How to project charisma

Bill Clinton has it; Marilyn Monroe could switch it on and off. The 'it' is charisma. You can't help feeling your career would be more successful if you had a bit of that. So what to do ...

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 26 Jan 2016

Beware of Greeks. The word comes from the Greek, meaning 'gift'. Nowadays, there's a growing band of coaches and gurus who insist that charisma is not God-given but can be developed.

So what is it? 'It's born of the alchemy between what Aristotle called the logos, the ethos and the pathos. To persuade others, you must use powerful rhetoric, establish personal and moral credibility, and then rouse followers' emotions and passions,' says John Antonakis, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Lausanne. (Yes, he's originally Greek.)

And the components are ... 'Presence, power and warmth,' says Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth. 'You need all three, but the degree of each determines the kind of charisma you have.'

Embody your appeal. 'The first step in developing charisma is to build body awareness,' says Mark Walsh, director of leadership provider Integration Training. 'It can be through martial arts or meditation, and what it means is that you are feeling your body, and aware of its impact.'

Work on your verbal skills. Three-quarters of the 'charismatic leadership tactics' identified by Antonakis are verbal. These range from using metaphors, similes and analogies to telling stories, asking rhetorical questions and banging out three-part lists. 'We have found that people who use them appropriately can unite followers around a vision in a way that others can't,' he says.

Get physical. 'Stare like a lover, stand like a gorilla, speak like a preacher,' advises Fox Cabane. 'You want deep eye contact and a stance that broadcasts power and confidence. And you want to speak in a slow, confident, resonant and warm voice. A great preacher is the perfect metaphor: he cares about his people (warmth), he has the confidence that God is with him (power), and he is focused on his mission (presence).'

Bring out your booty. 'Good looks do confer some advantage but they're not necessary,' says Fox Cabane. She argues: 'In fact, charisma itself makes people more attractive. In experiments, participants' attractiveness was rated higher when they exhibited charismatic behaviours.'

Give it purpose. 'You will be more compelling if you have a sense of purpose,' says Walsh. 'Charismatic individuals seem connected to a bigger driving force beyond their own personal gain.'

Pay attention. Listening is an important part of projecting charisma, says Walsh. Bill Clinton leaves people feeling he was interested in them. 'Listening will mean you know if people are paying attention and being inspired by you.'

Do say: 'Look at me, I'm a gorilla'

Don't say: 'No one's interested in what little-old-me has to say'

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