I want to talk to you about charisma and what it takes to be more charismatic. We’ve all seen those individuals who can command people’s attention and respect. They’re the folks who hold court at parties or who seem to be able to make friends instantly wherever they go. They have that “it” factor that makes people want to spend time with them. It’s something we all wish we had.
And we can. As with social success, people tend to assume that charisma is an inborn trait. Either you’re naturally charismatic or you’re not, and there’s nothing you can to do about it. In reality though, charisma isn’t about genetics or upbringing; it’s the culmination of several small factors that add up to making someone more magnetic and likable. People aren’t more charismatic because of an accident of birth but because of their habits. And if you learn to start adopting these habits, you can instantly raise your own charisma and be that charming person you’re envious of.
Be More Charismatic by Using Your Body
A key to charisma is to develop your presence. Charismatic people are often described as being “larger than life” or that they “fill the room”. The reason for this is simple: they express themselves in a way that makes them more noticeable. Charismatic people draw the eye and keep people’s attention on them. You can’t help but pay attention.
Why? Is it because they’re that good looking? No, not really. Looks can certainly help, don’t get me wrong, but charisma is about more than your physical appearance. Serge Gainsbourg looked like a frog dipped in nicotine, but he could still command everyone’s attention.
Is it size? Dwayne Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both incredibly imposing figures after all. But then again, Tom Cruise is only 5’7″ and is more magnetic than an MRI.
It’s not about what your body looks like, it’s how you use your body. Charismatic people use their bodies – especially their hands and faces – to communicate and convey meaning. Being expressive pulls people’s attention to you and keeps it focused on you by making you more interesting. Using your hands when you talk, for example, helps punctuate and illustrate what you have to say. Miming what you’re talking about – holding out your hands when talking about getting a hug, slumping when talking about being sad or depressed or putting up your fists when talking about a confrontation – makes the stories more immediate and vivid. Making sharp, distinct gestures with your hands – a wave, a clap, a hand slap, etc. – give your words emphasis.
Even simply making bigger, more deliberate gestures as you talk make you seem bigger. It makes you more visible and present, and thus better able to focus people’s attention.
But it’s your face that can help keep people riveted and invite them to connect with you. Giving someone a big, warm, genuine smile makes them feel good and puts them at ease. It shows that you like them. Making eye contact with someone and then smiling is a sign that you like them and makes you more approachable.
Using your face and head to gesture also helps get others to engage with you. Making a point to nod while someone is speaking to you lets them know you’re listening. In fact, slowly nodding three times as they talk encourages them to keep talking – it’s a sign that says “I’m engaged, keep it up.” Similarly, letting your emotions show on your face as you talk makes you more expressive and more captivating. It draws people in and asks them to connect with the feelings that you’re trying to convey. Being stone-faced, on the other hand, turns people off. It makes you feel dismissive and cold, and these are the antithesis of charisma.
Speaking of engaging with folks…
Focus on Your Commonalities
Charismatic people make you feel like you know each other, even though you’ve just met. Even when you have wildly different lives, charismatic people have the ability to make you feel that they can relate to you. They do this by focusing on commonalities – the areas that you both share, whether it’s in experiences, interests or opinions. Finding those areas that you both have in common is important whether you’re trying to make friends or build attraction. It’s a way of building rapport – a way of creating a sense of trust and understanding. You may be total strangers, but the more similar you feel to someone, the more you relate to them and the more interesting you find them.
One of the ways to emphasize those commonalities is to focus on where you agree with people. When a charismatic person is listening to someone – and they spend a lot of time listening – they tend to say “yes” or “exactly” or “I know what you mean”. They’re affirming and validating the person they’re listening to and showing that they understand and agree. It’s a very small thing, something you might not even notice normally, but it makes them that much more likable.
The interesting moments, however, are when they disagree with someone. Even then, charismatic people first focus on the areas where they do agree. When it’s something minor – you have slightly different ideas about what makes a good TV show, for example – charismatic people will emphasize the parts that you agree on. You may disagree about whether Arrow is better or worse Daredevil, for example, but charismatic people will say “I agree; it’s the characters’ relationships that make the show more than the writing”.
When it’s something that you’re at opposite ends of, however, charismatic people make sure to validate the person they’re talking to. “You have a good point,” for example, reaffirms the other person’s opinions and shows that you can relate to them, even when you disagree. So does “I see what you’re saying” or “I understand.”
Even though you may be on differing sides of a subject, charismatic people make sure to emphasize that, despite those differences, you have more in common than not.
Another area where charismatic people encourage people to connect with them is that they’re comfortable being vulnerable.
A mistake that many people make is that they assume that being even a little imperfect is a weakness. This is especially true with men: if you admit to being scared or confused or needing help then you’ve shown that you’re not a Real Man. In reality, people who are comfortable with being vulnerable are the most confident. They are assured enough in who they are and in their own worth that they aren’t afraid of letting people know who they truly are. In doing so, they make themselves not just more relatable but more inspiring.
See, it’s easy to assume that people – especially people we admire and look up to – have it all together. We see someone who’s strong and confident and, while we may admire that confidence and strength, we have a hard time connecting with it. We think of them as being perfect and having all the answers, while we’re stuck trying to muddle through as best we can. That’s why those moments of vulnerability can be so powerful; they humanize people and make them infinitely more relatable. We may admire them, but now we feel like we have more in common. They’re like us, dealing with fear and loss and confusion.
Moreover though: it demonstrates their authenticity to us. In a world where everything is carefully curated and we try to present the best face possible on everything, someone being real with us is insanely powerful. It shows a level of confidence many people don’t have: that they have the strength and certainty to take ownership of their emotions. Whether it’s their attraction for someone, their love for their friends or family or the times they’ve been hurt or scared, being open like that takes bravery. And that bravery is powerful.
Note very carefully that I said “vulnerability”, not “emotional vomit”. Someone who tells sob story after sob story or is always on the verge of crying isn’t being charismatic.
Vulnerability doesn’t mean just dumping your feelings on someone with no regard to time, context or appropriateness. It doesn’t mean making other people responsible for your emotional state. Being vulnerable means owning your emotions and your interests – even if they don’t make you look your best – and being your authentic self.
One of the most important habits among charismatic people is that they aren’t passive. They don’t wait for things to happen, they make them happen. One of the reasons why we like charismatic people is the way they tend to take charge of a situation. We appreciate that surety and confidence in others. Most people tend to hang back or want to take the temperature of the room before making a move or expressing an opinion. Charismatic people move forward with the confidence of someone knowing that they were born for this. A less charismatic person will hang back, while a more charismatic one will take the lead.
Think of being at a party or a function where you don’t know anyone. There’s a natural temptation to hang back and wait to be introduced. More charismatic individuals tend to be the ones doing the introducing. They treat getting to know someone as a gift – they’re finding a friend they hadn’t met before. They also are the ones who introduce people to others and encourage people to talk.
To continue the party example: the more charismatic will be the ones leading the conversation at parties. They have a point and they’re going to make it. They have questions and they want to hear your answers. So rather than hanging back or fishing for a topic, they’ll leap right in. Even if the topic isn’t the one everyone’s saying, they’ll bridge the gap. They’ll use transition phrases like “That reminds me…” or “Hey, check this out…” and use check-ins like “you know what I mean?” while they talk to pull people in and keep them engaged. In group situations, they’re a little bit louder than everyone else, because they want to be heard. As with confident body language, it’s a way of taking up space – with your voice instead of your body. It helps ensure that people listen, instead of talking over them.
Now, it’s very easy to mistake being more assertive with being aggressive or even domineering. There’s a difference between being assertive and dominating an interaction. Insisting on being in control or shouting people down isn’t charismatic – it’s rude. You’re not trying to be the big swinging dick. In fact, the most charismatic people tend to focus on people other than themselves.
Find The Way To Prop Up Others
Part of why we like charismatic people is that they make us feel good. When we spend time with someone with truly absurd levels of charisma, we feel better about ourselves. Why? Because charismatic people go out of their way to show that they find us fascinating and entertaining. That sense of being liked makes us feel amazing. It’s such a small thing but it stays with us.
There’s a temptation to hold back approval, to make others feel they have to earn it. It becomes a way of holding oneself over others. JK Simmons’ Fletcher in Whiplash, for example, can be magnetic when he wants. There’s a certain appeal to that initial certainty, a desire to want to please him. But at the end of the day: Fletcher’s abusive. His charisma is there long enough to draw you in before punishing you and leaving you feeling worse… even if it’s “for your own good.” Their presence becomes a drag on your soul, a canker on your sense of self. The momentary appeal gives way to something that makes you feel even worse.
Think of the last time you were with someone who thought you were hilarious. How good did you feel? How much did you want to keep them around? What about someone who was happy – genuinely, enthusiastically happy for you – when you told them about some accomplishment? How validated did you feel? Think of how that feeling stayed with you through the day. How amazing was it?
That feeling is a gift to people, and people who know how to be charismatic give it freely. They laugh – not a polite laugh, but good, loud laugh – at your jokes. They celebrate with you, even in minor ways. Think of that cool guy who gives you a high-five when you say something awesome or funny or when you two are just so in synch it’s crazy. Think of that person who gives you the feeling that they are just happy to hang out and talk to you, giving you some of their precious time. Look back on the people who have the infectious smile and that positive energy that just carries you along.
Tom Cruise is famous for his ability to make people feel as though they’re the most interesting person in the room. It doesn’t matter what mundane job they have or interests they enjoy – Cruise makes a point to show that he’s giving them his full attention. He’s smiling and nodding as he listens. He’s asking questions. It’s a very small thing, but the act of listening, really listening, not just waiting for your turn to talk, shows people that you want to hear what they say.
Charismatic people bring the positive energy and they use it to empower and validate others. They’re sharing their good time. They want you to feel good too.
It’s that positivity, that sense that they think you’re awesome that makes them so compelling. And more than anything else, that’s what makes us want to spend time with them and to keep them in our lives if we can.
Charisma can seem rare or magical. But making small changes and developing these habits will make you riveting and magnetic seemingly overnight.