Demystifying Charisma

Brennan, Team AoT

Why is that guy in the room getting all the attention? Why does everyone listen to him and not me? It’s not fair!

Well, if you have ever faced these problems, you lack charisma.

Charisma? Oh, the thing that you’re born with and makes you awesome?

Yes, it makes you awesome. No, you’re not born with it. Charisma can be learned, acquired, and mastered, but to do that you have to do your homework and practice it. For this, I highly recommend The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane.

charisma myth
Spend less time on Facebook and more time facing this book. (source)

In this book, she gives great insights into what makes a person charismatic, what are the obstacles towards and what are the solutions to achieving that. However, for those of you who do not have the luxury of time to delve into this treasure trove, here are some insights that I have gleaned from this book:

Myth 1: Charisma is something that you are born with.

The common myth about charisma is that it is an inherent trait- something that you are born with. However, it is in fact a learned behaviour- something you can pick up along the way. Research[1] has shown that charisma is made of specific nonverbal behaviours, not an ambiguously “magical” personal quality.

Myth 2: You need to be outgoing to be charismatic.

As mentioned above, charisma is made of specific nonverbal behaviors. These behaviors do not necessarily correlate with how outgoing or extroverted you are. There are both charismatic introverts and charismatic extroverts. A charismatic introvert could be someone who does not speak much, but when he does everyone leans in to listen because what he has to say is important and profound.

Myth 3: Only attractive people are charismatic.

Some charismatic people are more attractive than others, but it is not a necessity. Sir Winston Churchill was not highly regarded in terms of sex appeal, yet he was one of the most influential and powerful leaders in history. In fact, charisma itself will make you more attractive.

What is Charisma?

Overall, charisma is a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire others. Charisma can be broken down into three core components: Presence, Power and Warmth. Presence is about how mentally engaged you are in an interaction. It’s not about how much time you spend interacting with a person, but rather how fully present you are in each interaction. If you are not fully present, even the minutest of gestures will give it away, such as a split second delay in reactions or your eyes losing focus.

Power is your ability to affect the world around you, whether through authority, expertise, physical strength or even kindness. We look for clues of power in someone’s appearance, reaction to others and body language. Warmth is whether you will use whatever power you have in the favour of others. This includes being benevolent, altruistic or caring.

In order to maximise charisma, you need to increase both your power and warmth besides maintaining your presence. A person who projects power without warmth could come across as arrogant, cold or downright douchey. On the other hand, someone who demonstrates warmth but lacks power, while likeable, may come across as overeager, subservient or desperate to please.

Styles of Charisma

People can choose to focus on different aspects of power, presence and warmth to form their own style of charisma. In her book, Cabane mentions four styles: Focus, Visionary, Kindness, and Authority.

Focus Charisma is based on presence. It gives people the perception that you are fully present with them, intensely paying attention to you and listening to what you say. It makes people feel heard and understood. An example would be Elon Musk, who also happens to be an introvert. However, when he steps onto the stage the audience can feel the intensity of his attention on them and how he absorbs whatever they have to say. Focus Charisma is highly dependent on attentive demeanour, as that is how people perceive presence in an interaction.

Visionary Charisma is founded on belief. You have to have so much conviction in what you say until it becomes contagious. It is effective because it deals with our natural discomfort with uncertainty. A famous example of Visionary Charisma is none other than Steve Jobs. His use of hyperboles like “insanely great” and repetition of demonstrations (“Did you see how awesome that was? Let’s do it again”) projects genuine excitement and passion for his product. Again, Visionary Charisma is dependent on confident demeanour- namely body language and behaviour. Appearance matters far less than other styles.

Kindness Charisma is all about projecting warmth. It makes people feel welcomed, appreciated and most of all completely accepted. This instantly draws people in and connects with them on a deeper level. Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama are both powerful wielders of Kindness Charisma. Listening to them, you would be more open to agreeing with what they say. For Kindness Charisma, you need to have a gentle demeanor, avoiding gestures associated with tension, criticism or distance.

Finally, Authority Charisma is reliant on how others perceive your power. It has four key indicators: body language, appearance, title and reaction of others. You may not be likeable projecting Authority Charisma, but if balanced correctly it is one of the most powerful forms of charisma. Think of the various dictators across history. Stalin spoke in a calm and steady manner to project his confidence and authority, very much in line with his “man of steel” image. Hitler used a lot of body language in his speeches to project his aggressive dedication and authority. Yes it can be used for good or for evil, but with the right use of Authority Charisma it can motivate a team and increase their level of play.

Wrapping It Up

“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom” – Lao Tzu

These are just some of many insights into charisma at surface level from the book. In order to grasp a deeper understanding of and to better improve your charisma, I cannot stress any more the importance of reading this book. In the mean time, try practicing these tips and see if there’s any notable difference the next time you’re speaking in a room full of people. Ultimately, it’s up to you to come up with your own style of charisma.



[1] “J. I. Davis, J. J. Gross, and K. N. Ochsner, “Psychological Distance and Emotional Experience: What You See Is What You Get,” Emotion 11, no. 2 (2011): 438–44. J. J. Gross, G. Sheppes, and H. L. Urry, “Emotion Generation and Emotion Regulation: A Distinction We Should Make (Carefully),” Cognition and Emotion 25, no. 5 (2011): 765–81. doi:10.1080/02699931.2011.555753.”



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