Martin Luther King, Jr. Bill Clinton. Oprah Winfrey. John Kennedy.
When you think of such people, charisma is probably a word that comes to mind. Were they born with it? Or did they learn it?
Most studies agree that charisma is a combination of factors. You may be born with traits that lean you toward being charismatic, but many of the charismatic attributes shown by the people listed above also were learned and developed throughout their lives.
And you can learn them, too.
Over the years I’ve talked with many leadership and behavior experts, and they’ve offered their insight into how anyone can become more charismatic. Among their suggestions:
- Be disciplined. You must train yourself to be totally focused when another person is speaking. You can’t be darting glances around the room, answering a text message or thinking about your busy schedule. This is not often easy to do when there are many distractions, so it’s something you have to practice. Charismatic people often are described as making the speaker feel that he or she is the only person in the room.
- Convey the right message. Enter a room with your head up and your shoulders back. Make eye contact and work to eliminate speech patterns that include “uh” or “you know.” Try to mirror the body language of the person you engage in a conversation. That helps others feel more comfortable with you and establishes a quicker rapport. Nod your head at times while in a conversation to show you’re listening, or add “me too” when appropriate.
- Always be prepared. Who will you meet today? What will be the topic of conversation? Learn to take a positive mindset for whatever is coming up. Instead of dreading a networking event, for example, think of it as a chance to learn something new or get away from your email. To stay up for the event, avoid interacting beforehand with negative people or getting bogged down in depressing or stressful news.
- Be open to new ideas. Someone like Bill Gates is always in learning mode. He asks questions, focuses on obtaining new information and is willing to expose himself to new ideas. He listens as intently to a 7th grade student as he does to a world leader. Become more accustomed to hearing new information and being open to it. Expose yourself to people of all age groups and cultures, such as reading different blogs or attending community forums. Ask if you can sit in on a brainstorming session with another department.
- Be human. You've made mistakes and learned from them. Don’t be afraid to share these stories with others, because it can help draw a common connection. In workplace situations, you must behave professionally but don’t be so buttoned up that others can’t break through your veneer. Remember Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on late-night television? Or Oprah Winfrey channeling her inner Tina Turner? The events did not diminish their intelligence or commitment, but did help others have fun and relax.
- Be aware of feelings. It can be off-putting to others when you brush off compliments or are in such a hurry you can’t stop and acknowledge their presence. When someone pays you a compliment, take the time to pause and say a sincere “thank you” while looking directly at the person.
- Develop powers of persuasion. What abilities do you use to motivate others to follow your lead or persuade them to your point of view? Your idea may be terrific, but what good is that if you can’t sell it? Watch others who seem to be able to persuade others, and try to learn from their verbal and non-verbal habits and how they overcome obstacles. This would be a good time to ask such a person to serve a mentor to help you learn more persuasive skills.
- Use the human touch. While you want to avoid any inappropriate touching in the workplace, people like Bill Clinton often use one hand to shake with, while grasping the person’s upper arm. Patting someone on the back or touching an elbow while making a point can help an interaction seem more personalized and less rushed.
It’s important to remember that you can’t fake charisma. All the steps above come from hard work, commitment and patience. But just like any muscle in the body that responds to a workout, you can bet your charisma muscle will grow with time and effort.
What are some charismatic traits you've observed in others?