What is charisma? It’s difficult to put your finger on, but you know it when you see it. That’s the first message of Harley Street-based Richard Reid, aka Mr Charisma, who I recently had a session with.
Reid defines charisma in the negative. It’s “not charm” – because that isn’t authentic. Someone who is charismatic is often a marmite character – “people may not like them, but they’ll have a brand. What they stand for will be recognised and respected.” Many of the successful individuals in leadership positions are naturally charismatic, but being so can also be taught and learnt. Here are three tips from Reid.
Take control of your body
A common hinderance to becoming more charismatic, particularly when delivering presentations or speeches, is nerves. Whether it’s clammy hands, a stiff jaw or that sudden urge to go to the loo, nervousness does funny things to the body – and that can stymie charisma. “Our thoughts are betrayed through our body language, so it’s vital that we think about how we’re holding ourselves, but also try to quell those negative thoughts in the first place.”
Reid suggests turning to the technique of anchoring (see the box-out). “We perform better when we’re relaxed. Stress floods the primitive parts of our brains with certain hormones, which cloud judgement and make it hard for us to recall facts.” Anchoring invokes the same association/response as Pavlov’s Dogs, enabling you to feel a sense of contentment instantly, clearing your mind and helping you to focus.
Stop talking about yourself
In meetings, says Reid, we either go into fight or flight mode – half of us sit poised to launch into points we want to make as quickly and as loudly as possible, while others switch off, waiting for it all to be over. “If you really want to make yourself heard, take a step back. Rather than searching for the weakness in what someone else is saying, actually listen to what it is they want and work from there.” Persuasion is always preferable to exploiting vulnerability.
It’s the same message for one-to-one conversations. “People often preference their own performance over genuine interactions, particularly at networking events,” says Reid. Rather than asking open-ended questions and engaging with what someone is saying, you’ll hijack their conversation – even if it’s just to avoid silences. “The trouble with this is that you become a salesman, and that will agitate the other person.”
Being charismatic involves being comfortable enough to let others lead. “Give yourself the opportunity to understand someone else. If they’re talking about a difficult experience, don’t gloss over it with fact or a change of direction. Be brave and say, ‘you still sound upset about that now’ and let them respond. They’ll come away thinking, ‘that person gets me’, which will also make them interested in you.”
Blow your own trumpet
Many of us are very good at putting ourselves down. “We self-deprecate because it takes the power away from someone else – i.e. they then can’t put us down. It’s a defence mechanism,” says Reid. The trouble is that “it suggests uncertainty, and that is unlikely to fill anyone else with confidence in your ability.”
A charismatic person, he adds, won’t deny their flaws, but will have a “growth mindset” around failure – focusing on what can be improved upon, rather than baulking at the prospect of attempting a difficult task again. They will also pay themselves compliments. “At the same time as acknowledging setbacks, be confident in saying when something has gone well.”
Reid also says that a vital part of becoming a more charismatic person is accepting compliments from others. “People have a real problem with taking compliments at face value, but it’s important to educate your brain into doing so.” Try going a step further and agree with someone when they compliment you, he suggests – this will help solidify it in your mind. “You can probably remember the last time you left work and played over something that went badly. But when was the last time your dwelled on someone congratulating you on something that went well?”