Charisma has been described as personal magnetism or charm. To me, charisma is all about an individual’s infectious positive attitude and personal energy, as projected through his or her body language. People are the most charismatic when they are genuinely enthused, confident, and upbeat about themselves and their topic.
As a leadership coach, I help clients develop their own unique brand of charisma.
I also help them fake it.
Trying to display confidence when you’re actually feeling uncertain, or trying to be seen as upbeat and positive when you are feeling the opposite, is a tricky thing. In my book The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help— or Hurt—How You Lead, I discuss two options: you can use a “Method” acting technique or you can work at the somatic level with a “powerful postures” strategy. The first strategy requires practice. The second takes less than two minutes.
1. Become an actor (or at least borrow one of their techniques).
“The Method” technique refers to an approach to acting that draws on real past emotions. For example, an actor preparing for a role that involves fear would think of a memory of something that had actually frightened him or her in the past, then use that memory to make the acting role feel emotionally valid.
As a leader, your goals are different from those of an actor in a play, but the sense of conviction and believability you want to project is fundamentally the same. For example, if you were about to attend an important meeting and you wanted to exude confidence and charisma, here is how you might use “The Method” to help you prepare:
- Think of an occasion where you were enthusiastic, confident, and successful. (This could be a memory of a professional achievement, but it doesn’t have to be taken from your business life. What’s important is identifying the right set of emotions.)
- Picture that past event clearly in your mind. Recall the feeling of certainty and achievement of clarity of purpose. Remember or imagine how you drew people to you as you embodied that state of mind.
- Then picture yourself at the upcoming meeting, exuding that same positive attitude and personal charisma. The more you repeat this mental rehearsal—seeing yourself at the upcoming meeting as assured, confident, and charismatic, the more you will increase your ability to enter the meeting room exhibiting body language that is triggered by that authentic, positive emotion.
2. Hold that powerful pose.
You know that the way you feel affects your body. If you are feeling reluctant or depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look downward. Conversely, if you feel upbeat and assured, you tend to expand your chest and stand tall.
But did you know that the reverse is also true? Your posture has a powerful impact on your emotions and on the way that others perceive you. Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that simply holding your body in an expansive, “high-power” pose (in the study subjects either leaned back with hands behind their heads and their feet up on a desk or stood leaning over a desk while planting their hands far apart) for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of testosterone—the hormone linked to power and dominance—and lower levels of cortisol, the “stress” hormone.
In addition to causing hormonal shifts in both males and females, the researchers found that these powerful postures lead to increased feelings of power and a higher tolerance for risk. They also found that people are more often influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're actually saying. (Which is exactly why body language training is so effective for my executive clients!)
So the next time you’re heading into a situation in which you want to project your most charismatic self, start by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back, widening your stance and holding your head high. Then smile and stretch your arms out wide (or place them on your hips (“arms akimbo”). Just by holding this pose for a minute or two you will begin to feel surer of yourself and you’ll project real confidence and charisma.