Top tips to boost your charisma

How charisma helps

It is no coincidence that many of my executive clients want to enhance their presence and charisma.  They perceive that this is an essential quality for an effective leader.

Research shows that charisma gets people to like you, trust you and want to be led by you.  People with charisma tend to get their ideas accepted more easily and are more able to influence others.

Women, especially, can benefit from exuding the right kind of charisma in the workplace, as this will help to offset the unconscious bias about women’s role in society.

The good news is that charisma is just down to certain behaviours and is therefore something you can learn.  Steve Jobs is a well-known example of someone who learned these behaviours.  Olivia Fox Cabane has a series of videos on her website www.askolivia.com showing Jobs’ development.

Charisma comprises:

  • Presence             – critical component, you have to be fully in the space
  • Power                   – the ability to influence
  • Warmth               – liking

All three behaviour sets are necessary to achieve charisma, and which is strongest will determine the kind of charisma you exude.

Presence

I’m sure you will have been in conversation with someone and noticed that they are not mentally present.  Maybe their eyes flick over to another part of the room, or their expressions are not quite in tune with what you are saying.  How do you feel when you notice this?  Probably that you’re not important to this person, but you’ll also think negatively about them.  You may think them inauthentic (because they are not behaving congruently) and this breaks trust.

Tips on presence

  • Gaze into the other person’s eyes and pay attention to the myriad of colours in their eyes.  This will result in you looking interested in the other person.
  • Fox Cabane’s favourite tip is to pay attention to the sensations in your toes.  This will cause your brain to scan down through the body to your toes and gets you present in the moment.
  • Prepare your mental state so that you will be focused on the other person.  We have too much body language going on to be able to control every part of our body consciously, but if you control your state, the body language will follow.  E.G. you could be curious, compassionate, entertaining…  Whatever state prepares you to be in the space and interacting with the person(s).
  • Ask quality questions to get them talking.  Everybody has interesting stories to tell, so you could be interested to find out their most exciting/challenging/awesome experience.

Power

Body language is one of the main indicators of power.  So much so that MIT researchers could predict who would win in a negotiation, simply by observing them for a few minutes.  It’s easy to tell from a person’s body language if they feel themselves powerful or insecure.  The insecure person will take up half the space of the confident one.

Tips on power

What do we do when we want to show power?  We make ourselves BIG.  Research by Amy Cuddy showed that if you adopt a power pose for two minutes, it results in you feeling powerful.  You then walk into your meeting with powerful body language, the others respond to that and treat you as a confident person with power, which reinforces your feelings of power in a positive feedback loop.

  • Stand tall, head up and shoulders back
  • Plant both feet firmly and a little apart (particularly for women who often stand more on one foot)
  • Keep your hands in view (this is an indicator of trustworthiness) not folded or crossed arms, but not ‘jazz hands’ waving around

The biggest obstacle to behaving with power is lack of self-confidence.  We don’t believe we justify the position and are worried we will be found out – this is called the imposter syndrome.  Remarkably, research shows that about 80% of us have this feeling.  “I’m an imposter” is just a story we tell ourselves and have chosen to believe in this moment, so we need to undo this damage we are doing to ourselves.  See my blog Stay positive for winning relationships for a technique to address how you think about a situation and change it to a positive version.  Your sense of power depends on your confidence and positive thinking.

Warmth

This is about how much you give the other person the impression that you like them.  It is difficult to fake this simply at the level of controlling body language – due to the micro-expressions that flicker across the face.  The easiest way to exude warmth is to feel warm towards someone.

Tips on warmth

  • As you look the person in the eye think something nice about them or mentally wish them well.  It can be anything even as simple as liking their shirt/earrings, etc.
  • You can enhance your warmth by thinking about someone or something that you like immediately before you engage with a person, that liking will still be in your eyes and expression as you look at them.
  • Beware that voice inside your head! Don’t let it tell you off.  As you hear it telling you “that was a stupid thing to say!” you will react and your feelings will leak out in your expression.  Just as you’re supposed to be listening to the other person, who will notice the expression and think it’s a reaction to what they’re saying.  They’ll draw their own conclusions and they may well be different to your intent.  Be compassionate with yourself, let yourself be imperfect.
  • The good news is that we prefer people who are not perfect and will trust them more, so give yourself permission to ignore that critical voice.

Just do it

Charisma can be learned.  Try out these tips and notice the impact they have on how you feel and how people respond to you.

Remember that the kind of charisma you exude depends on which behaviour set is strongest, so you may want to choose what to emphasise depending on the circumstances.

Ladies, what do you think? Could improving your charisma get you noticed in the right way? I suggest that presence and power as the emphasised behaviours could generate a stronger position.  Align your language to this behaviour and I think you might find that you can have more influence and impact than you thought possible.  The critical thing is to prepare your state in advance, so you go into a meeting giving off confident signals.  That preparation could include spending a little time thinking about how you will phrase your message to have the desired impact.

I’d love to hear your experiences of charisma, please leave comments or questions below.

Amanda is an experienced learning and development specialist and focuses on leadership and managing people. She can help you to build your capability and confidence either 1:1 as your executive coach or through group workshops tailored to your company. To find out more, please contact Amanda.

12 Comments

  • Fiona says:

    Very useful. Body language is fascinating, I was reading an article about body language unconsciously influencing witnesses. So a questioner touching his wrist resulted in some witnesses incorrectly recalling that someone wore a watch!

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      Thanks Fiona, wow your comment about the witnesses reminds me of the work of Derren Brown and he was manipulating people’s minds on purpose for a show! However the messages that our body language sends are very influential. The beauty of it is that we can do something about those messages. Just in the same way we choose what we say, we can be more conscious about our body language.

  • ‘Tis a pity that a woman has to have heaps more charisma than a man to be able to succeed. In fact, she has to have heaps of everything in order to be better than her male counterparts!

    Another point I want to make: I read somewhere about training opportunities for up and coming executives. Men were offered courses on finance, commerce, economy, etc. Women were offered training on charisma, confidence, presentation. Do they really need that? Wouldn’t the women be better off with the financial courses and then men with the ‘softer’ options? After all, most men could certainly learn a bit more about social and communication skills to get on better in their careers.

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      I agree Alice. Interestingly some of the male clients who have sought my coaching services recently are introverts and they feel disadvantaged and want to learn the skills of presence and influencing. At the same time they are learning a lot about the soft skills including empathy. Maybe they prefer to work privately with a coach than admit publicly within their company that these are the skills they need.

  • Another great post Amanda. We have all come across the person whose eyes scan the room looking for something more interesting than you. Whilst it can be off putting, it also says a lot about their integrity. I love your suggestions, I find being present in a conversation is so important as it tells the other person that you value their time. I do actually think women are very good in this particular area. Self-awareness is a wonderful teacher.

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      Thanks Nicky. I agree, I think women are good at relationship-building. The bit women are typically less good at is ensuring they have the appropriate presence and power. I think we tend to be too self-effacing in mixed company.

  • Dara says:

    Great post, Amanda. I have also come across Amy Cuddy’s research and was inspired by it. Building charisma and confidence is always a good thing and I find it so important in running my own business. Because of my profession (women’s tailor) I’m also interested in how our clothing can help us achieve confidence by making a great first impression. Thank you for your insights!

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      Hi Dara, Yes I can see how image and tailoring and self-confidence are all tied together. On a different note, I’ve recently started mentoring for Princes Trust and my first client is someone setting up a business making men’s coats. I’d love to have a chat with you about the industry and the factors at play in this world.

  • Jean Wolfe says:

    Really useful tips to increase charisma which demonstrate, as you say, that it can be learned. I do remember, years ago in a job, waiting to be given the authority to contact someone, but in the end realising I had to give myself the authority – despite what my job description said. whether you are in corporate life or work for yourself I do think it is important to make up a job title that motivates you (even if it has to remian secret sometimes.)

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      Thanks Jean, I love your story and insight – great idea to create a title for yourself that motivates you. I think I’ll do just that.

  • As an introvert who used to be able to push herself out of her comfort zone, somehow it all went. ( Early family history, compounded by adjusting to life as a widow, then a year later the inexplicable rejection of my only relative in the country.) I joined a mall-walking group. Recently I noticed how I was walking, bent, as though apologizing for the space I was using. It had become my way of walking. I decided to walk upright. The difference I felt was incredible… and now I read this post!
    I am saving it, I need to find confidence in myself again, and walk and listen and be interested.

    • Amanda Bouch says:

      Thanks Susan, I’m glad the messages were helpful to you and sorry to hear you’ve had such a tough time.
      I frequently recommend to people who are suffering a little with depression to look up. Often their eyes and body posture is downward – that reinforces the internal thinking and the down/negative tone of that thinking. If we want to be positive and creative we need to look up and it helps to complement that with standing tall and chin up. It’s amazing how changing your physiology changes how you feel, which changes how you think and with that you change your behaviours and get different results.
      I once did an experiment where I put a smile on my face before I made telephone calls and I was astounded by the difference in reception I received. The day before I’d hardly got through a single gate-keeper to speak to a manager, this day I spoke to 8! I felt positive, obviously sounded happy and positive and that made the difference – just putting on a smile. The beauty of this, as you know, is that you can choose your body posture as you are 100% in control of it.
      Keep up the upright walking and I’d suggest try the eyes up and smile – I’d love to know how you get on.

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