When I was in middle school, I felt certain that traits had to have been genetic gifts…
Some people seemed to understand social relationships and were magically gifted with social skills, whereas I was pretty lacking in that department. It didn’t help that I had moved to a new city and had a terrible haircut, but that is a story for another day. I decided that people likely had pie charts of traits, and my pie chart was more heavily weighted on the intelligence side over looks and likeability. Over time, it occurred to me that these traits weren’t necessarily something that was traded off, but rather could be acquired with some effort. As my career grew, I realized that the likeability factor was actually turning into a deficit that needed addressing, and the pursuit of charisma began.
Charismatic people have three key characteristics in common: warmth, presence, and power. For each of these characteristics, there are some simple hacks that can give us some great gains- this really can be learned!!
Warmth is the feeling that people get when they can tell that you actually care about what happens to them- this was the trait that I would argue Hillary Clinton struggled with the most. The challenge with warmth is that it cannot be faked- pretending to care can be as off-putting as not caring at all. In order to project warmth, you have to engage with a compassion story for the person or audience to whom you are speaking. This is a mental exercise, before the encounter, where you practice the story that would make you feel compassion for that group.
For example, if you are speaking to college graduates, you would project more warmth if you focused internally on the struggle ahead of them in finding good jobs and trying to make their way in the world than you would if you thought of them as lucky young people who have their lives ahead of them.
Presence comes from making people aware that you are completely attending to the situation. Eliminate all distractions and keep reminding yourself to pay attention to that person as if they are the only person in the room. Make eye contact, and allow for a pause for about 2 seconds after they stop talking before you start talking- this simple pause demonstrates that you are taking them seriously.
Power comes from authority in body language and speech. Of the three characteristics, this is the easiest one to fake. If you practice holding your body language in a dominant stance (shoulders back, chin up, taking up space), you will project power. The more you practice steady and projected voice, the more your words will be carried with authority.
Now for the fun part- try these three characteristics on when you have your next easy encounter- coffee with a friend or over dinner with your partner. Are there any differences in how they respond? My favorite response (after having practiced for several years) was when a friend told me that they felt that I had gone through this strange change for the better, but could not put their finger on why.