9 Ways to Be More Charming

Charisma is a skill that can be learned. These “superpowers” can help.
April 19, 2017

“You are a shark; describe your first sexual experience.”

These were my instructions at last month’s Toastmasters meeting, the group I joined to become a better speaker. It was my second week as a member. Standing in front of 25 people with two minutes to entertain, the task seemed impossible. But I’m determined to become more charismatic, so I launched into a rant about scuba divers, then how my eyes locked with the mermaid’s that fateful day.

“You’re a natural,” someone told me.

I know I’m not. I was born with zero charisma, but putting myself in these uncomfortable situations has shown me you can learn charisma. Now, science confirms it.

Related: 10 Ways to Become a More Charismatic Person 

Charisma isn’t just the name of the local yoga teacher.

Charisma gives a person influence and authority over others. It pulls us to those who have it. We know it when we see it: Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, Marilyn Monroe being photographed on a sidewalk.

It’s treated as some mysterious X-factor you’re either born with or lack, but with a closer look, that façade drops away. The study of charisma is not new. Two millennia ago, Aristotle lectured on the ingredients for persuasion—what he called, “the appeals,” that generate charisma:

  • Logos: the appeal to logic and reason (“The data clearly shows…”)
  • Ethos: arguments about a subject’s character and credibility (“Trust me, I’m a doctor.”)
  • Pathos: appeals to passion and emotion (“If we don’t barricade the door, zombies will eat our brains!”)

If we don’t learn charisma, will zombies eat our brains?

We can thank evolution for the power of charisma. People crave fat and sugar because these scarce resources aided our ancestors’ survival. Those foods are abundant today, but our instinct remains.

“The same holds true for charisma,” says Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth. Charisma gives others the impression that we have influence and authority. “We are biologically programmed to care about status and to be impressed by it because this instinctive reaction favors our survival: High status individuals have the power to help or hurt us,” she says.

Developing charisma helps others see us as a leader, with all the benefits that confers.

Please, sir, I want more charisma.

When lecturing at Harvard, Yale and MIT, Olivia Fox Cabane teaches that charisma comes from the confluence of presence, power and warmth.

  • Presence is your ability to be absolutely focused on the person you’re talking to.

At a recent networking event, I ran into a former co-worker who had rebranded herself as a “communications expert.” But because she kept looking past me, I noted the irony in her new title and left feeling insulted. Had she been present I might have gone out of my way to introduce her to potential clients.

  • Power is our ability, real or perceived, to affect the world. Do you have authority over others? A $5,000 suit? The build of a 900-pound gorilla? If you answered yes, people likely see you as powerful.

You can convey power even when it’s absent by using powerful body language, including power poses. Go on, drape your arm over that chair next to you. Look your conversation partner straight in the eye. Take up space in the room.

  • Warmth makes you seem benevolent and caring.

Ever run into someone with “kind eyes”? Have you called someone “down-to-earth”? That person was exuding warmth. When you radiate warmth, your audience will leave the interaction feeling like you care about them.

A note of caution: If even one of these ingredients is absent from a conversation, this can backfire. Show power without warmth, for example, and you’ll come off as a cold tyrant.

Keep these 9 tips in mind and watch your social interactions blossom.

Winning friends and influencing people are skills you can learn. Try these nine tips to develop your persuasive abilities.

                Related: What Happened When I Lived by Dale Carnegie’s Rules

Presence

1. Learn a simple memory technique to remember names.

When you learn someone’s name, link it to some memorable item or activity. Did you meet a Jack? Imagine him climbing a beanstalk. People love hearing their own name, so use it in conversation.

2. Practice regular meditation to gain control of your mind.

Meditation helps you overcome the mind’s tendency to wander. With daily practice, it won’t be as hard to focus on the interaction at hand.

3. Put away your smartphone.

Simple to do, but not always easy. Texting, calling or even having your phone on the table is the best way to let someone know you don’t care about what they’re saying. Keep it in your pants.

Power

1. Broadcast high social status.

Rail against surface appearances all you like; they matter when it comes to charisma. Give a burger-flipping teenager a suit, a nice watch and a haircut, and you might mistake him for a tech titan. Upgrade your image and you’ll seem more powerful.

2. Take up more space.

Powerful people adopt the swagger of that 900-pound gorilla. They enter a room and people notice. Stand up and place your hands on the table during a meeting. Lean back in your chair with your arm draped over the seat next to you. Own the room.

3. Develop a power move.

The best way to exude power is to feel powerful. Before going onstage, Tony Robbins uses his “power move.” He spins around, pumps his fists and exhales with force. By changing your physiology, you change your emotional state.

Warmth

1. Use the correct body language.

Balance power poses with warm gestures, such as laughing and tilting your head. Relax the muscles around your eyes. Take a deep breath and relax. Smile. Mirror your conversation partner’s mannerisms, tone of voice and style. Use words they use.

2. Show vulnerability.

We trust people who have nothing to hide. Don’t be afraid to tell a story about a personal failure or embarrassment. Share your challenges, hopes and fears. Admitting weakness will balance your expressions of power and paradoxically help others see you as a leader.

3. Develop a genuine satisfaction with your life.

Ever run into someone with “kind eyes”? Have you called someone “down-to-earth”? That person was exuding warmth. When you radiate warmth, your audience will leave the interaction feeling like you care about them.

Practicing gratitude will help you give off a warmth that makes you more charismatic. “Our body language expresses our mental state whether we like it or not,” Fox Cabane says. If you’re content at heart, you’ll convey natural warmth, and that’s something people will want to be around.

Think you were born without charm? Welcome to the club; dues can be paid by putting yourself in social situations where you can practice your nine new superpowers.

Related: 6 Ways to Unlock Your Charisma

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