Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.
– John F. Kennedy
Take a good long look at the photograph above. What do you see? What kind of emotions does it bring up within you?
This scene radiates an abundance of power and positive emotions. Without even knowing the context of the photograph, you can easily tell that John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, was genuinely charismatic. What does this mean? One good way to describe charisma is “personal magnetism,” as described by Olivia Fox Cabane, keynote-speaker and executive charisma coach. In her book, The Charisma Myth, she outlines three keys to charisma that anyone, regardless of personality type, can employ in their daily life.
Presence is the easiest but most misunderstood aspect of being charismatic. How hard is it to be present in an interaction? With our minds wandering about 47% of the time, it turns out, it is quite difficult. Simply put, being present means you have dedicated 100% of yourself to the current interaction. When someone is speaking to you, tune your brain into not only what they are saying, but why they are saying it as well.
Everyone wants to feel important. The best and easiest way to make people feel important is to legitimately listen to what they have to say, and clarify your understanding of their thoughts. This means thoroughly listening to another person’s point of view, instead of planning in your head what you are going to say next. While thinking what you are going to say next, how can you be fully understanding of what another person has to say? When you have an awesome idea, don’t you want people to listen? There is nothing more frustrating than when you have the best idea ever, and nobody seems to want to listen to you. When you finally find someone that makes an effort to understand you, don’t you feel a strong appreciation for them? This is the power of presence, and you can leverage this every day when you interact with people.
Power is one aspect of charisma that most people find difficult. Power is critical to charisma, simply due to the fact that powerful people attract attention. When you have some kind of desirable knowledge or expertise, people will follow you. People tend to want powerful people on their side. Impressing the boss feels a lot better than impressing the intern, right? The boss has a lot more influence than the intern, so it’s more fulfilling to have them on your side. But if you’re not the boss, how can you come across as powerful? The answer may surprise you.
Studies show that nonverbal communication, also known as body language, makes up around 60% of all interpersonal communication . This implies that your body language is more important than the content that comes out of your mouth. For the common person (a.k.a. not the boss), this is great news. You can convey power without always having something intelligent, witty, or profound to say. The reason that not everyone comes across as powerful is because weakness and insecurity can rear its ugly head in all of your body language and vocal tonality, without you even knowing it. People can easily detect these subtle expressions that you don’t realize you are giving off. So how can you demonstrate powerful body language and vocal tonality?
In order to convey power, it is important to have dominant body language. Claim territory with your body – take up space by comfortably spreading out your arms and legs. Keep your chin up, sit up straight (yes, Mother) and pull your shoulders down and slightly back. Improving your posture has been scientifically-proven to increase testosterone (dominance hormone) and decrease cortisol (stress hormone). Avoid fidgeting and putting your hands near your face or neck – these pacifying behaviors indicate that you are uncomfortable in your environment . Look people in the eye, especially when you are speaking directly to them. This is the most powerful way to deliver a message. One trick I like to remember is whenever I meet someone, I try to find out what color their eyes are right away. This ensures that your first impression demonstrates power and confidence.
One last key to projecting power is to have good vocal tonality. Make sure that your vocal intonation does not rise excessively at the end of your sentences (as it often does when you ask questions) – this indicates weakness, indecisiveness, and neediness. A recent study done by Quantified Impressions, an Austin, Texas, communications analytics company, showed that the sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of what they are saying. Think about this fact next time you listen to someone that has strong vocal tonality, but absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
Warmth is the final key to charisma, that when combined with the right amount of presence and power, will lead to massive personal attraction. Warmth, unlike presence and power, is the factor that makes you approachable. Warmth is somewhat related to presence, but is more related to providing a feeling of comfort to those you are interacting with. To be warm, it helps to treat others as equals, even though you may be much higher on the social ladder. Making people feel important makes them feel good, and if you are able to become a source of these feelings, people will be attracted to you. Warmth can be achieved by constantly being a source of positive emotions for all around you.
The key to generating massive amounts of charisma is to mix these three qualities in the right proportions. Too much warmth without power can come across as needy. Too much power without presence can come across as arrogant. Too much presence can come across as creepy; you get the picture. It is important to remember that being charismatic does not require an overhaul of your personality- but rather a re-tooling of beliefs about yourself and others that allow you to become a more attractive human being. Experiment with these three qualities to come up with your own personalized charisma concoction, and reap the benefits of becoming a magnetic person.
 Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. What Every BODY Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-reading People. New York, NY: Collins Living, 2008. Print.
Featured photo credit: The U.S. National Archives via flickr.com
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