How Even You and I Can Be (Slightly) More Charismatic

“When you meet a charismatic person, you get the impression that they have a lot of power and they like you a lot.”

Olivia Cabane, The Charisma Myth

In that sentence are the three characteristics you need to be more charismatic, according to Olivia Cabane in her book, The Charisma Myth:

  1. Presence
  2. Power
  3. Warmth

And she says anyone can do it. Anyone! The “myth” is that some are born with it and others are not.

Wait.

Anyone?

That sounds like some “you can do anything you put your mind to” mumbo jumbo. I can think of plenty of people who have as much hope of exuding presence, power, and warmth as a damp match.

Like myself.

I’m not powerful, rarely present, and never warm. Pretty much the only thing charismatic about me is that you can’t spell charisma without the letters of my name, Chris.

But I do have one trait working in my favor:

I’m optimistic to the point of naivety.

So I’m giving some of Cabane’s tips a shot. If truly anyone can be more charismatic, maybe there’s hope.

Step 1: Blame your parents.

Cabane argues that social skills aren’t inherited. They’re learned. And whatever skills you develop early on have an Outliers-esque self-reinforcing cycle.

For example, if you’re born to charismatic parents, you’ll imitate their social habits. People you interact with will presume you’re a chip off the charismatic ol’ block and treat you as such. This reinforces your actions. So you keep copying your parents, people keep presuming you’re charismatic, and, eventually, your actions become your identity.

Or, in my case, the opposite.

(No offense, Mom and Dad.)

But here’s the upside, if you’re willing to blame your parents for actions you learned from them rather than genes you inherited from them, you still have hope.

It’s just a matter of this:

Find more charismatic role models to imitate.

Step 2: Practice the fundamentals.

There’s good reason the best actors get paid millions, whereas I’d have to bribe most people to watch me act in my YouTube videos:

Imitating charismatic people is easier said than done.

So there’s no sense in me going out there pretending to be Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep. Not yet, anyway. I’m starting by focusing on a few fundamentals Cabane recommends:

  • Pause. Wait a couple of seconds before speaking for extra gravitas.
  • Stay still. Don’t bobble-head, excessively “uh-huh,” or fidget.
  • Use falling intonation. Lower your intonation at the end of your sentences so it’s more of a statement than an uncertain question.
  • Maintain eye contact. “You cannot be charismatic without eye contact,” writes Cabane. Keep soft eyes and focus. Try to stick to Vanessa Van Edward‘s rule of thumb of keeping eye contact 75% of the time when listening and 41% when talking. (Very precise!) And hold it for three seconds at the end of your interaction to leave a lasting impression that you paid close attention.
  • Mirror. Mirroring the other’s body position makes them feel closer to you. Apparently, it even works if the person you’re mirroring knows you’re doing it. So even an awkward actor like me can’t screw it up.

That’s more than enough for me—for now, at least. If you’re ready to move on beyond these basics, I’ll relay more of Cabane’s charismatic acting tips at the bottom of this post.

Step 3: Pump yourself up with visualization.

You’d be hard-pressed to give a stronger endorsement than Cabane does for visualization:

“Of all the charisma-boosting techniques, this is the one I recommend making a permanent part of your toolkit. If you gain nothing else from this book, this one technique will make a critical difference in your charisma.”

Olivia Cabane

This is how you do it:

  • Close your eyes and breathe easily.
  • Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant.
  • Hear, see, feel, smell, and even taste the scene.
  • Re-experience your emotions and rising confidence.

And if you can’t recall ever feeling absolutely triumphant, visualize getting a twenty-second hug from a loved one to reduce your anxiety.

Either way, Cabane recommends developing a go-to visualization to carry around in your back pocket as a kind of charisma cocaine hit for when the need arises.

If I’m being honest—which I suppose is probably a good idea if I want to be more charismatic—I have a hard time visualizing this visualization stuff helping me be more charismatic. It seems kind of woo-woo.

But maybe that’s part of my problem.

So I’ve got the first time I dunked on someone in a basketball game tucked away, ready to give me a charisma boost when I need it.

Step 4: Do everything you can to minimize discomfort.

The quickest way to lose your charismatic character is discomfort, so:

  1. Proactively prevent it.
  2. Know how to deal with what’s unavoidable.

Say, God forbid, I have to go to some blogger convention and I want to wow my peers with my charisma. Here’s how I’d make myself comfortable to be more charismatic:

Physical Discomfort:
Prevent, Recognize, Remedy, and Explain

To prevent physical discomfort, I’d rest and fuel up beforehand so I don’t feel tired, hungry, or thirsty. Then I’d put on something that prevents me from feeling sweaty, cold, or stiff, but still fits in with the blogging crowd. A casual merino wool button-up should do the trick. Fitting in is important because “The golden rule of charisma is people like people who are like them.”

Then, if some unanticipated physical discomfort comes up, like, say, a fierce need to let one rip because I put too many raw peppers in my pregame salad, rather than try to power through by holding it in, I’d recognize and remedy the issue ASAP. Maybe I could hastily sidle up to a health blogger for a “quick tip” on how to do so.

And if something untreatable pops up, like a huge zit on my nose, rather than try to mask my discomfort, I can explain it by saying something like, “See this huge zit on my nose? I’m turning into a unicorn.”

Mental Discomfort:
Label, Depersonalize, Destigmatize, and Transfer

No matter how physically cool I look and feel (by blogger standards), I will inevitably feel mentally uncomfortable among hordes of fellow keyboard warriors.

To start minimizing this discomfort, I’ll label it as anxiety. And rather than think, “You wimp. You’re being anxious again,” I’ll depersonalize it by saying to myself, “This feeling of anxiousness is hitting me.”

Then, to destigmatize it, I’ll remind myself that I’m at a convention for a profession that tilts toward my end of the introversion-extroversion spectrum like a sumo wrestler on a teeter-totter with my baby son Zac. So I’m certainly not the only one being hit by anxiety. I can also think of people I admire, like Tim Urban, who at one point must have experienced the same and managed to overcome it.

And if that doesn’t shake my mental discomfort, I’ll resort to the final trick Cabane recommends. It seems of out there, but beggar bloggers can’t be choosers:

Transfer it.

I’ll pick a benevolent being like God, Fate, or Jimmy Wales, imagine lifting my mental burden off of my shoulders and onto theirs, and feel the difference of no longer being responsible for it because they’re taking it on.

Step 5: Let yourself be easily impressed.

“Don’t try to impress people. Let them impress you, and they will love you for it.”

Olivia Cabane

Think of the most charismatic person you know. Then imagine going for coffee with them. How would they interact with you?

Would they brag about how awesome their life is?

No. Conceited and charismatic don’t mix. More likely, they’d ask about your life and pretend to be interested.

Would they give you tips on how to be less of a loser and more like them?

Uh uh. They’ll make you feel right, even when you’re obviously wrong.

Would they be constantly distracted by their phone and other more interesting goings-on in the café?

Nope. Presence, remember, is one of the three charisma characteristics. They’d make you “feel like the only person in the room” until they find a believable excuse for escaping early.

So, when interacting with others, I’ll try turning the tables—be impressive by being easily impressed.

Here are a couple of tricks to try when doing so:

  1. Find three things you like about the other person. This will pump up your goodwill toward them and improve your interactions. And, to get some good juju going your way, too, share the qualities you find with that person.
  2. Pretend you’re a reporter. You’re writing a feature on the other person. This will get you listening actively, asking better questions, and talking less about yourself. For more on this, see my post on tips and tricks for being a better active listener.

Step 6: Communicate less boringly and boorishly.

No sh*t, Sherlock.

The question, dear Watson, is how?

“When you speak or write, use few words and lots of pictures, and strive to make your communications useful, enjoyable, and even entertaining.”

Olivia Cabane

Here are some useful practices Cabane recommends, along with how I tried to incorporate them in this post to make my writing slightly more charismatic:

  • Pick the one most important point and convey it as clearly as you can. For this post, the big idea is, to be more charismatic, you need to practice with the right techniques. It’s no different from improving at a sport you suck at, for example. Have I been clear in conveying this?
  • Before blurting anything, ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” If you can’t come up with an answer, swallow it. As for this post, hopefully you’ve found at least one or two helpful tips.
  • Deliver value in the form of entertainment, information, or good feelings. Did I succeed at making this topic somewhat interesting with entertaining examples, novel tips, and positive vibes?
  • Be positive. “People will associate you with whatever feelings you consistently produce in them.” I want this post to elicit a few smiles in you and make you feel slightly more optimistic about your odds of inching up the charisma ladder. Success?
  • Avoid “white elephants.” An example of a white elephant is “Don’t feel insulted.” Saying so imprints in the other’s mind that what you’re about to say will be somewhat insulting. Please don’t be an idiot and claim this post is teeming with white elephants.

More Miscellaneous Tips for Being More Charismatic:

The Charisma Myth is full of them.

  • Handshakes: “The right handshake costs far less and will do far more for you than a designer suit can.”
  • Icebreaker: Begin a conversation by complimenting them on something they’re wearing, then asking, “What’s the story behind it?”
  • Seek opinions, not advice. Opinions take less effort to give, allowing the person you ask to spout whatever comes to mind.
  • Be more favored. Earn people’s favor by asking them for favors. They’ll rationalize it by assuming they did it because they like you for some reason. This is called the Ben Franklin effect because he was famous for it.
  • Be pleasantly surprised. Don’t answer the phone in a friendly manner. Answer crisply and professionally. Only after you hear who is calling, let enthusiasm out.
  • Write off your resentment. “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” If you feel resentment toward someone, let loose with a letter to them. Then, on another paper, write the exact response you’d hope to get from them in which they own up to all their mistakes and apologize.
  • Shut up and fluctuate. An MIT study could predict the success of sales calls without listening to a single word. Only two measures mattered: 1) The ratio of listening to speaking and 2) The amount of voice fluctuation. In both, the higher, the better.
  • Take compliments well. Saying “Oh, it’s nothing,” tells the admirer they were wrong to compliment you. Make them feel good for complimenting you by pausing to absorb and enjoy the compliment, showing appreciation in your face, then saying, “Thank you.”

Break a leg.

If you were to ask my wife Kim whether I’ve become more charismatic since reading The Charisma Myth and practicing Cabane’s tips, I doubt she’d say she’s noticed any improvement.

But I think I’ve made progress.

It’s just that I’ve got a long climb ahead of me. So even though I’ve ascended a bit, it still looks like I’m near the bottom.

And that’s ok. Because at least I’m more optimistic about my chances. I no longer believe in the myth that only certain people are born charismatic. And I think that’s the most important place to start.

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