments to neuroimaging, research has consistently shown that they are the two dimensions we evaluate first and foremost in assessing other people.
Charisma has three essential components: presence, power, and warmth. 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.
Any physical discomfort that affects your visible, external state—your body language—even slightly may affect how charismatic you are perceived to be. When interacting with someone, assume that he or she will feel (at least on a subconscious level) that whatever you do relates to him or to her.
Any internal discomfort—either physical or mental—can impair how you feel, how you perform, and how others perceive you. Physical tension caused by something as simple as the sun in your eyes produces the same changes in body language as a more serious discomfort, like anxiety or irritation. Prevention is optimal: plan ahead to ensure comfort in clothing, location, and timing. Aim to stay aware of any physical sensation of discomfort. If physical discomfort arises during an interaction, act promptly to alleviate or explain it. Use techniques such as the responsibility transfer to reduce the feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction that play out in your body language and inhibit your charisma. Understand that mental negativity such as anxiety, dissatisfaction, self-criticism, or self-doubt is normal and something that everyone experiences.
The next time you think you see coldness or reservation in someone’s face while they’re talking to you, try to remember that it could simply be the visible signs of their internal discomfort. You might be catching the surface tremors of an internal tempest, and there’s a good chance that it has nothing to do with how they feel about you or what you’ve just said.
Understanding that my thoughts are not necessarily valid was a revelation for me. It took a lot of practice, but these days, neutralizing unhelpful negative thoughts often happens so fast that I take it for granted. It has become an automatic reflex that often kicks in as soon as I notice an unhelpful thought that could create internal negativity.
If you’re ready to go all out, add movement to make your visualizations reach an entirely new level. Because physiology affects psychology (yes, your body affects your mind—more on this in the next chapter), creating certain movements or postures can bring up specific emotions in your mind. Try to think of what gesture you tend to make when you achieve something, like a good golf shot, or when you get really good news. Is it the classic fist pump? Or maybe you raise both arms in the air and shout “YES!” By adding this particular gesture (and words, if any) to the end of your visualization, when your confidence is soaring, you’ll engage your entire physiology and “lock in” the triumphant feeling, maximizing the effect of the exercise.
Before important meetings: One of the most impressive young businesswomen I know seems to always float on a cloud of confidence, and things somehow always go well for her. When Silvia goes to pitch a deal, people who know her take for granted that she’ll win the day. Silvia recently confided that visualization is one of the secrets to her success. Before key meetings, she’ll imagine “the smiles on their faces because they liked me and they are confident about the value I’m bringing them. I’ll imagine as much detail as I can, even seeing the wrinkles around their eyes as they’re smiling.” She visualizes the whole interaction, all the way through to the firm handshakes that close the meeting, sealing the deal.
I’ve even found visualization helpful before writing important e-mails. Just as the right visualization helps you get into the right body language so that the right signals flow effortlessly, you can use visualization to get into specific emotional or mental states so that the right words flow as well. If, for instance, your message needs to communicate warmth, caring, and empathy, you’ll have a far easier time finding the right words if you can get yourself into a warm and empathetic state. Visualizing a scene that brings up these feelings—imagining a young child coming to tell you her troubles at school—will help prime your mind for the right language to flow.
Anytime you’re feeling anxious: The surest way to feel better when you’re feeling anxious is to flood your system with oxytocin. Often called the neuropeptide of trust, oxytocin instantly reverses the arousal of the fight-or-flight response. One of my favorite neuroscience resources, the Wise Brain Bulletin, suggested that a twenty-second hug is enough to send oxytocin coursing through your veins, and that you can achieve the same effect just by imagining the hug. So the next time you’re feeling anxious, you might want to imagine being wrapped up in a great big hug from someone you care about.
The first step is to get in touch with warmth directed toward life in general, and your life in particular. This falls under the general category of gratitude. Gratitude has a special advantage for those of us who sometimes find it uncomfortable to connect with others. It can give us charismatic warmth without having to connect with anyone. Then you’ll experiment with warmth toward others—these are the realms of goodwill, altruism, compassion, and empathy. Last, you’ll explore what seems to be, for most of us, the least comfortable kind of warmth: warmth for yourself. This is the emerging discipline of self-compassion.
Putting It into Practice: Gratitude Focus on the present: The next time you find yourself annoyed at some minor thing, remember that letting your mind focus on the annoyance could impair your body language. To counter this, follow the suggestions below: ♦ Sweep through your body from head to toe and find three abilities you approve of. You could be grateful that you have feet and toes that allow you to walk. You might appreciate your ability to read. Try it right now: ♦ Scan your environment. Look around and find three pleasant sights—even the smallest ones. Maybe you can see the sky and appreciate its shades of color. Perhaps you can notice the texture of the table you’re sitting at or even the paper right in front of you. Try it right now: Use a third-person lens: For this technique, you’ll need just a few minutes to sit down, a pen, and some paper. ♦ Start to describe your life as if you were an outside observer, and focus on all the positive aspects you can think of. ♦ Write about your job—the work you do and the people you work with. Describe your personal relationships and the good things friends and family members would say about you. Mention a few positive things that have happened today and the tasks you have already accomplished. ♦ Take the time to write down this narrative. Just thinking about it won’t be as effective. Imagine your own funeral: The last gratitude-enhancing technique, used in many highly regarded leadership seminars despite its outlandishness, is the most intense—do not take it lightly. Have you ever felt flooded with relief after finding an important item you thought had been lost or stolen? (It happens to me every time I lose my keys.) This instinctive sweeping sense of gratitude can be remarkably powerful, and it taps into wells of gratitude deeper than almost any other practice. You can manufacture this gratitude-producing sense of relief by imagining your own funeral. Within seconds, this visualization can bring you into a state of emotional aliveness and, as you realize you still have your life, to a state of gratitude. The main point of this exercise is to help you gain access to various shades of warmth and give you a chance to get comfortable with these feelings. This is one of the few exercises that can fairly effectively help you feel gratitude for life. It can be very moving, bring you great insights, and give you clarity on deeply held values, but it can also make you feel quite stirred up. So for this one, please ensure that you’re in an environment where you would feel comfortable being emotional. I often recommend doing this at home. Give yourself time to get into the exercise, time to experience it, and time to come out and process it. As with all visualizations, it’s worth getting as detailed as you can—get all five senses involved. If you’d prefer to have my voice guiding you through the process, you’ll find an audio recording online at ♦ Sit or lie down, close…
Your willingness to focus on others’ well-being is all you need to positively change your body language. This will be enough to give people the feeling that you really care about them, and is one of the core components of charisma.
Putting It into Practice: Compassion Goodwill and compassion give you warmth to balance your power, and can save you from appearing overconfident or, worse, arrogant. They can also be a stealth tool, a silver bullet that turns around difficult conversations. Take the three steps below to practice compassion for someone you know: Imagine their past. What if you had been born in their circumstances, with their family and upbringing? What was it like growing up in their family situation with whatever they experienced as a child? It’s often said that everyone you meet has stories to tell, and that everyone has a few that would break your heart. Consider also that if you had experienced everything they have experienced, perhaps you would have turned out just like they have. Imagine their present. Really try to put yourself in their shoes right now. Imagine what it feels like to be them today. Put yourself in their place, be in their skin, see through their eyes. Imagine what they might be feeling right now—all the emotions they might be holding inside. If you really need compassion dynamite, look at them and ask: What if this were their last day alive? You can even imagine their funeral. You’re at their funeral, and you’re asked to say a few words about them. You can also imagine what you’d say to them after they’d already died.
Helen was clearly very bright. She could make forceful and persuasive arguments, and she came across as organized, trustworthy, and a good listener, intensely focused on what people were saying. But she wasn’t charismatic, and she realized it. “I know I’m interesting,” she told me. “I’m a good listener, and a good conversationalist. But I don’t think I’m likable, and I’m definitely not charismatic.” Helen had plenty of self-confidence. So what was she lacking? Warmth. People were impressed by how much she knew, but they didn’t feel cared for. Helen couldn’t emanate warmth because she had a hard time feeling it—whether for others or for herself. Instead, she usually felt a little alienated, disconnected. In our first meeting together, she very sincerely wondered aloud, “Why would people like me? Even I don’t find myself likable.” As you can imagine, this cold internal message resonated in her head, played across her body language, and diminished how much warmth she could emanate. For Helen, the path to charisma was through self-warmth. Warmth as we’ve described it so far is directed outward—toward other people, or toward life in general. But warmth can also be directed inward, toward ourselves. This self-directed warmth is called self-compassion,
First, let’s distinguish three key concepts: Self-confidence is our belief in our ability to do or to learn how to do something. Self-esteem is how much we approve of or value ourselves. It’s often a comparison-based evaluation (whether measured against other people or against our own internal standards for approval). Self-compassion is how much warmth we can have for ourselves, especially when we’re going through a difficult experience.
When they hear the term self-compassion, people often assume it is synonymous with self-indulgence or self-pity.8 Surprisingly, the opposite is true. Solid behavioral science research shows that the higher one’s level of self-compassion, the lower one’s level of self-pity. You can think of the difference between the two this way: self-compassion is feeling that what happened to you is unfortunate, whereas self-pity is feeling that what happened to you is unfair. In this way, self-pity can lead to resentment or bitterness, and to feeling more isolated and alienated. In contrast, self-compassion often leads to increased feelings of connectedness.
Self-compassion delivers an impressive array of benefits: decreased anxiety, depression, and self-criticism; improved relationships and greater feelings of social connectedness and satisfaction with life; increased ability to handle negative events; and even improved immune system functioning.
When I tell them they can be perceived as powerful simply by projecting a more confident body language, my clients are sometimes concerned that confidence is something you’re either born with or acquire during early childhood experiences. They believe that just changing their body language would be faking it. In fact, you really can gain actual self-confidence as well as the instant perception of greater self-confidence just by changing your body language. Yes, it might feel unfamiliar or awkward at first, a bit like riding a bike without training wheels. But if you use the techniques, it will work. And if you keep at it, you will get comfortable with it. Eventually, it will become second nature.
Putting It into Practice: Warming Up When warming up for an important event, follow this checklist to prepare your internal state and maximize your charisma. ♦ Go over your schedule for the hours leading up to the event. Think about how the activities and meetings you have planned will affect you. ♦ If you can, avoid any difficult encounters and aim for confidence- or warmth-boosting experiences instead. ♦ Create your own music playlist for the internal state you’d like to have. You could make one for energy and confidence, one that makes you feel warm and empathetic, and another that makes you feel calm and serene. This exercise is a lot of fun in itself, and you can add new songs as often as you’d like.
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. You can increase both warmth and confidence by practicing gratitude, goodwill, and compassion for others as well as for yourself. 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.
Remember that one of the foundations of charisma is making other people feel good about themselves. Keeler knew how to make others feel that their opinions mattered, and that they were important. He truly believed that even the most junior staff could have pearls of wisdom to impart. One executive who worked with him told me: “You’d see him go to plant manufacturers and engineers, and you could see that he held them in such high regard; he revered them. And in turn, they revered him—they’d light up when he’d walk into the room.”
What people notice: We assess focus charisma entirely through demeanor. Presence is key: because we can perceive any distracted, inattentive body language, such signals would quickly undermine focus charisma.
When to use it: Focus charisma is appropriate for almost all business situations. It’s particularly useful when you need people to open up and share information. In fact, this is a great charisma style for management consultants or those in other professional services, such as lawyers, accountants, and financial advisers. Focus charisma can also be very helpful in difficult situations, such as negotiations or to defuse hostile conversations. On the other hand, avoid focus charisma when you need to appear authoritative or during emergencies when you need immediate compliance.
Conveying visionary charisma requires the ability to project complete conviction and confidence in a cause. In this way, visionary charisma is based on power. However, it is also based on warmth. Visionary charismatics aren’t necessarily warm people, but they do feel strongly, even passionately, about their vision. And to be truly charismatic, their vision must include a certain amount of nobility and altruism.
When to use it: Visionary charisma is important at times when you need to inspire people. It’s particularly helpful when you want to inspire creativity.
One of the reasons that the Dalai Lama has such a powerful effect on people is his ability to radiate both tremendous warmth and complete acceptance. People who may have never felt completely, wholeheartedly accepted suddenly feel truly seen and enveloped in acceptance. This is kindness charisma in action. Kindness charisma is primarily based on warmth. It connects with people’s hearts, and makes them feel welcomed, cherished, embraced, and, most of all, completely accepted. What people notice: Like visionary and focus charisma, kindness charisma comes entirely from body language—specifically your face, and even more specifically your eyes.
When to use it: Kindness charisma is perfect anytime you want to create an emotional bond or make people feel safe and comfortable. It can be critical in some situations, such as when you have to deliver bad news (see chapter 12). It can also be a surprisingly effective tool when dealing with difficult people (and chapter 12 will cover that, too). However, just as with focus charisma, you may want to avoid it when you need to appear authoritative or when there’s a risk that people might get too comfortable and share too much (thankfully, you have chapter 13 to help you avoid this).
Authority Charisma: Status and Confidence This form of charisma is possibly the most powerful one of all. Our instinctive deference to authority can take epic proportions, and, of course, can be equally turned toward good or evil. Colin Powell and the Dalai Lama embody authority charisma, but so did Stalin and Mussolini. The human reaction to authority runs deep; it’s hardwired into our brains.1
Your main aim if you want to gain authority charisma is to project power by displaying signs of status and confidence. Luckily, the two most important dimensions of status and confidence are also the ones over which you have the most influence: body language and appearance. Because it is affected so strongly by body language, your authority charisma depends on how confident you feel in that moment. This is where the tools you gained in chapter 5 come in: you can use visualizations, warm-ups, or your body to change your mind to get into a confident mental state. To project power and confidence in your body language, you’ll need to learn how to “take up space” with your posture, reduce nonverbal reassurances (such as excessive nodding), and avoid fidgeting. You may need to speak less, to speak more slowly, to know how and when to pause your sentences, or how to modulate your intonation. We’ll cover all the specifics of emanating power through your body language in chapter 9. As far as appearance goes, choosing clothing that appears expensive or high-status is one of the easiest ways to look authoritative.
When to use it: Authority charisma works well in many business situations, and in any situation where you want people to listen and obey. It’s particularly useful during a crisis (see chapter 12), and whenever you need immediate compliance from people. On the other hand, you might want to avoid it in social settings such as weddings or funerals or in sensitive business situations such as delivering bad news. Avoid it also when you want to encourage creativity or constructive feedback, as it can inhibit critical thinking in others. In these cases, use visionary, focus, or warmth charisma instead.
Putting It into Practice: Working with Introversion If you’re naturally uncomfortable in large social gatherings, the next time you’re at a party, don’t force yourself to be sociable right away or to be “on” for the whole evening. Instead, try these easy tweaks. Give yourself five minutes after you arrive to hang back and observe. Then give yourself little “introversion breaks” during the party: five-minute pockets of solitude. I know one highly charismatic introvert who often does exactly that during both social and business events. When she reemerges to mingle, people frequently comment on how radiant she is.
Choosing the right charisma style depends on your personality, goals, and the situation. You can alternate among different charisma styles or even blend them together. Don’t force yourself into a charisma style that is just too awkward for you. Doing so would negatively affect how you feel and how others perceive you. The more charisma styles you can access, the more versatile and confident you will be. Stretch out of your comfort zone in low-stakes situations. Stick with styles you already know well in high-stakes situations. Let goodwill be your safety net. Coming from a place of genuine goodwill gives you the best chance of getting your charisma right.
If they start asking about you and you want to refocus the conversation on them, use the bounce back technique. Answer the question with a fact, add a personal note, and redirect the question to them, as follows: Other Person: “So where are you moving to?” You: “To Chelsea [fact]. We fell in love with the parks and the bakeries [personal note]. What do you think of the neighborhood [redirect]?” Remember, it’s all about keeping the spotlight on them for as long as possible. “Talk to a man about himself, and he will listen for hours,” said Benjamin Disraeli. In fact, even when you’re speaking, the one word that should pop up most often in your conversation is not I but you. Instead of saying “I read a great article on that subject in the New York Times,” try “You might enjoy the recent New York Times article on the subject.” Or simply insert “You know…” before any sentence to make them instantly perk up and pay attention. To make yourself even more relatable, adjust your choice of words, your breadth and depth of vocabulary, and your expressions to suit your audience: focus on their fields of interest and choose metaphors from those domains. If they’re into golf and you want to talk about success, speak of hitting a hole in one. If they sail, a catastrophe becomes a shipwreck.
First, don’t wait too long to end it. Otherwise, you and your partner will feel the strain and become uncomfortable. The easiest way to exit is, of course, to have an official reason for doing so. That’s one of the many reasons to be a volunteer or acquire some official duty at parties. When you’re “on duty,” people will actually expect you to spend no more than a few minutes with them. Another way to exit a conversation with grace is to offer something of value: Information: an article, book, or Web site you think might be of use to them A connection: someone they ought to meet whom you know and can introduce them to Visibility: an organization you belong to, where you could invite them to speak Recognition: an award you think they should be nominated for Offering value will often create in others a feeling of warmth and goodwill toward you, and your departure from the conversation will be haloed by the impression of generosity you’ve created. Wait until your conversation partner has finished a sentence, and say something to the effect of, “You know, based on what you’ve just said, you really should check out this Web site. If you have a card, I’ll send you the link.” As soon as your counterpart gives you a business card, you have the perfect opportunity to say, “Great! I’ll e-mail you soon. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
Once a conversation is over, don’t waste time worrying about what you said, what you wish you hadn’t said, or what you’ll say next time. As the MIT Media Lab studies showed, what impacts people isn’t the words or content used. Rather, they remember how it felt to be speaking with you. You might not remember the exact content of conversations you had a week ago, but you probably do remember how they felt. It’s not the words but the conversation’s emotional imprint that remains. And if you use all the tools we’ve just covered, the emotional imprint will be simply splendid.
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.
We’re about to cover three keys to communicating presence: attentive listening, refraining from interrupting, and deliberate pausing. Listening comes first and foremost, because listening lays the groundwork for the presence that is fundamental to charisma.
Good listeners know never, ever to interrupt—not even if the impulse to do so comes from excitement about something the other person just said.
Master listeners know one extra trick, one simple but extraordinarily effective habit that will make people feel truly listened to and understood: they pause before they answer. The pianist Artur Schnabel once said, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”2
When someone has spoken, see if you can let your facial expression react first, showing that you’re absorbing what they’ve just said and giving their brilliant statement the consideration it deserves. Only then, after about two seconds, do you answer. The sequence goes like this: They finish their sentence Your face absorbs Your face reacts Then, and only then, you answer Now, I’m not saying this is easy. It takes confidence to bear silence, both because of the awkwardness you may feel and because of the uncertainty of not knowing what they’re thinking during those two seconds. But it’s worth it. Several of my clients told me that this one simple technique had a major impact for them. The people they interacted with seemed to feel more relaxed and better understood, and they were willing to share more and open up—a high return for just two seconds of patience.
For many people, compliments feel both pleasant and a little awkward, and they don’t quite know how to handle them. Many of us either turn bashful or modestly deflect the compliment by saying something like “Oh, it’s nothing…” Unfortunately, doing this sends a message to your admirer that they were wrong to compliment you. They will probably feel rather foolish, and there’s even a chance that they will associate this experience of feeling foolish with you. If you do this enough, pretty soon they’ll stop trying. If, on the other hand, you make them feel good for complimenting you, they’ll enjoy feeling good about themselves, and so will want to do it again. The next time you’re given a compliment, the following steps will help you skillfully handle the moment: Stop. Absorb the compliment. Enjoy it if you can. Let that second of absorption show on your face. Show the person that they’ve had an impact. Thank them. Saying “Thank you very much” is enough, but you can take it a step further by thanking them for their thoughtfulness or telling them that they’ve made your day.
Clinton is known to make everyone he’s speaking to feel as if they were the most important person in the room. How can you make people feel this way? First, think about how you would behave if you were indeed speaking to the most important person in the room. You would probably want to hear everything they had to say. You’d be truly interested, maybe even impressed, and that attitude is exactly what will make people feel great about themselves and associate all those feelings with you.
It’s not just metaphors that can paint the wrong picture. Some common phrases can have the same effect. When you tell someone, “No problem,” “Don’t worry,” or “Don’t hesitate to call,” for example, there’s a chance their brain will remember “problem,” “worry,” or “hesitate” instead of your desire to support them. To counter this negative effect, use phrases like “We’ll take care of it” or “Please feel free to call anytime.”
Studies have consistently shown that audience ratings of a lecture are more strongly influenced by delivery style than by content.8 Your voice is key to communicating both warmth and power, but there isn’t just one charismatic voice. You can choose to play up different aspects of your voice depending on what you want to convey and with whom you’re communicating. When the MIT Media Lab concluded that they could predict the success of sales calls without listening to a single word, these are the only two measurements they needed: Ratio of speaking to listening Amount of voice fluctuation Earlier in this chapter, we explored how to balance speaking with listening. The second important vocal feature is fluctuation. The degree to which your voice fluctuates affects your persuasiveness and your charisma. Increasing voice fluctuation means making your voice vary in any of the following ways: pitch (high or low), volume (loud or quiet), tone (resonant or hollow), tempo (fast or slow), or rhythm (fluid or staccato).
Putting It into Practice: Vocal Power The guidelines below will help you broadcast power through your voice. Speak slowly. Visualize the contrast between a nervous, squeaky teenager speaking at high speed and the slow, emphatic tone of a judge delivering a verdict. Pause. People who broadcast confidence often pause while speaking. They will pause for a second or two between sentences or even in the middle of a sentence. This conveys the feeling that they’re so confident in their power, they trust that people won’t interrupt. Drop intonation. You know how a voice rises at the end of a question? Just reread the last sentence and hear your voice go up at the end. Now imagine an assertion: a judge saying “This case is closed.” Feel how the intonation of the word closed drops. Lowering the intonation of your voice at the end of a sentence broadcasts power. When you want to sound superconfident, you can even lower your intonation midsentence. Check your breathing. Make sure you’re breathing deeply into your belly and inhale and exhale through your nose rather than your mouth. Breathing through your mouth can make you sound breathless and anxious.
KEY TAKEAWAYS Power, presence, and warmth are important for both charismatic speaking and charismatic listening. Great listening skills are key to communicating charismatic presence. Never interrupt people, and occasionally pause a second or two before you answer. People associate you with the feelings you produce in them. Avoid creating negative associations: don’t make them feel bad or wrong. Make people feel good, especially about themselves. Don’t try to impress them—let them impress you, and they will love you for it. 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.
Words are grasped first by people’s cognitive minds, their logical side, which gets to work on understanding their meaning. Body language, in contrast, affects us on a visceral, emotional level. It’s this emotional level that you need to access in order to inspire others to follow, care for, or obey you. Business guru Alan Weiss likes to say, “Logic makes people think. Emotion makes them act.” Which would you rather have? If you speak only to people’s logical mind, you’re missing half the playing field.
Your body language is particularly important if you’re in a position of leadership because of the process known as emotional contagion. Behavioral scientists define this as “the process by which the emotions expressed by one individual are ‘caught’ by another.” Charismatic people are known to be more “contagious”; they have a strong ability to transmit their emotions to others. As a leader, the emotions conveyed by your body language, even during brief, casual encounters, can have a ripple effect through your team or even your entire company.
Imitating someone’s body language is an easy way to establish trust and rapport. This technique, which is often called mirroring or mimicking, is the conscious application of something that many charismatic people do instinctively. When you consciously mirror someone’s body language, you activate deep instincts of trust and liking. For this reason, it can be a great aid when you need people to open up. A former political journalist mentioned how effective mirroring was during interviews. “People get share-oriented,” he told me. They just instinctively start sharing more. Several studies across the world have found that mirroring someone’s body language can get them to pick up your dropped items, buy your products, or give you a better deal. Mirroring even makes you more attractive to others.6 During your next few conversations, try to mirror the other person’s overall posture: the way they hold their head, how they place their feet, the shifts in their weight. If they move their left hand, move your right hand. Aim also to adapt your voice to theirs in speed, pitch, and intonation. Because people focus primarily on themselves while interacting, they usually won’t notice that you’re mirroring unless you are exceedingly obvious about it. However, here are some ways to increase subtlety: Be selective: do only what feels natural to you. For instance, some gestures are gender-specific. Use variations in amplitude: if they make a big gesture, you could make a smaller one. Use lag time: let a few seconds elapse before you move into a mirrored position.
As Darius’s story shows, mirroring someone’s body language is often enough to achieve rapport and sometimes enough to bring them around to your point of view. Mirroring is also one of the few techniques that can help overcome a bad first impression. It’s extraordinarily effective. In fact, I can tell you that although I teach this material, the techniques still work on me even when I realize people are using them! But what about cases in which the other person is exhibiting negative body language? Do you still mirror then? Well, it depends. In some situations, you want to first mirror their body language, then gradually lead it in a more positive direction.
On the other hand, there are instances where you do not want to mirror a person’s body language. If their demeanor is angry or defensive, mirroring would only escalate the tension. Say you’re meeting with a manager who has denied a request you made, and who is sitting in a defensive position—leaning back with his arms and legs crossed and his hands balled into fists. Rather than mirroring, try breaking him out of his posture by handing him something: a piece of paper or a pen—whatever works. And then, as soon as he’s in a new position, distract him by giving him new information or changing the subject while you mirror his posture to reestablish rapport. Remember, our physiology affects our psychology. This link between physiology and psychology is also the reason it’s so important to get someone who is in an angry, stubborn, or defensive posture to change their body language before you attempt to change their mind. As long as their body is in a certain emotional mode, it will be nearly impossible to get their mind to feel something different.
Putting It into Practice: Charismatic Seating Choices The next time you want to establish warm rapport with someone, avoid a confrontational seating arrangement and instead sit either next to or at a 90-degree angle from them. These are the positions in which we feel most comfortable. In fact, this is an exercise you can try out with a partner. ♦ Start a conversation sitting next to each other. ♦ After five minutes, change positions so that you’re sitting across from each other. You’ll likely feel a clear difference in comfort level. ♦ After another five minutes, move to a 90-degree angle and feel the difference. ♦ Finally, come back to your original position sitting next to each other. Pay close attention to the rise and fall of feelings of trust and comfort throughout the exercise.
If you want someone to feel comfortable, avoid seating them with their back to an open space, particularly if others are moving behind them. This kind of seating position causes the breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure to increase rapidly, especially if the person’s back is toward an open door or a window at ground level.9 And by association, their discomfort would likely affect their perception of you.
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who kept looking over your shoulder to see if someone more important and interesting than you might be arriving? Those roaming eyes are definitely not charismatic. Good eye contact is incredibly important. Profound eye contact can have a powerful impact on people; it can communicate empathy and give an impression of thoughtfulness, wisdom, and intelligence. You simply cannot be charismatic without it. In fact, eye contact is one of the main ways charismatic masters make you feel that you are the most important person in the room.
Two of the most common eye-contact issues people have are lack of eye contact due to shyness and lack of eye contact due to distraction. Either, unfortunately, can ruin your charisma potential. One technique works equally well for both of these: delving into sensations. As you look into someone’s eyes, pay attention to the physical sensations you are feeling in that very moment. If shyness is the issue, this helps to dedramatize the discomfort. If distraction is the issue, this technique will help you keep your mind focused in the present moment. You can also look at the different colors you see in their eyes, the different shades playing around their pupils.
be charismatic, you also need to know how to use the right kind of eye contact. The degree and the precise kind of tension that shows around our eyes dramatically impact how we are perceived. Les Fehmi, a neuroscientist specializing in this field, found that it all comes down to the way we pay attention. If we’re in narrow, focused, evaluative attention—imagine viewing the world through the eyes of a police officer—our stress system will be on constant, low-grade alert. This brings our eyes into sharp focus, increases our stress responses, and results in both our face and our eyes tensing.11 It greatly inhibits the amount of warmth we can project. Charismatic eye contact means switching to a softer focus. This immediately relaxes our eyes and face, and quiets down our stress system. Here are three simple steps to help you switch to a soft, open focus: First, close your eyes. Focus on the space around you, the empty space in the room. Now focus on the space filling the entire universe. That’s it—you’ve moved into “soft focus.” Putting It into Practice: Charismatic Eyes To truly understand how different your face appears when your eyes are relaxed and open, go see the transformation for yourself. ♦ Find a room with a mirror where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. ♦ Close your eyes and think of a recent annoyance—some minor issue that’s been bugging you lately, or an unpleasant task such as doing your taxes. ♦ When you feel the irritation take hold, open your eyes and look closely in the mirror. Note the tension around your eyes, their narrowness. ♦ Now close your eyes and think of something that would induce warm feelings—a recent pleasant experience, like time spent with a good friend. ♦ When the warmth has arisen, open your eyes and look at that precise kind of relaxation. That’s what warmth looks like. ♦ Close your eyes once more and think of an exciting time when you felt full of confidence and on top of the world—receiving a triumph, an award, some brilliant news. ♦ When you’ve accessed the feeling of confidence, open your eyes again and note closely what they look like now. That’s what confidence looks like.
In human terms, we read confidence the same way: how much space people are willing to take up. Deborah Gruenfeld, organizational behavior professor at Stanford’s business school, says that “Powerful people sit sideways on chairs, drape their arms over the back, or appropriate two chairs by placing an arm across the back of an adjacent chair. They put their feet on the desk. They sit on the desk.” All of these behaviors, she says, are ways of claiming space. The next time you’re out in a crowded environment, practice getting people to move aside for you. You could even do this on your way to work. First, visualize what a big gorilla would look like charging down the street. Then adopt the corresponding body language: imagine you’re a big gorilla about to go charging down the street and let your body express that. Take up as much space as you can. Inflate your chest and charge through the crowd. You might even swing your arms as you go, taking up yet more space. When you first start trying out this confident body language, it can feel a little scary. But it’s well worth it. What’s the worst that can happen? You bump into someone. Use that as an opportunity to practice switching into kindness charisma with a quick visualization to increase your warmth. Imagine the person you’ve just bumped into is a good friend or see them with angel wings.
Anytime your breathing is shallow, you activate the stress response. It’s hard to feel calm, relaxed, and confident when you’re not getting enough oxygen and your body thinks it’s in fight-or-flight mode. Putting It into Practice: Being the Big Gorilla This is a great exercise to use before any meeting or interaction where you want to both feel and broadcast confidence—for instance, before a job interview, or before meeting someone who’s a bit intimidating. Follow these seven steps to convey confident body language: Make sure you can breathe. Loosen any clothing if need be. Stand up and shake up your body. Take a wide stance and plant your feet firmly on the ground. A wide, stable stance helps you both feel and project more confidence. Stretch your arms to the ceiling, trying to touch it with your fingertips. Now stretch your arms to the walls on either side of you, trying to touch them. Bring your arms loosely to your sides, and roll your shoulders up and then back. INFLATE. Try to take up as much space as possible. Imagine puffing up like a gorilla, doubling in size. As Stanford’s Gruenfeld found, people who assume expansive poses (taking up more space) experience a measurable physiological shift. In one experiment, assertiveness- and energy-promoting hormones rose by 19 percent, while anxiety hormones fell by 25 percent. Assuming a strong, confident physical posture will make you feel more confident and more powerful. As you feel more powerful, your body language adapts accordingly. This in turn gives you yet another biochemical boost, and the cycle builds upon itself. All you have to do is get the cycle going, and if you keep practicing, confident body language will become second nature.
Can you imagine James Bond fidgeting? How about tugging at his clothing, bobbing his head, or twitching his shoulders? How about hemming and hawing before he speaks? Of course not. Bond is the quintessential cool, calm, and collected character. He epitomizes confidence. This kind of high-status, high-confidence body language is characterized by how few movements are made. Composed people exhibit a level of stillness, which is sometimes described as poise. They avoid extraneous, superfluous gestures such as fidgeting with their clothes, their hair, or their faces, incessantly nodding their heads, or saying “um” before sentences. These gestures, which behavior experts identify as low-status, are often signs used by someone wanting to convey reassurance to the person they’re interacting with. The desire to convey reassurance can stem from two different sources: Empathy: wanting to ensure that the other person feels heard and understood and knows you’re paying attention Insecurity: wanting to please or appease the…
When you want to increase your poise, there are three major issues to look out for. The first is excessive or rapid nodding. Nodding once for emphasis or to express agreement is fine and can be an effective communication method, but nodding three or four times in rapid succession is not. This is what one of my clients has come to call “the bobble head.” The second hindrance is excessive verbal reassurance: making a sound, such as “uh-huh,” or a half-sentence, such as “Oh, I agree.” Done once, and consciously, this is fine; multiple times per sentence is not. The third issue is restlessness or fidgeting (tapping your pencil or foot, or rearranging items on the table). Fidgeting decreases presence, thus charisma. Even when you have warmth, confidence, and are mentally present, if you are physically restless, you can’t be charismatic. Your body language is sending distracting signals. I know one…
Catch yourself when you find yourself nodding or verbally reassuring, and try to replace it with stillness and silence. Aim to get comfortable with silence, inserting pauses between your sentences or even midsentence. If you want to speed up the process, ask a friend or colleague to tell you whenever they catch you nodding or reassuring. One very effective trick is to carry around a stack of one-dollar bills and commit to ripping one up every time you trip. For maximum effectiveness, ask a friend, spouse, or colleague to help catch whichever habit you want to break.
While our words speak to a person’s logical mind, our nonverbal communication speaks to a person’s emotional mind. Nonverbal communication amplifies verbal communication when the two are congruent. When verbal and nonverbal messages contradict, we tend to trust what we see in the other person’s body language more than what we hear them say. Through emotional contagion, your emotions can spread to other people. As a leader, the emotions conveyed by your body language, even during brief, casual encounters, can have a ripple effect on your team or even your entire company. To communicate warmth, aim to make people feel comfortable: respect their personal space, mirror their body language, and keep your eyes relaxed. When people come to you in need of reassurance, first mirror their body language, then lead them to more calm, open, and confident positions. When people are defensive, break their body language lock by handing them something to look at or something they will have to lean forward to take. To project power, take up space (be the big gorilla) and be still (adopt a regal posture). Cut out verbal and nonverbal reassurances like head bobbing and excessive uh-huh-ing.
This technique has become known as the Ben Franklin Effect. Having lent Franklin the book, the opponent had to either consider himself as inconsistent (having done a favor for someone he disliked) or rationalize his action by deciding that he actually rather liked Franklin. “I did something nice for this person, so I must like him. I wouldn’t have agreed to do a favor for someone I dislike. That wouldn’t make sense.” Using this technique encouraged the opponent to rationalize his actions in Franklin’s favor. How can you use this technique to your advantage? You could indeed ask your opponents for their help or ask them for a favor. Better still, ask them for something they can give without incurring any cost: their opinion. Asking for someone’s opinion is a better strategy than asking for their advice, because giving advice feels like more effort, as they have to tailor a recommendation to your situation, whereas with an opinion, they can just spout whatever is on their mind.
Best of all is to call upon the benefits of rationalization through something they’ve already done for you. Find ways to remind them of any help they’ve given you in the past. Express your appreciation and gratitude, highlight the choice they made, the effort they put in; and if they put their reputation on the line for you in any way, play it up. Remember, it’ll make them rationalize their actions in your favor. “Wow, I really did go all-out for this person. I must really like them.”
Maria, a young MIT graduate who’d recently joined a new company in Boston, told me she combined several of the tools to alleviate the resentment she felt toward two of her colleagues. “They’re good people, but their behavior really got me angry. And because they didn’t apologize, the resentment just kept building.” She didn’t feel quite confident enough to demand an apology, but couldn’t let this resentment simmer either, because she needed to work well with both of her teammates. So Maria wrote a venting letter to get everything off her chest, describing in detail how she felt about the situation. Then she wrote out their imagined return apologies. “Writing the letter and receiving the apologies felt so liberating! I had a surprising feeling of satisfaction and could really feel the resentment dissipate.” The next day, in the hour before her team meeting, she reread the apologies and used the zooming-out technique to see the whole situation from afar, to see how small the whole thing really was. Finally, she visualized a warm moment of triumph. She also told me that during the meeting, imagining both of her colleagues with angel wings really helped. “This was a test for me. And it worked! I cannot tell you how different the experience and the outcome were. I cannot tell you how good it felt. I know I both felt and showed warm self-confidence. Wow.”
Candles and firelight have the same positive distracting effect. This is why they’re so prized in romantic situations, when comfort and ease are key. These constantly moving elements give people the feeling that there’s something happening in the background that they can turn their attention to when they need a distraction. Background music, of course, serves partly the same purpose.
There are four crucial steps to charismatically delivering criticism. First, think about your timing and the location. Try to be as empathetic as possible in your choice of both. Consider the individual’s levels of stress and fatigue. With criticism (or with “constructive feedback”), try to provide it as soon as possible after witnessing the behavior you want to change. Just be sure the person is in a physically and emotionally receptive state when you do so. Second, get into the right mindset, one of compassion and empathy. Yes, even when delivering criticism, your compassion will play out across your body language and affect the entire interaction in a positive way. Warmth is also important here. Accessing kindness or focus charisma will ease the situation, whereas authority charisma would worsen it. When people feel that you have their best interests at heart, it can change the dynamic entirely. Chris, an executive from Los Angeles, told me about a former boss who he felt was truly invested in his success. This boss, when pointing out areas of improvement, would remind Chris that he wanted him to be promoted as soon as possible and that’s why he was pointing out the things that needed to be better. To access the right mental state, you can also try thinking of a person whom you highly respect just before you deliver criticism. You might think of a favorite grandparent, mentor, spiritual figure, or anyone who is important to you. If you were to make this comment to them, or in front of them, how would you word your criticism? In what ways do you see your comments changing now? Try to remind yourself of this regularly throughout the difficult conversation and imagine the respected mentor watching you. Third, decide exactly what points you want to make: be specific. Focusing on a few key points rather than making an exhaustive list will prevent the other person from feeling overwhelmed. In addition, if your criticism is too general, their danger-wary brain might imagine the worst possible interpretations of your message. Fourth, depersonalize. As much as possible, communicate that what you’re critiquing is the behavior, not the person. It’s harder to find common ground when someone feels that their intentions or character traits have been criticized. Be very wary of assuming you’ve accurately guessed a person’s motives. Instead, focus on observed behaviors and verified facts. Even when focusing on the behavior, aim to make the criticism as impersonal as possible. The wrong way to do this would be to say: “Why do you always procrastinate on presentations until the very last minute?” This is both personal and generalized. Instead, zero in on one observed behavior: “When you wait until the very last minute to prepare the presentation, I feel anxious.” After all, we create the feelings of anxiety in our bodies—it’s our decision to become upset. If possible, don’t mention their actions at all. Just explain what’s going on for you: “When I don’t see a…
Once you’ve started on a positive note, you can bring up the actual issue you want to address. Tell people exactly what you want to see from them, as opposed to what you don’t want to see. Teachers are taught “Don’t have don’t rules,” warning them that if they tell their class, for instance, to “not put the beans in their ears,” they might find half the students promptly doing so. When you tell the person you are criticizing the corrective action you’d like to see, depersonalize the behavior change just as you had the criticism. Rather than asking, “Could you get the presentation done earlier?” say, “In the future, I’d greatly appreciate it if the presentation could be ready a few days in advance.” That takes who was right or wrong off the table and focuses instead on something you can both agree on without anyone having to win or lose.
Legendary diplomat Benjamin Franklin admitted in his memoirs to learning this lesson the hard way. As a young man, having found one of his adversaries in error, he felt quite right in pointing out the error, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the man had erred. He made his point—and he made an enemy for life. Franklin came to realize that the short-lived pleasure of being right was not worth the long-term negative consequences. From then on, he adopted the practice of “denying [himself] the pleasure of contradicting others.” He would instead begin by observing that “in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared to be some difference.”
First, as always, get into the right mental state. This means, first and foremost, forgiving yourself. Yes, I’m serious. Though it may sound counterintuitive, having warmth toward yourself—even though you may be at fault—is necessary to prevent making the situation worse through negative body language. It will greatly help avoid any sign of defensiveness in either your voice, your posture, or any part of your facial expression. So use all the tools we’ve covered to access and stay in a state of self-compassion. Forgiving yourself and getting into a good mental state also helps you avoid appearing overly apologetic, subservient, or insecure. With the confidence that accompanies a positive internal state you can embody both warmth and contrition, yet still be seen as coming from a place of strength. Now that you’re in the right mental state, let’s turn to the other person. The graver the offense, the more you should strive for a personal touch. To be satisfied, the person receiving the apology may need to see remorse in your face or, at the very least, hear it in your voice. Because so much of our communication is nonverbal, when you apologize in person you have the greatest number of tools at your disposal: body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone, in addition to your choice of words. On the phone, you have only your voice and words to work with, and you have even fewer instruments at your disposal in an e-mail. On the other hand, some people find it easier to handle such difficult situations with the distance that a written medium provides. Written communication has the advantage that you can put hours of thinking into a few lines of communication, and really get them right. Putting something in writing can also be a powerful statement. You are in a sense making it permanent; you are willing to be held to account.
On the phone, always ask, “Is this a good time for you?” before launching into conversation. No matter how important your information or how pleasant your call, bad timing means bad results for you. The person may be under a deadline or in the midst of a crisis. Once you’re in a conversation, pay attention. You need to be as focused as if you were face-to-face—perhaps even more so, as you have fewer visual clues (such as body language) to read and must rely only on auditory signals. Focus and be quiet. Do you think you can get away with eating, drinking, or working on your computer while talking on the phone? Not so fast. Eating and drinking are out. Even if you think you’re being quiet, the person will hear you chewing and swallowing because receivers are specifically made to amplify sound. People will just as surely hear you typing and wonder what it is you’re really paying attention to. Reading your e-mail or surfing the Web are also inadvisable—too often, this will cause a slight lag in your response time, which will make you sound like your mind is wandering. Delayed vocal response can have the same effect as delayed facial expressions. If your mind is wandering, your distraction might show. Being present on the phone is at least as important as it is in person. In fact, it’s easier to project presence in person because of the many different ways you can communicate. By phone, you need to work that much harder at it for it to be received.
To communicate presence, Michael Feuer, the founder of OfficeMax, says that he often closes his eyes when listening. I was struck by how good a listener he was: even on the phone, I could feel the intensity of his listening, how well he absorbed everything I was saying. For best results, get up from your desk and away from all distractions. Stay standing and walk around (your voice will sound more energetic) while focusing entirely on the phone call. Just as actors do when they lend their voices to puppets, use the same body language techniques as you would in person. As actors know, this will greatly enhance your voice. Remember the smile studies that showed that listeners could identify sixteen different types of smiles based on sound alone.
Here’s one specific—and surprisingly effective—recommendation for phone charisma, courtesy of author Leil Lowndes: Do not answer the phone in a warm or friendly manner. Instead, answer crisply and professionally. Then, only after you hear who is calling, let warmth or even enthusiasm pour forth in your voice. This simple technique is an easy and effective way to make people feel special. I recommend it to all my business clients…
When writing e-mails, you can apply all the tools and principles you’ve learned in the past sections. Review a few of your past e-mail messages. How often does the word I appear, as opposed to the word you? Does the e-mail speak about you and your interests first? Don’t try to fight your natural tendency (we’re hardwired to primarily care about ourselves, after all). Instead, write out the e-mail as you normally would, but before you…
Just as in speaking, watch the return on investment of your sentences: measure the length of your e-mail against the value it was delivering. I give many of my clients the assignment to read over their e-mails before they send them. They must trim as many extra words as possible until there is nothing left that could be deleted. To paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The…
KEY TAKEAWAYS 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…
You, too, will often be communicating with attention-starved audiences who will devote only part of their attention to what you are saying. If you can keep this one fact firmly in mind while you craft your presentation, and design your speech accordingly, you’ll be more effective than 80 percent of the speakers out there.
Select the single most important idea you want to convey and make it as crystal clear and easy to understand as you possibly can. Ideally, you should be able to articulate your message in one sentence. Within this one main message, have three to five key supporting points. The human brain thinks in triads (from Olympic medals to fairy tales, it’s three medals, three princes, three bears), and it cannot immediately comprehend numbers greater than four.* Each one of your supporting points should open with entertaining anecdotes, fascinating facts, compelling statistics, great metaphors, examples, and analogies. Stories have a particularly strong impact on people. In fact, audiences will often remember first the story, and only second the point the story was making. Since the dawn of time, people have been telling stories as a way to transmit information to one another.
Using metaphors and analogies can be a highly effective way of capturing your audience’s imagination. For maximum impact, choose images and analogies that would appeal to a young audience. The speeches that give us a feeling of awe and wonder are those that appeal to our childhood roots. If you’re mentioning the fact that there is untapped potential in your customer base, liken yourselves to “bounty hunters” or “treasure hunters” searching for “hidden gold.” Make even numbers and statistics personal, meaningful, and relatable for your audience. Steve Jobs did this masterfully when he gave his audience two ways of measuring iPhone sales: “Apple sold four million iPhones so far,” he said. “That amounts to selling twenty thousand iPhones every single day.” He did even better with memory cards: “This memory card has twelve gigabytes of memory. That means it holds enough music for you to travel to the moon and back.”
Once you’ve created your structure, you can start crafting your sentences. The pointers given in Chapter 8 will also help you choose your words here: It’s all about them. Use the word you as often as possible. Use their words, their stories, their metaphors: hole in one for golfers, shipwreck for sailors. Try also to match your verbs to your audience: lead or initiate for businessmen, build for engineers, craft for artists. Get graphic. The brain thinks in pictures, so choose language that is vivid and sensory-rich. Beware of negotiations: avoid the “no problem” trap. Keep it short. With each sentence, ask yourself: What value is this sentence delivering? Even when crafting stories, give only details that convey comprehension or enjoyment. Think sneak preview, not full-length movie.
You’re going to be in the spotlight, so think carefully about the message you want to convey through your clothing. Is it authority? Power? Warmth? Keep in mind what social psychologists’ research reveals about chromatic effects:2 Red conveys energy, passion. Wear red to wake up an audience. Black shows you’re serious and that you won’t take no for an answer. White exudes honesty and innocence, which is why defendants often choose it in the courtroom. Blue emits trust. The darker the shade, the deeper the level of trust it elicits. Gray is a good neutral, the quintessential color of business. Orange and yellow are not recommended. Because they are the first to attract the human eye, they are also the first to tire it.
When celebrity comedian Jerry Seinfeld finally got his first chance at the big time—a six-minute spot on The Tonight Show—he practiced those six minutes for six months. As he recalls, “By the end of those six months, you could have slapped me, shaken me, or held me under water, I would have still given you those six minutes with pitch-perfect timing.” Charisma takes practice. Steve Jobs, who appeared so masterful on stage, was known to rehearse important presentations relentlessly. Just as a duck appears to be sailing smoothly on the surface of a lake while powerfully paddling below the waterline, it takes a whole lot of effort for a presentation to appear effortless. When a speech is important I practice until every breath is perfect, because knowing I’ve got the speech so well mastered allows me to be spontaneous. I know that I have muscle memory to fall back on. When you know that a particular presentation will have a significant impact on your career, it’s worth rehearsing until you feel that it’s part of your very bones. One interesting technique used by magicians is to run through the entire presentation once with their eyes closed. Another good practice is to have your speech audiotaped or, better yet, videotaped, and to count what professional speakers call irritants. These are any sounds or movements that do not add to your message. Because the audience is watching your every move, every sound and facial expression you make is a form of communication that demands a portion of their attention. Be strategic: make sure you’re getting value out of each nonverbal gesture you make, and limit superfluous gestures to avoid wasting any bit of your audience’s attention.
Charismatic speakers know how to give the impression that they’re as comfortable walking across the stage as they would be walking across their living room. This is called owning the stage, and there are three tricks to making it happen. First, when you stand, be sure to have a wide stance, well balanced on both feet. Not only will you feel more confident, you’ll also look more confident, more stable, than if you were standing on one foot. Wide, stable stances also help you to project confidence. Be the gorilla! Second, practice without a podium or a lectern. Speaking behind one can give the impression that you’re fearful to venture out, and prefer staying behind the safety of a shield. It also makes the presentation much more static. Think of the stereotype of a boring presentation: a lecturer who stands immobile at his lectern, reading from his notes in a monotone voice. Moving comfortably around the stage will make you appear much more confident, powerful, and charismatic. Third, find the right volume to project confidence. This is tricky, as so much can depend on the microphone you’re given that day or how the sound system is set up. Your best bet is, just before the speech, to ask a few people sitting in the back of the room to be your sound experts and give you a prearranged signal to raise or lower your volume if need be.
To create this sense of comfort and intimacy, David (the new executive who was preparing his crucial presentation) focused on projecting warmth. He made good use of the internal tools detailed in Chapter 5, especially the angel wings visualization. He told himself that the people he was presenting to were his angels, gathered here to work together. He told me that he felt a kind of warm pride, a surge of affection for his audience that he knew was palpable. David also focused on increasing his voice fluctuation to enhance persuasiveness, on smiling when he wanted a warm voice, and on dropping the intonation of his voice when he wanted to convey confidence and authority.
During that first speech, I felt certain that if I were to pause even for an instant, I’d lose my audience’s attention forever. It takes courage to pause. But, just as in conversations, pausing regularly during your presentations is an important skill to acquire. It’s one of the hallmarks of effective speakers and really is one of the key tools for great speaking. Throughout your speech, pause frequently, deliberately. Have the confidence to make your listeners wait for your words. It’s called a dramatic pause for a reason: it adds drama. After delivering a key point or an impactful story, pause for a few seconds to let your audience take it in. If you’ve just used humor, have the courage to wait for the laughter to swell and subside before you move on. Pausing is important both to begin and to end your speeches. When you walk on stage, come to the center, face the audience, and stop. Remain completely silent as you count three full seconds while slowly sweeping your eyes across the crowd and making eye contact. This may feel endless, but it will be well worth it. Nothing rivets an audience’s attention like this kind of silence.
Since this issue is really not a big deal for you one way or the other, this would be a good time to try out the techniques you’ve just learned: voice fluctuation, strategic pauses, and intonation drops to make your message compelling.
Putting It into Practice: Midcourse Corrections ♦ Check your body. Make sure that no tense posture is worsening your internal state. ♦ Take a deep breath and relax your body. ♦ Destigmatize and dedramatize. Remember that this happens to everyone, and it will pass. ♦ If any negative thoughts are present, remember that they’re just thoughts, and not necessarily valid. ♦ Find little things to be grateful for: your ability to breathe, the fact that you will still be alive by the end of this. ♦ Imagine getting a great hug from someone you trust for twenty seconds (of course, you may not have twenty seconds, but if you do, this is remarkably effective). Once your threat response is quieted down, to bring yourself back into a state of confidence remember a moment in your life when you felt absolute triumph. Thanks to your brain’s inability to distinguish imagination from reality, your body will be filled with the same cocktail of chemicals (yes, we’re helping you play chemist with your brain) as it was during that confidence-filled moment, thereby changing your body language into exactly what you need to be impressive, persuasive, and inspiring again.
KEY TAKEAWAYS 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 breathe.
After analyzing more than three dozen studies of charismatic leadership, Wharton School professor Robert House concluded that “expressing high performance expectations” of people while “communicating a high degree of confidence” in their ability to meet those expectations was the hallmark of charismatic leadership. Think of the people you want your charisma to impact. What standard would you like them to live up to or exceed? Express this expectation as if you have full confidence that they can live up to it. Better yet, act like you assume they already are meeting these standards.
To be charismatic, your vision must vividly illustrate the difference between the way things are now and the way they could be. Charismatic leaders often point out deficiencies in the status quo, contrast this picture to a glorious future, and show how they intend to get there. Though this might sound complex, it’s something many of us do already. Even salespeople seek the deficiency in their potential clients’ present condition (which will be remedied, of course, through the purchase of their goods or services).
Charisma is particularly effective in crisis situations. Stay in a calm, confident internal state so that your emotional contagion effect is positive. Express high expectations of people, and communicate your complete confidence in their ability to rise to the occasion. Articulate a bold vision, show your confidence in your ability to realize that vision, and act decisively to achieve it.
You’re going to have to compensate for your charisma in order to limit the jealousy and resentment others may feel. You have three choices: you can refuse the glory, reflect the glory, or transfer the glory. Refusing the glory means trying to self-efface—to minimize the praise you’re getting. You can try to bring yourself back down through self-deprecation, downplaying compliments and praise. But we’ve seen how this can backfire, as you’re essentially contradicting your admirers and making them feel wrong. Reflecting the glory means highlighting others’ contributions. This works well, and has the additional bonus of making you look modest. Something as simple as “Thanks! We were really lucky to have Susan checking the financials and Bill doing his graphic magic.” But sometimes, no matter how much you reflect, some people will still become envious or resentful of your magnetism and your success. You may need to go a step further, which is to transfer the glory.
Giving people a sense of ownership for your success is a great way to prevent resentment and engender good feelings, such as pride and loyalty, instead. This technique is, in fact, known as a Clinton classic. During his tenure in the White House, Bill Clinton was known to go around asking everyone, from his chef to his janitor, for their opinion on foreign policy. He’d listen intently, and in subsequent conversations would refer back to the opinion they’d offered. When people feel that they’ve had a hand in “making” you, they feel a certain ownership of and identification with you, and therefore a certain responsibility for your success.
Justification. Create an excuse for contacting the person; it can’t seem completely out of the blue: “I was talking to Sue and your name came up” or “Bob made me think of you and that time when…” When I’m coaching clients, I tell them to use our session as a justification. After all, I have indeed asked them to think of the people who matter to their career, so they can truthfully say, “I was working with my executive coach, and your name came up.” Appreciation. Thank the person for what they’ve done for you. You can thank someone for taking time to meet you, whether in person or by phone, especially if you spoke with them for the first time or for a long time. You can also acknowledge good advice or interesting information someone gave you. Lay it all out. Demonstrate exactly how the person helped you. Acknowledge their effort: “I know you didn’t have to do…” or “I know you went out of your way to do…” Impact. Let them know the positive impact they’ve had on you. What did they do or say or what example did they set that changed you for the better? What do you do or say differently because of what they did or said or because of the example they set for you? How is your life or your behavior different? Tell them the difference it made to you personally; make it dramatic. People love to feel important. Responsibility. The Justification-Appreciation-Laying-out-the-Impact sequence creates a feeling of Responsibility (JALIR). It gives people a feeling of vested interest in your success. Give them as much credit as you can. Make them feel that they own your success and they will feel driven to help you continue to succeed.