Olivia Fox Cabane – The Charisma Myth

Charisma gets people to like you, trust you, and want to be led by you.

Charisma is a set of specific nonverbal behaviors, not an inherent or magical personal quality.

Three quick tips to instantly increase charisma:

  1. Lower intonation of voice at end of sentences.
  2. Reduce how quickly and how often you nod.
  3. Pause for two full seconds before speaking.

Charisma is a skill that can be developed through conscious practice, and because we’re interacting with people all the time, we get to use our charisma tools on a daily basis.

Charismatic behavior can be broken down into three core elements: presence, power, and warmth.

Presence is not fakeable. Other people will always notice if you are not fully present in the interaction.

Next time you are in conversation, try to regularly check if your mind is fully engaged or whether it is wandering.

Being seen as powerful means being perceived as able to affect the world around us. Warmth tells us whether or not people will want to use whatever power they have in our favor.

People will tend to accept whatever you project.

Create a charismatic internal state and the right charismatic behaviors and body language will display automatically.

Any physical or mental discomfort will affect how charismatic you are perceived to be. Prevention is the name of the game here. And if you can’t prevent it, explain it.

Three step process to overcome mental discomfort:

  1. Destigmatize the discomfort.
  2. Neutralize the negative thoughts.
  3. Rewrite your perception.

Visualization is one of the most effective charisma-boosting tools available.

How to visualize:

  • Close eyes and relax.
  • Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant.
  • Hear the sounds in the room, see peoples’ smiles and expressions, feel your feet on the ground.
  • Experience the feelings, the warm glow of confidence rising within you.

Simply considering the possibility of gratitude or looking for a small thing to appreciate will send a positive change sweeping through your body language.

Using goodwill in your daily interactions can instantly infuse your body language with more warmth, kindness, care and compassion. One simple way to start is to find three things you like about the person you want to feel goodwill towards.

When speaking to someone, think, “No place I’d rather be, no one I’d rather be with.”

It may be helpful to imagine that you are acting. Think of the most charismatic person you know and adopt their actions.

Four types of charisma:


  • Cultivate presence
  • Useful for all business situations, particularly when you need people to open up and share information.
  • Avoid when you need to appear authoritative or when you need immediate compliance.


  • Project complete conviction an confidence in a cause
  • Craft a bold vision and deliver it without any doubt.
  • Useful for inspiring people and for creativity.


  • Practice accessing warmth with gratitude, goodwill, compassion, and self-compassion. Avoid tension, criticism, or coldness.
  • Useful to create an emotional bond or to make people feel safe and comfortable.
  • Avoid when you need to appear authoritative.


  • Project power by displaying signs of status and confidence. Change your mental state to one of complete confidence. Take up space, reduce total movement, reduce nonverbal reassurances, speak less and slower with pregnant pauses and modulated intonation.
  • Useful for immediate compliance an where you want people to listen and obey.
  • Inhibits critical thinking in others, doesn’t invite feedback, makes you appear arrogant.

Don’t try to force a charisma type that you naturally don’t have.

If you want to make others feel comfortable, adapt to their tribal wear. Look at the range of choices within that environment and choose the upper end.

The right handshake costs far less and will do far more for you than a designer suit can. The Perfect Handshake: Eye contact, smile warmly but briefly; head straight, face them fully; hand perpendicular to ground; wide space between thumb and index finger; flat palm; wrap fingers around their hand one by one; lock thumb down and squeeze about as much as they do; shake from the elbow; linger for a moment and step back.

For kindness or focus charisma: open with a compliment about what they are wearing.

Continue with open ended questions: “Where are you from?”, “What brought you here tonight?”, etc.

Bounce back technique: answer the question, add a personal note, redirect to them.

It’s all about keeping the spotlight on them for as long as possible.

Adjust your choice of words, breadth and depth of vocabulary, and expressions to match the audience: focus on their fields of interest and/or choose metaphors from those domains.

Leave conversations by offering value:

  • Information that could be useful to them
  • Introduction to someone else
  • Visibility within an organization you belong to
  • Recognition, an award you think they should be nominated for

Never, ever interrupt. But if someone interrupts you, let them. Keep your sentences short and leave frequent pauses for them to jump in.

Pause before answering to make people feel truly listened to.

Whenever you can, speak in pictures. Involve as many of the five senses as possible.

Most important metrics:

  • ratio of speaking to listening
  • amount of voice fluctuation

Vary your voice’s pitch, volume, tone, tempo, or rhythm. Practice with a voice recorder by speaking the same sentence over and over with different variations.

Imitating someone’s body language is an easy way to establish trust and rapport.

If you want to make someone feel comfortable, avoid seating them with their back to an open space and sit next to or at a 90 degree angle from them.

Keep eye contact for a full three seconds at the end of every interaction.

Consequences of high charisma: magnet for praise, but also for envy; held to a higher standard than others. Mitigation techniques: sharing credit, expressing praise for others, showing vulnerability.