Written by Patrick Allan.
Charisma is one of those things that people assume you’re born with, but that’s not necessarily the case. Regardless of your personality type, it’s entirely possible to become more likable and develop your charisma. The key is to focus on certain traits you can practice and apply to your own behavior that can possibly make you seem more magnetic, trustworthy, and influential. Here’s where to start.
Charisma is something you learn
If you’ve ever met someone likable, yet you couldn’t explain specifically why you like them, they have charisma. You can learn to be charismatic too, and all it takes is some modifications to your behavior. Charisma is about what you say and do as opposed to who you really are as a person. Your subconscious, social cues, physical expression and the way you treat others all play a part in developing your charisma.
In the video above, behavioral expert and author Olivia Fox Cabane tells a story about Marilyn Monroe. During a very busy time of day, Monroe brought a photographer with her into Grand Central Station in New York City. People were everywhere, yet no one seemed to recognize one of the most famous people in the world. She boarded a train and quietly rode to the next station without anyone noticing. Cabane explains that Monroe was trying to prove a point:
“What Marilyn wanted to show was that just by deciding to, she could either be glamorous Miss Monroe or plain Norma Jean Baker (her real name). On the subway, she was Norma Jean, but when she resurfaced on to the busy New York sidewalks, she decided to turn into Marilyn. So she looked around and she teasingly asked the photographer, “So, do you want to see her? TheMarilyn?” And then, he said, there were no grand gestures, she just fluffed up her hair and struck a pose. And yet, with this simple shift, she suddenly became magnetic. An aura of magic seemed to ripple out from her and everything stopped. Time stood still, as did the people around her, who stared in amazement as they suddenly recognized a star standing in their midst…”
Make no doubt, Marilyn Monroe had beauty on her side, but she wanted to prove that charisma is something you create and emanate, not something you’re merely born with. Your goal here is to find the Marilyn Monroe inside of your Norma Jean Baker. It’s there, but you have to work to find it.
Master the art of presence
“Presence” is the most important aspect of charisma, with confidence being a close second. Presence is all about being truly engaged with others. Essentially, you’re showing the other person that they have your complete attention. Without confidence, you can seem like someone who is shy or uninterested in others, but without presence, you can come across as someone who is only interested in showing off. As with most things, neither extreme is ideal.
In fact, the art of presence highlights the most important thing to remember when you’re developing charisma: it’s not about you. Or, as Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness put it:
When you think of charisma, you might think of trying to make yourself seem super awesome to others. But the paradoxical secret of charisma is that it’s not about trumpeting your good qualities, but making the other person feel good about himself. Real charisma makes the other person feel important; when they finish an interaction with you, they feel better about themselves than they did before.
The truth is, we like ourselves and we like talking about ourselves. The people in your life that you find likable and charismatic, though, let you be yourself and let you talk about yourself. Be positive, shut down your ego, and give your full attention. It really is that simple.
Pay attention to every word that comes out of someone else’s mouth. Imagine you’re watching a movie or reading a book and you’re slowly learning about the main character. Invest your attention and your focus on them. Most importantly, do not sit there and think about what you’re going to say while they talk. It might seem like the proactive thing to do, but it only shows that you’re not really listening, just preparing to retort.
Also, it should go without saying, but pulling your phone out mid-conversation basically undoes any of the likability you’ve accumulated. Nothing demonstrates you’re not listening like firing off a “quick email” or scrolling through Instagram.
There’s a balance, of course. You can’t just sit and listen to people all day and night. Knowing how to talk and express yourself to others in a confident way is important as well.
Develop a sense of confidence
Having confidence will give you a huge foothold when you’re becoming more charismatic, but it’s not easy to build. You don’t want to be arrogant, but you also don’t want to come across as timid or scared. It all comes down to how you feel in your own skin. Working out regularly, dressing in clothes that make you feel good, and talking about the things you understand well can help you build and maintain confidence.
You shouldn’t only talk about what you know, though. You can be open with others and show that you’re curious too while appearing confident. Most of us get locked up when we get caught in a conversation about something we know nothing about, and suddenly, we’re looking for ways to defend ourselves instead of being okay with our ignorance. If you shift from “defensive mode” into “curiosity mode,” you’ll appear confident with the fact that you don’t know about something. On top of that, being curious maintains that all important presence. You’re not drifting off in your mind trying to come up with answers—you’re visibly involved in the conversation.
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Live with purpose
People with confidence and charisma also live with purpose. It’s noticeable when you don’t seem to have a mission or driving factor. You don’t need to wear your passion on your sleeve, but you need to be confident in the notion that you’re alive to do something. Jordan Lejuwaan at HighExistence suggests you pick something that motivates you and run with it:
Pick a cause, a goal, a vision and live it. People long to have a cause to rally around — something to believe in. You need to believe in it so strongly for that it animates your every gesture. Be self-assured in every scenario. Show that you don’t share the doubts that plague most people. Act as if you know where you are going, even if you aren’t 100% sure.
You may not really know where you’re going all of the time, but you should look like you know. When a scene plays out, act like you know your lines. We all have those moments where we do something and think to ourselves, “that was stupid.” Forget those moments. When you have those moments and take even a fraction of a second to think like that, your behavior visibly changes. You falter and people can see it. Confidence is about being okay with what you do and who you are, no matter what that means. People like confident individuals, even if their other qualities are less attractive. If you can be confident, being charismatic is a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Conquer the basics of conversation
Charismatic people know how to talk other people. They know how to start a conversation, steer it in the right direction, and make others feel comfortable. If you don’t know how to talk to people on the most basic level, you need to practice. It will be tough, but if you can be brave and step away from the wallflower mentality, it will be very rewarding. It will be uncomfortable at first, but being uncomfortable is how you get better.
If you don’t know how to start a conversation, get creative. First, think to yourself what you would and wouldn’t like to talk about. If there’s something that would make you feel uncomfortable, it will probably make them feel uncomfortable. It’s also much easier to get a conversation going by being nice, as opposed to trying to sound brilliant. Not to mention that being nice is a great charisma booster anyway. If you can’t think of how to start, or if you hit a lull, use the history/philosophy/metaphor rule. Do whatever you can to avoid awkward silence.
Good conversationalists also know how to get people on the same level. They share experiences and tell stories. Use humor as a tool and remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. If you’re not sure about a joke, hold off. No one will be worse off if you let it pass. Imagine a comedian bombing onstage. Nothing is more awkward and charisma-sucking as that, so don’t be that. At the same time, a comedian that’s confident in their jokes is highly charismatic. Humor, when used the right way, can make you the most likable person in the room.
Last, but not least, ask questions. People like to be heard, and, as Siimon Reynolds at Forbes puts it, questions give you the perfect opportunity to be likable:
The person who asks the questions usually controls the meeting. And those that ask reasonably smart questions usually come across as intelligent and even wise—two elements that help build the perception of charisma. I have always found it interesting that it takes a lot less knowledge to ask a good question as it does to provide a good answer, yet those who ask a lot of questions often end up giving the best impression.
Think about talk show hosts. They’re some of the most likable and charismatic people in the world—that’s how they get those jobs. They’re funny, but most of the time they do nothing but ask their guests questions, yet they come across as the lovable individual that’s in control. Charisma is more learning about others than it is about others learning about you.
Practice effective eye contact
Sometimes good eye contact can communicate more than any words could. Proper eye contact can express that you’re listening, that you care, and that you accept the other person as an individual. Looking down or constantly shifting your gaze shows that you’re uninterested and that your focus lies elsewhere.
Practicing eye contact can be tricky, though. Too much can be off-putting, but so can too little. You’ll need to experiment to find the right amount. Ramit Sethi, author and founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, suggests you test the waters a little:
…try holding eye contact for a second longer than you normally would. How do you feel? How does the other person react? Remember, you have MANY opportunities to try this out. Practice on your waiter, barista, or the person at the checkout counter.
Over time you’ll get a feel for what works and what goes too far. How you make eye contact is just as important as how long it lasts. If you’re not sure where to start without feeling like a creep, try focusing on the color of the other person’s eyes. Try to notice the color of each person’s eyes that you talk to and make it a habit. It’s the type of eye contact that makes you seem personable without seeming like a weirdo.
Be expressive with your body
Charismatic people express how they feel in a lot of different ways. Using your body to emphasize and enhance how you feel or what you’re talking about can go a long way. Nobody thinks someone who stands stiff as a board is magnetic or interesting. Above all else, remember to smile. Smiling people are more approachable and more likable than someone who looks angry or uninterested. If you’re not sure where to start with physical expression, Sims Wyeth at Inc. recommends you think of the people—or pets—you know and notice their physicality:
Think Kramer of Seinfeld fame when he slides through the door of Jerry’s apartment and discovers something surprising. Or your grandmother, who throws her arms in the air and bends her knees when she sees you after a long absence. Or my dog, Little Bear, who dances for joy when I come home at the end of the day.
People enjoy being around people (and animals) with a vocabulary of expressive gestures. Of course you don’t want to be clownish at work and act like Kramer, but gestures that are responsive to what’s happening in the moment and appropriate to the occasion are winning and appealing.
You also want to be aware of the bad types of expressive behavior. For example, nodding is a great way to visibly show someone that you’re listening, but nodding too much can look worse than not doing anything at all. Suddenly it’s obvious to the other person that you’re trying to show that you’re listening and they no longer feel validation. People can pick up on your expressions, no matter how slight, so becoming aware of your biggest offenders is only to your benefit. If you’re not sure what you do that reads poorly, ask your friends or someone you trust to be honest with you. It can be tough to hear the truth, but you can’t fix something if you don’t know about it.
Like a method actor becoming the role they’re playing, put yourself in the state of mind that keeps you aware of your behavior. If you start to lose awareness of your mannerisms, Cabane recommends you stop and focus on the feeling in your toes. This will give you a top to bottom assessment of all the things your body is doing. Are you slouching? Is your hand fiddling with something in your pocket? Become aware of and adjust.
When in doubt, practice mirroring
Mirroring qualities is an easy way to be charismatic in the moment. Match the other person’s physical mannerisms and energy level, and you’ll notice how well they’ll respond to it. You don’t need to agree with everything they say or do, but merely act the way they do to some degree. This can happen naturally, depending on the social setting, but it’s a simple way to increase your likability. And it goes without saying: don’t try to reenact Charlie Chaplin’s mirror scene and go overboard mimicking what the other person is doing. That’s just odd.
You can also mirror the qualities that you find likable in others. Observation is a major factor when it comes to charisma, and as Joyce Newman, the President of the Newman Group, suggests, you should look to the people you think are charismatic:
You don’t need to copy them, but learn their secrets, try them on and fine-tune them until they fit you. It’s a trial and error process.
Look to Hollywood, or wherever you notice charismatic people, and take notice to the way people carry themselves. Sure, some might be full of themselves, but you can still lift the effective, charismatic qualities for yourself and use them. Emulate the people you know are likable and you’ll learn a thing or two about how you can become more likable.
You have the ability be more likable and charismatic, and the changes you need to make in the process aren’t nearly as big as they may seem. Be present, confident, slowly become a master of your behavior, and watch as you mold others’ perception of you.