The word charismatic comes from the root word “charisma”, a Greek expression that means “gift” or “favor”.
Well, it is no wonder charismatic people seem to be gifted with many qualities that draw us to them.
Charismatic people have a certain charm that makes you want to listen to them, feel encouraged by them, and be compelled to align with their vision.
Some charismatic people that come to mind for me are Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. You probably know what I’m talking about if you have listened to or watched them for even a minute. You can hear it in their speeches and you see it in their mannerisms and enthusiasm for the things they are passionate about.
You may know some people like these two unique individuals, personally or from the media. If you’re like me, you often wonder how these individuals became how they are or what makes them so charismatic.
Let’s see some habits of highly charismatic people.
1. They tell captivating stories.
“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards….”
This is an excerpt of a story that Oprah used to start her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards in 2018. I doubt there was a single person in that room who was not paying rapt attention to her.
Researchers say that because of our general love for stories, when people communicate through storytelling, it captures our attention. I remember the days when night-time storytelling by the fireside was the highlight of our day.
We ascribe intelligence and wisdom to people who can connect our daily lives to stories and draw solutions for handling everyday challenges. This is a habit of highly charismatic individuals.
The art of storytelling calls for knowledge of history, excellent communication of facts, and the ability to connect analogies. Charismatic people embody these features, and this is why we admire them.
2. They communicate confidence.
Besides their physical confidence, which is seen in their expressions and attitude, highly charismatic people communicate confidence.
I love Michelle Obama for many reasons, who doesn’t? One of the reasons is because when she talks about the future of young people, especially girls, I believe our generation is on the way to accomplishing greater things.
Whenever I listen to her, I feel invigorated. She speaks from her soul with certainty, conviction, and confidence.
Highly charismatic people communicate confidence. It doesn’t matter what the occasion is; they inspire confidence.
“…You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is one of your biggest advantages”.
This excerpt from Michelle Obama’s speech at a commencement in City College of New York in 2016 gives a preview into how she communicates confidence, even in difficult situations.
3. They know how to connect.
One thing that holds people back from conversations with others is intimidation and lack of confidence. Charismatic individuals are confident and have the communication skills and stories to make it easier for them to engage in conversations with almost anyone.
Wonder how in the stories and speeches of these individuals we admire they always mention talking to a janitor or the security guard? It is because they can strike up conversations easily.
The advantage of being able to talk to people easily is that you learn about more cultures, gather more stories, and use them when you meet other people.
4. They are expressive.
Research shows that when you express similar feelings, it brings an identification, almost as if to say, “you are a real person; you are one of us”.
“I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world — they’re the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night.”
At first glance, you would assume this is an expressive statement from a regular mom. But then, when you get to know that this is an excerpt of Michelle Obama’s speech at a Democratic Convention in 2008, you might feel connected to her at some level.
It gives you the feeling that she’s like every other mother out there, even if she is a charismatic former first lady who can capture the attention of an entire stadium.
It is a misconception to think that charismatic people do not show emotion or are always calm and collected. Highly charismatic people express feelings of overwhelm, pain, and joy and connect with others who feel the same.
5. They use non-verbal strategies.
I love TED talks. This is because I just feel like almost everyone who comes to speak at the TED talks has some level of charisma. You often see speakers who can communicate their message with very few words. Usually, you can tell the broad nature of their topic by looking at their dress, posture, tone, and facial expression.
One of the reasons why we are drawn to highly charismatic people when they speak is because they use non-verbal body language to complement their verbal communication.
Body gestures, tone, and facial expressions can demonstrate excitement, pain, or passion. You may forget the exact words people use but hardly do you forget the emotions evoked within you from the non-verbal expressions you observe in charismatic people.
6. They show conviction towards a cause.
We all exhibit passion when we speak about the things we are passionate about. Remarkably charismatic people take it up a notch.
Because of their charm, one might think charismatic people have no concern for the day-day causes that most of us fight for. Climate change, women’s empowerment, endangered species; they care about these too.
You would often find charisma exhibited more when charismatic people express conviction towards a cause. This is when they tell their stories, use metaphors, and rhetorical questions and express emotions we get a sense of their moral conviction.
I would say just watch Oprah or Michelle Obama, but you might start to think I’m obsessed with them.
Who comes to mind when you think about charismatic people? Pay attention to how they show passion towards the causes they are passionate about. Their moral conviction on the issue is almost palpable.
Having said all the above, it might be best to debunk some misconceptions about charisma.
1. Charisma is supernatural.
Studies show that sociologist Max Weber once suggested charisma is supernatural and reserved for a lucky few.
Contrary to this opinion, researcher John Antonakis states that charisma can be learned. Highly charismatic people do not belong to some “secret cult” that only they were blessed to have access to.
2. Charisma Vs arrogance
Charisma has gotten a bad rep because of people like Hitler. We all probably know someone who appears charismatic, but they are just plain arrogant and narcissistic.
We have good examples of charismatic people who were far from arrogant; Nelson Mandela is one. Thus, charisma and arrogance are not bedfellows.
Charisma can determine who wins or loses elections, you can have all the best ideas, but if you lack the skills to communicate them and draw followers, you will not win.
Charismatic leaders can motivate workers to increase output; it does matter. If you want to be more charismatic, it isn’t enough to just be yourself. You have to actively make efforts to learn it like you do any other skill.
So, if charisma can be learned, how exactly does one go about it?
– Use stories and anecdotes: Now you know that people who tell stories in their speeches are not just employing tactics to make their speeches longer. There’s a method to the madness. It’s time for you to learn it too.
– Use non-verbal language: Your tone, facial expressions, gestures and can leave a memorable impression on the people you interact with.
– Communicate confidence: set high expectations, inspire confidence in people, and set them on the path to achieving these expectations.
– Express shared feelings as others.
One more thing you should know about charisma, it cannot be faked. Or at least not for long. Sooner or later, you will be discovered to be a fake.
You can make up stories and give the most motivating speeches, but when it comes to actions like going through with everything you have confidently communicated, you might be found wanting. When people realize this, it is just a matter of time before you lose their trust and credibility.
We all admire people with charismatic qualities. We want to please and emulate them, and their charisma signals a sign of a credible leader.
In the animal kingdom, some qualities such as physical strength signal leadership. Just look at the lion. For us humans, it is not physical strength; charisma does it.
You do not need to be a leader or celebrity to be charismatic. This quality can take you to many places and help you achieve your dreams.