The first time my wife met one of my closest friends, she leaned over to me, and said, “That laugh.”
My buddy was blessed by the gods with one of those deep, whole body types of laughs that is impossible to fake, and equally impossible not to laugh along with. Top this off with a friendly face, and a personality that reinforces his positivity, and with little to no effort, wherever he goes he leaves a memorable impression on everyone he meets (actually everyone within earshot).
A word we often associate with someone like my friend whose demeanour immediately puts people at ease, while simultaneously igniting a room, is “charisma.”
Most mortals are not blessed with this type of superpower. I certainly wasn’t. In fact, it could be said that I fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, as I grew up with a severe speech impediment. I especially have a difficult time with words that start with the letter “m”, and being that my name is Michael, the word “charisma” was seldom used in my vicinity when meeting new people.
However, after 39 years of studying charismatic people as an envious on-looker, I have come to the conclusion that the key to “charisma” lies in working with the strengths you already possess and showcasing them in a way that is authentic and natural to you as an individual.
Below are 6 characteristics that run consistent in charismatic people that can be achieved by anyone as long as they are willing to put in the work.
1. LET YOUR BODY LANGUAGE BOOST YOUR SPOKEN WORD:
If you are anything like me and a bit more introverted than extroverted, use the strength of your body to add confidence to your spoken word. In a now viral TED talk, Harvard researcher, Amy Cuddy provides a strong argument that we can raise our own confidence levels by simply being more aware of our posture.
Give it a shot for just 10 seconds and sit up straight (think Superman or Wonder Woman) and breathe. The effects are real. Or if Wonder Woman is not your thing, try Dorothy and click your heels together — it literally pains me to bend my head down when standing like this.
2. PRACTICE BEING PRESENT IN YOUR DAY TO DAY CONVERSATIONS:
The average person interprets speech at an average of 500 words per minute, but most people only speak at a rate of 150 words per minute, leaving plenty of time for mind-wandering on the part of the listener. This is again where our non-verbals can come into play and can help us to come off as someone who is an attentive listener, a key trait in charismatic people.
When listening, be cautious of your micro expressions when you start to loose concentration and shift your focus back to the speaker. Give a subtle touch that reinforces your support for the individual you are speaking with when warranted. Take advantage of the fact that most people get bored in conversations and their bodies show it by practicing being more present in each conversation. Those on the receiving end will not only see it, but they will feel it.
Quick side — after each interaction jot down three things you learned about them. The smaller the detail the better. This challenge will keep you involved and will make you look like a star the next time you see them and you ask about their partner by name.
3. PUT THE FOCUS ON OTHER PEOPLE:
According to Brett and Kate McKay, owners of the highly successful blog and podcast, “The Art of Manliness”, the key to charisma lies in, “the paradoxical secret of charisma is that it’s not about trumpeting your good qualities, but making the other person feel good about theirs.”
This again is great for the introverts out there for the simple fact that by shining the spotlight on others some of the light will still reach the person doing the shining. By asking good questions, and giving those on the receiving end an opportunity to showcase their best qualities, both people end up looking good.
A simple way to do this when meeting new people at a networking event is to lead with the question, “If you were not here tonight, what does your normal Tuesday look like?” This allows the person you are speaking with to talk about their family, hobbies or new company they are trying to start and who does not show their passion when speaking about these topics.
4. CONNECT PEOPLE:
Being known as a “connector” is a skill that will always be in demand, and if done properly, can really boost your reputation as someone who is charismatic.
The truly charismatic want the people in their circle to succeed and are constantly working to expand it. When introducing someone, take the extra time to throw a compliment into the mix by saying some variation of the following, “Hey Ian, this is Steve, the guy I was telling you about who is great with problem solving and may be able to really help you address the challenge you are facing.”
Three things happen here. Steve looks good in the eyes of Ian. You look good in both the eyes of Ian and Steve. You look even better when Steve and Ian indeed do connect and praise your name going forward, creating a touch of mystery around you, which never hurts in building charisma.
Nothing builds a reputation faster that being known as the person who wants the best for others.
5. GET UNCOMFORTABLE, THEN PRACTICE “STORY-TELLING”:
Being comfortable talking about yourself when the conversation turns in your direction is key in creating charisma, and “story-telling” is on this list because it is something that each of us can control and get better at with practice.
All of us have stories of our personal accounts of overcoming an obstacle that show our vulnerability. These “failure” experiences, or “hard lesson to learn” stories, delivered with a light-hearted, yet confident delivery, can go a long way in gaining charisma points.
There is no better way to get good at this than getting down on paper a handful of these experiences and recording yourself on your computer prior to taking them to the streets. The difference from “take 1” to “take 10” will be immediately evident as you will clearly see where you can improve your body language and facial gestures, when you need to raise your voice to drive a point home, and when to let the power of silence do the speaking for you.
6. AVOID ALL NEGATIVE TALK:
There is a fine line between talking about your short-comings and failures in a light-hearted way, and complaining, and those that master the difference, win.
Growing up my mom always told me that the best way to avoid complaining is to not give yourself or other people the chance.
Odds are high the last time you met with someone you lead with some form of, “What´s up?” or “How is it going?” This may seem harmless, but what we are really doing is unintentionally leaving the future conversation up to chance, leaving the door open for a laundry list of negative things to come our way.
Try starting out your next conversation with something like, “What´s going well in your life right now” or “What is the best thing to happen to you in the last month?” and take note of the high quality conversation that follows.
The best part about becoming more charismatic is that each of the things above can be practiced with each encounter.
You can practice your stories with your family and friends before telling it to new people.
You can be more conscious of your posture and how “present” you are in each conversation.
You can cut out the complaining and lead with positive questions to steer conversations in a manner that makes other people feel good about themselves.
Like any skill it, becoming more charismatic just takes practice and having the guts to fail in order to one day succeed.
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