56. The Mystery of Charisma

October 28, 2011

Don't you love it when you're settled in your seat to listen to a talk, maybe after a few talks that haven't really grabbed your attention, and someone comes onto the stage and within the first few moments you're captivated?  Your whole being relaxes gratefully into your seat, glad in the knowledge that the next thirty or so minutes are going to be pure, effortless enjoyment.   


Typically this person will have the audience laughing in the first minute or so, usually at their own expense; they have an openness and honesty that makes you trust and like them; and they have something of importance to say.

These are people with charisma. We listen to them, believe them, and will go the extra mile for them.

This week's tip unravels the mysteries of charisma; what is it, how is it done, and most importantly, how do you get some of it? 

'Charisma is the effortless embodiment of contradictory qualities simultaneously: strength and vulnerability; innocence and experience; singularity and typicality.'  
                               Joseph Roach, author of 'It'.

We all know someone with charisma, whether personally or from a distance. And if you've known someone with it, you usually remember them.  As you're reading this now, you're probably thinking, oh yes, so-and-so, they definitely had it. These are people that even the most fortified heart can't help but like. We may have less advertised feelings about them as well, most commonly jealousy. What's so special about them? Why are they so damned likeable? And why aren't I like that?

But.... when we're with them, for some reason we feel great.  Maybe, if we hang around them, a few of those qualities will rub off on us? And there is another thing that makes them good to be around - they seem, mystifyingly, to like us.

It is probably the mystery surrounding charisma that leads most of us to believe quite firmly that, as with singing, you either have it or you don't; that some are born under a lucky stay where attractive traits are handed out like flowers at a Honolulu airport, whilst the rest of us are birthed under some poor relation of a star where we are handed out the equivalent of plastic macs at Glastonbury.

Not so, says Ian Gilbert, editor of 'The Little Book of Charisma.' Such an attitude, he says of delegates who come up to him after his talks whimpering 'But what you if you haven't got charisma?', is a cop-out, a reason for not changing anything at all, an excuse for not even trying'. A little harsh, perhaps, but arguably better than assuming that one has no personality and never will.

Like magic, says Ian Gilbert, charisma isn't magic. It is a set of techniques, a mindset...... the application of a set of rules when interacting with people.'  Some are born with it, he concedes, and some aren't. But what we can all do is learn it.

In this interesting and practical book, the author, David Hodgson, sets out five levels which need to be worked on for charisma to be present - identity, beliefs, communication, emotion in motion, time and space. Within those five levels, he identifies no less than 38 winning patterns. Within communication, for example, one pattern is the telling of stories. You don't have to be a small child to feel a sense of excitement and anticipation when someone says, 'Let me tell you a story...'   
 
Another pattern, this time under the heading of 'beliefs', is in being a likeable expert.  We are drawn to people who know what they are talking about. An experiment found that when the same man, dressed in a suit, was introduced to one set of students as Mr Smith, and to another set of students as Dr Smith, the second set of students rated the man as taller and more attractive than the first set. Rod Stewart was obviously well aware of the power of authority when he dressed as a pilot in his youth and hung around Heathrow airport looking for 'talent.'

The slightly depressing part of the book is that David Hodgson says that you can't become charismatic by mastering just one of the levels, you need to do all five. The levels and patterns are not singular, you see, they act together in synergy. If you were starting from zero that is clearly quite a hill to climb. However, nobody is starting from zero.

So how does this all work in practice. Well if you were to take a single interaction, say giving a talk, the golden rules of charisma would look something like this:

-    Know who you are and be that person     
     (authenticity is a crucial component).
-    Know what is important to you and let it  
     show (passion is compelling, as is openly  
     expressing how you feel)
-    Communicate with skill (such as telling stories,  
     using quotes and role models, using judicious  
     repetition)
-    Let your words and actions be in line with your  
     values and passions (as Gandhi said, 'Be the  
     change you want').
-    Know where you are and who you are talking  
     to. (Take the trouble to connect with them  
     and help them into the right frame of mind).

Watch this video and see if you think this person has charisma. It's 20 minutes long and, in my humble opinion, a treat.  Keeping in mind the golden rules of charisma, see if or how she embodies these.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4Qm9cGRub0 

As an end note, one of the most important characteristics of charisma is that it appears effortless, and yet so often when we want to impress someone what do we do? We make an effort. The truth is that, in greater or lesser proportion, we all have charisma, naturally. The problem is when we think we don't.  

Try this:
1. Think of a time when you were at your best in talking to someone or a group of people.  To what extent were you obeying the rules of charisma, above?

2.  Think of a time when someone tried to impress you. What did they do exactly, and to what extent were they obeying the rules of charisma?

3.  Think of a time when you yourself were keen to impress someone, say at a meeting, an interview, a conversation with someone new.  What did you do exactly,  and how did your behaviour match up to the rules of charisma?

Enjoy being your charismatic self this week.
 

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