For the latest installment of the new Level Up series, I want to talk to you about how to be more charismatic. Charisma is an important part of being a more desirable, datable person. Charisma is the difference between someone that people like to spend time with and the people who may be well liked… but aren’t quite as attractive or interesting. But when we talk about charm and charisma, people tend to focus on one example or another above all others. Take this clip of Will Smith on the Graham Norton show as an example.
Despite being on stage with four very charismatic and well-regarded celebrities, Will Smith draws more attention than anyone else. He’s able to crack jokes and riff on people’s stories – even interrupt them – without being seen as being rude. But improving your charisma isn’t just a case of “be more like Will Smith”; after all, if you’re shy or introverted, it’s hard to maintain that level of intense energy or attention. If you want to improve your charisma effectively, you want to do so in a way that meshes with your personality. Being charismatic doesn’t mean that you need to be the center of attention, it just means being able to connect with people.
So, to start leveling up your charisma, let’s look at 5 different ways of making that connection.
Charisma Boost #1: Center Of Positive Attention
Since I mentioned him in the intro, let’s start with Will Smith. Smith, at his core, is a force of nature. He effortlessly dominates conversations and draws attention to himself… and yet, he does so in such a way that nobody feels upset or upstaged by him. Yes, he ends up being the center of attention, but he does so in such a way that people welcome his presence rather than feeling annoyed that somebody is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. If almost anyone else did this, we’d be annoyed as hell… so what makes him so special?
Well, it’s the way in which he does it. He takes control of the situation naturally, in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s intruding or overwhelming people.
Most people who try to command the attention of a group do so by trying to drag everything back to them. They’re like conversational parasites, latching on to others and trying to drain everybody’s attention. By continually forcing people’s attention back to them, they suck the energy out of the room and annoy the people around them.
The people who are most effective at being the center of attention – the people with the most charisma – do so by being very giving. Any idiot can try to take over people’s attention by being loud; we see this all the time. The people who are the most charismatic, however, are the ones who are first the most giving to others. They’re the ones who will be emphasizing their approval of others when they’re talking. By laughing loudly at their jokes, signaling that they’re paying attention with nods and verbal cues and giving their approval – saying things like “yeah,” or “exactly” , they’re making it clear that they’re not just there to suck attention out of the room.
By being the most giving of their attention, they make the other people in the conversation feel good. They’ve been building up social capital and goodwill by validating others. Now, when they speak, it doesn’t feel as though they’re trying to take attention away from others. It’s simply part of the interaction. Even as they speak, they spread that attention around, directing what they’re saying to others. Doing that makes people feel included. Social parasites – the attention hogs – are focused inward instead. They couldn’t care less about the people they’re talking to. It’s all about who’s paying attention to them.
People are going to give back to the person who’s been giving to them. Even if that person ends up dominating the conversation, they’re still doing so as the person who made everyone else feel good about themselves.
But not all charisma is about performing for groups. You can be just as charismatic when you’re one-on-one
Charisma Boost #2: Focused Warmth
Take a moment to consider George Clooney. He’s almost universally regarded as one of the sexiest men in existence. He’s also, almost undoubtedly, one of the coolest cats to grace the screen. But what is it, exactly, that makes him come off as so much more charismatic than other people?
It’s his focus. Part of why he is so able to make people feel special is that he makes them feel like the center of his universe.
Take this scene from Out of Sight:
Part of what makes it so hot – and the attraction so palpable – is the way that Clooney’s entire being is focused on Jennifer Lopez.
We live in a world full of distractions that are continually competing for our attention. In almost any environment, there will be a dozen different distractions. Televisions flicker in the corner of our vision. Conversations heard at the edge of our hearing. Other people walking by. Hell, we have a hard enough time keeping our eyes off of our phones for minutes at a time. You can see couples on first dates who can’t pull their attention away from texts or emails.
But in that clip – and so many others – Clooney is riveted. As he is sitting there, talking to Lopez, you feel that there is nothing else in the world that he would be interested in. He has given her his full and absolutely undivided attention. That is incredibly rare, especially in this day and age. When somebody is that absorbed by us, it makes us feel a little nervous… but also special and important.
Everything about him says to her: “you are all I am interested in”. He’s giving her strong – even intense – eye contact. He’s holding still – no fidgety movements1 to signal impatience or nervousness. By leaning forward slightly, he’s showing that not only is he interested in what she has to say but creating a sense of intimate conspiracy. There’s nothing but the two of them.
Of course, there’s more to it than just giving someone the hairy eyeball. Part of what makes this alluring instead of creepy is his smile. He’s giving her a warm, genuine smile and it shows in his eyes. Because his face is so relaxed, his eyes look soft and inviting rather than disturbingly intense. He pauses before he talks – just for a second or two – in a way that shows he’s considering what she’s said instead of waiting for his chance to talk.
Now, while this clip is flirtatious and sexual, that focused warmth is equally as effective in platonic situations. Showing that focused warmth to a friend, a co-worker or even someone you just met is a powerful way of building a connection quickly. When it feels like someone finds us fascinating, we feel gratified. It makes us feel special in a way we rarely feel anywhere else. We feel better in their presence. And when somebody’s presence makes us feel good, we instinctively prioritize those relationships.
Charisma Boost #3: Swagger
Another way of boosting your charisma is to find your swagger. Swagger is that personality factor that separates Han Solo from Luke Skywalker or Tony Stark from Steve Rogers. It’s slightly more than just simple confidence. Confidence is often quiet and self-assured. Swagger, on the other hand, is bragging… just a little bit. It is, to quote Swingers: being money and knowing your money… and acting accordingly.
Swagger walks just on the edge between confidence and arrogance, which can be tricky. Part of what makes Tony Stark – and Robert Downey Jr. for that matter – likeable is that they have that swaggering cocksureness. There isn’t much self-deprication to be found there. Stark’s self-confidence is immodest. He never pretends that he doesn’t believe that he’s the coolest fucker in the room, nor does he downplay his accomplishments. He’s up front with the fact that he thinks he is the shit… and yet we love him for it. Despite the fact that he’s kind of a dick at times, we still find that level of ballsiness to be appealing instead of off-putting. That level of cockiness is just enough to make us want to try to keep up with him, to try to be cool enough to get his approval.
Han Solo rides a similar line – his lop-sided smile and conviction in his own appeal may be infuriating at times, but we love him all the more for it. It’s part of his appeal – it’s just a little challenging, but convincing in its intensity.
But swagger isn’t about braggadocio, it’s in how you carry yourself – acting as though you know you can’t possibly fail. If we go back to that clip of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, Clooney is dripping in swagger. He doesn’t brag or talk himself up. He is just so completely assured of himself and what he expects to happen that there’s no hesitation. Clooney carries himself in that conversation as though sex is a foregone conclusion and all that’s left is for Lopez to realize it. It ups his magnetism in such a way that it carries others along with it.
Of course, it’s important to note that nobody carries their swagger all the time. It’s something that gets doled out in small doses, in certain elements. When someone acts like that constantly – as Solo tries, at first – they become insufferable. But for the people whose personalities line up that way, a little swagger goes a LONG way.
Charisma Boost #4: Warm Authority
Another way of increasing your charisma is simply to project authority and power. We are naturally drawn to people who can project authority and who are perceived to be able to affect the world around them. People who can project authority attract us because they appeal to our desire for direction and certainty. Projecting authority gives others direction and provides comfort. It hits that feeling of “oh good, somebody knows what to do.” The feeling that somebody is in charge and knows what needs to be done brings a sense of relief to people.
There are many ways to project authority, especially in ways that give your charisma a boost. Taking charge of a conversation, for example, and being the one to control the direction, for example is one way of projecting authority. When you hear about someone with a strong personality – celebrities who tend to end up driving interviews, for example – they’re often the ones taking charge of an interaction.
However, projecting authority isn’t about making demands or giving orders. Part of what makes someone project authority is their ability to take charge in a way that feels natural and authentic. Chris Evans as Captain America, for example, gives that sense of authority without coming across as someone who’s forcing his opinion on others.
His body language conveys his confidence in any situation. Beyond his ramrod straight spine and squared shoulders, Cap takes up space. He doesn’t sprawl so much as just fills the space around him with his quiet authority. Of course, projecting authority isn’t just about giving orders; it’s simply knowing what needs to be done. He’s decisive – where other people hem and haw, he makes decisions quickly and acts on them with purpose. That certainty and determination leads to others to naturally fall in behind him; he’s acted where other people hesitate or hang back.
But having authority and power doesn’t have to be as as dramatic as giving orders during an alien invasion. Simply being the person to make a decision when everyone else is unsure can be how you show authority. By being the person to act instead of talk, you’re showing confidence and certainty.
Of course, authority isn’t enough on it’s own; being a martinet or demanding that people fall in line with you isn’t charismatic at all. What draws people to authoritative people is warmth and positive energy. Just as being giving of your attention and approval makes others pay attention when you speak, giving that approval and support of others when you project authority and power makes people feel good in your presence. Any idiot can make demands. Someone who has charisma can make people listen and follow along.
Charisma Boost #5: Vulnerability
Vulnerability isn’t something that many people associate with charisma. This is in no small part because we tend to attribute the idea of vulnerability to weakness or insecurity. In reality, however, true vulnerability – being utterly open and authentic with someone – is incredibly charismatic.
The key is understanding why vulnerability is so compelling – and it’s because being authentic and open is about strength. As an example, consider Henry Rollins.
Rollins may be a physical beast of a man, but he’s someone who is candid about being insecure, afraid of failure and about the dark side of his life. He may have been the lead singer of one of the most influential punk bands in history, but he still has that soft and squishy core about him and he has no compunctions about letting that side of him show.
And it’s that pure honesty and willingness to be that open that draws us to him. It’s not an excuse for his failures. It’s not something we’re supposed to feel sorry for. It simply is. He is raw and vulnerable and honest with us in a way that encourages us to be equally open and honest. That mutual authenticity allows us to connect on a deeper level than we could achieve with simple small talk. We feel more satisfied with our conversations with others when we allow ourselves to be truly vulnerable because we are showing our true selves.
But vulnerability isn’t about emotional vomit; we don’t just open our mouths and spill our innermost secrets. Again, watch Rollins talking about love and relationships with Ru Paul:
Rollins and Paul are being utterly open and vulnerable with one another, without self-pity or expectation of anything other than a simple connection… and it is magnetic. Vulnerability is simply about choosing to be our authentic selves and committing to our truths. We open ourselves up to the judgement of others, true. But the strength it takes to live your authentic self will draw others to you, and encourage their own openness.
And in the end: that is true charisma.
- OK, except that head-bobble he hadn’t eliminated yet [↩]