8 Easy Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Charisma

Charisma – that mysterious, ambiguous, effervescent quality that separates the nerds and the chumps from the George Clooneys and James Bonds. While a lucky few are born with it, it is something that even the Urkels of the world can practice and develop.

All charisma really is: a collection of behaviors that make you appealing to others. From interviews to sales pitches to business relationships, whether or not you purposefully develop these behaviors will determine the trajectory of your career.

Here are eight of those behaviors that you can easily begin to practice, and that have a huge impact on whether or not you possess the quality of "charisma".

#1: Build Your Circle of Friends

Your mom might have told you that you are judged by the company you keep. As usual, she was right, and she still is. On top of that, research has also shown that a child's friends have a much greater impact on how he or she turns out than anything else, including genetics or family environment. This phenomenon extends through adulthood.

If you surround yourself with charismatic, likeable, confident, and responsible friends, not only will they push you to be the same kind of person, but when people see you with that group of people, they will assume you're the same way even if you're not. This goes for professional as well as personal relationships – do you think about the kind of people you hang out with at work? Are they known for being slackers or complainers?

If you honestly assess your circle of personal friends and find it to be lacking, it's either time to break out of your bubble and make some new friends, or make some tough choices about how you allocate your time. This doesn't mean you disown any of your friends who haven't had the same level of professional success as you; different people have different priorities in life, and I hope you have at least a few friends who chose differently from you on the career front.

What it does mean is that if you are surrounding yourself with people who consistently make bad choices, you need to confront them about it as a friend, and begin to purposefully focus your limited time resources on relationships that strengthen you and how other people see you.

#2: Think About What You Wear

I'm not going to spend much time here because it isn't complicated: wear clothes that fit, get rid of anything with a giant logo, and be classy, not trendy. Invest in a good tailor. It's been said that clothes make the man, and it's true – you're going to have a hard time being the charismatic person you want to be if your clothes say you're either a slob or a try hard.

#3: Learn the Art of Listening

The distinguishing characteristic of people who possess charisma is that they make you feel like you're the most important person in the world when you're talking to them. It's really not that hard to pull this off. When someone speaks to you, pause, visibly put down and turn away from whatever you're doing, and turn your body and your eyes to that person. Taking a split second to perform this little ritual makes all the difference in the world, communicating subtly but powerfully that you value the other person.

As you listen, consciously focus on what the other person has to say, responding to what they're saying with both your words and your body language. As long as they're speaking, do not look away. You've probably heard this a million times before, but it is a truly difficult task, and one that requires practice to perfect. If you don't have the time to truly listen, man up and say so – don't nod your head and hope they wrap up soon and go away. You're wasting not only your time, but also the opportunity to strengthen your reputation as someone worth talking to.

#4: Master the Art of Eye Contact

One of the things that people who personally knew Steve Jobs consistently bring up when they talk about him was his intense eye contact. Those who possess charisma have the ability to completely focus their attention on one thing (not just a person), and unbroken eye contact is a natural part of that focus. Again, this is something you are going to have to practice. This is the key: think of your eye contact as a resource just like time or money, and don't waste it on just anything. It is this conscious use of eye contact, not simply the ability to maintain it, that increases its value and therefore its power.

Bill Clinton is another master of eye contact. One trick he uses is that when he is finished talking to someone, he starts to move his body away before he breaks eye contact. His eyes "linger" for a moment before moving on, which finishes and cements their feeling that he is interested in and engaged with them. This can be creepy if not done correctly, so again, practice until it feels right.

#5: Manage Personal Space

This is probably the most ambiguous behavior, and the most difficult to master. Owning your personal space goes beyond things like keeping your legs apart when standing, or letting your arms rest outside rather than inside your body when sitting. Someone with charisma has command of his or her personal space. I'm not talking about demonstrating your authority or posturing aggressively; I'm talking about being aware of your personal space and that of others, and being able to comfortably and purposefully use it. Personal space management is highly dependent on movement. Similarly to eye contact, someone with charisma doesn't waste a lot of movement; he or she uses it purposefully, and understands the effects that each movement has.

I'm going to go a little unorthodox on this one and recommend Cesar Milan as an example of someone who has mastered this art. Dogs rely more on posturing and communicating ownership of space than people do, and it is fascinating to see how Cesar manipulates his personal space to accomplish his goals with the dogs he works with. Yes, I am arguing that watching Dog Whisperer will help your career.

#6: Be Aware of Body Language

We've already discussed eye contact and personal space management, but there are other aspects of body language that should be understood. For example, we often tend to think of body language as the result of our internal feelings, but the opposite is also true. We can change our mood simply by changing our body language. Don't look at the ground when you walk; keep your gaze straight ahead. Stand straight, and put your shoulders back. Again, this is probably something you've heard many times before, but it is interesting how you can purposefully change your mood by its application.

As another example, check out the videos below of some of the most recent presidential debates. Notice how when the candidates greet each other, Obama will not take his left arm off of Romney. This isn't a weird mannerism; it's highly purposeful. From the audience's perspective, the person on the right will always appear weaker because of the position of their hand. By patting Romney's arm, Obama is avoiding this imagery.

(Start at 0:45)

(Start at 0:30)

To get you thinking more about what body language communicates (both yours and other people's), try this book as an introduction: What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro. Armed with this knowledge, start thinking about how you use body language, and adjust accordingly.

Side note: Attempting to use things like eye contact, personal space management, and body language can come off as awkward. Try not to force anything; instead, try to be purposefully aware of these things, and you will find yourself getting better at them as time goes on.

#7: Have Something to Say

A person who has charisma is first and foremost an amazing listener, but when they open their mouth, what comes out needs to be something worth hearing. A big part of the way you develop this skill is by listening to others – the best way to have something interesting to say is to listen to (meaning hear, understand, and remember) the experiences and perspectives of people who are different from you.

The written word is also your friend. Select your daily reading from a range of diverse sources. Use tools like Twitter, Quora, and Digg selectively. I cannot stress enough how important it is to cull useless news sources – simplify as you diversify. I recommend you include sources like Yahoo Weird News, Popular Science, and National Geographic as well as the Wall Street Journal.

#8: Master the Art of Storytelling

Along those same lines, how you say something is probably more important that what you say. Storytelling isn't just about recounting an event; anything you communicate will be more powerful if it is in the context of a story.

I personally feel that the best way to develop this skill is to start telling stories to children. Find a nephew or little cousin and practice telling them the story of Jack and the Beanstalk in a way that captures their attention - with descriptive details and enthusiasm. Children are great because they give you immediate feedback; they won't politely hang around pretending to listen if you get boring.

It's hard to resist the urge to remain aloof as you tell a story because doing so allows you to avoid looking dumb if you fail to capture anyone's interest. Storytelling is really about getting someone to share your feelings or perspective on a certain topic, and if you act like your feeling or perspective isn't anything great, there is no way you'll convince someone else it is.

Comments (25)

Sep 3, 2013 - 6:35pm


None of these things are very easy if you're not already charismatic -_-

Nothing is easy to master, but anything is easy to start if you know the steps. These are the steps - pick one and start.

Sep 3, 2013 - 7:10pm

Here's a stupid story from an earlier life from me. I used to play a lot of golf and my parents always said to model your behavior after Tiger Woods on the golf course (minus the club throwing and swearing that the editors conveniently cut away from). Point being, he just Looked like a pro. Great visual example of how to carry yourself. Of course, most guys would want to take after his off-the-course behavior minus the whole marriage bit of course. Maybe DL3 is the better example here.

Sep 3, 2013 - 7:42pm

Personal experience - I've been lucky enough to know a lot of great people, and I've been attentive enough to start to understand what makes them who they are. This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it does present a few specific behaviors that get you started with understanding what charisma really is.

Sep 3, 2013 - 7:38pm

Very good post. No one is born with these skills mastered. It takes practice through much trial and error. All the more of a reason to start now than later.

Couple tips I picked up in the industry that go well with the above points:
1) Greet and introduce yourself to anybody you meet with your full name. Always.
2) when extending your hand for a handshake, do not fully extend your arm out. Keep your forearm and hand extended but keep your shoulder at your body. This allows the person to "enter" into YOUR zone by their own accord. Otherwise subconsciously they get defensive, cautious, and more likely to raise objections in the deal. And let them control the motion of the hand shake.
3) right eye to right eye contact when shaking hands creates an instant connection subconsciously.
4) bonus tip: when meeting clients if they are husband and wife, rearrange the seating positions such that if you are male the man sits to your right (if youre right handed, or to the left if you're left handed) and his wife sits to his side opposite from you and vice versa if you are female. Sounds crazy, but when making a pitch their primal instincts will kick in and they get defensive if you are between them or sandwiching their spouse and are more likely to raise objections or use the "I'll have to think about it" excuse.

Great post. Thanks for the quick reminder Rhys da Vinci.

Sep 4, 2013 - 9:30am

Very good post, thanks. I agree with what you pointed out, especially in regards to body langauge and having something to say.

I'm talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars, buddy. A player. Or nothing.

See my Blog & AMA

Sep 4, 2013 - 5:38pm

Great post. Storytelling is often overlooked in these types of posts. I read somewhere that Lincoln used to sit around with friends and have storytelling contests.

"I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor, boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him." - Mike Tyson
Sep 5, 2013 - 2:30pm

All great advice. I'd say that Gavin Newsome is also one to take a look at in studying mannerisms. Much like Bill Clinton, he has a high reality distortion field. Worked as a volunteer on his gubernatorial campaign and I've never met someone who could just suck you in so quickly with just a handshake and eye contact.

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. Socrates
Sep 6, 2013 - 8:59pm

Awesome tips. Often times we do tend to forget these "soft skills," but surely they pay dividend in the long run. Your advice about practicing storytelling, not what you say, but HOW you present your story/line/whatever it is matters a lot. wow

Sep 7, 2013 - 5:57am

This is a very useful post and well written.
Imo these advices are more useful in the profesional world and ITW than a lot of "technical knowledge" that people spend MONTHS practicing.
Obviously if you have both, all the better.

Sep 10, 2013 - 5:58pm

Sounds like from some kind of PUA book.

Still very useful, I agree that almost everything regarding charisma, social intelligence and interpersonal relationship can be learned. Taking the time to practise these skills is very rewarding, not only for business but all aspects of life.

And while it is not easy to master these, little steps bring an enormous amount enjoyment and also work as positive reinforcement.

Very interesting points, both in the OP as well as in the other posts.

Sep 13, 2013 - 11:23pm

@"Rhys da Vinci", wrote: "From the audience's perspective, the person on the right will always appear weaker because of the position of their hand." Where did you here that, OP?

The person on the right will be showing the right side of their face to most people, most of the time. This is the weaker side.

See the explanation below:

"He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man." ― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Sep 14, 2013 - 12:11pm

I'm highly skeptical that showing the left or right side of your face makes any kind of significant impact on an audience's perception of you. Body language is far more important, and the person with palm facing up will always look inferior. You'll find this on any book on body language in the library.

Best Response
Sep 14, 2013 - 5:26pm

How to have more Charisma (Originally Posted: 12/03/2016)

We all want to be more charismatic.

Charisma makes a big difference.

Charismatic people appear smarter, better looking and more in control.

What can you do to have more charisma?

Having worked on Wall Street for seventeen years, I have seen a lot of charismatic people.

I have seen people control a room within five minutes of entering it and I've seen them get clients to give them orders faster and bigger than I could ever imagine.

Charisma is a powerful tool.

For the first ten years I had no Charisma. I just couldn't figure out how to project it. I thought it was about being intelligent or acting strong or being in control.

Then I realized I was on the wrong track.

Being Charismatic isn't about you. It's about the other person.

The first thing that struck me about Charismatic people is how they made me feel. They made me feel like I was a rockstar, like I was the best in the world and that they loved and trusted me fully.

That's Charisma – its not who you are, but its how you make people feel.

Here are a few things you should do to be more charismatic.

Control your mind:

Quickly get comfortable with any negative feelings you might be feeling.
Try to neutralize them by writing them down, or instead write down five things you are grateful for.
Take any feelings you are feeling such as fear or shame, and say to yourself "fear is being felt".
This will allow you to see your self from the outside, rather than get caught in the emotions.

Replace the negative feelings with positivity by being grateful for what you have and by recognizing whatever happens here doesn't matter much.

Then smile. There's only one thing you need to do in order to project more warmth in your voice: smile. Studies have shown that smiling affects how we speak to such an extent that listeners in one study could identify sixteen different kinds of smiles based on sound alone. This is why it's worth smiling even when on the phone.

When preparing for a meeting, use visualization. See yourself in the meeting. See yourself succeeding. See yourself presenting, hear the applause, see the success.

Yes all those super Charismatic people on Wall Street were preparing for a few hours before any meeting. Make sure you do the same.

Control your voice:

Speak slowly – Visualize the contrast between a nervous teenager speaking softly or at high speed and the slow, strong tone of a judge delivering a verdict. Be the judge. How you speak says a lot about you and how you think about yourself and how you want to be perceived. Make sure you are conveying strength and confidence.

Pause – People who broadcast confidence often pause while speaking. They will pause for a second or two between sentences or even in the middle of a sentence. This conveys the feeling that they're so confident in their power, they trust that people won't interrupt them.

Check your breathing – Make sure you're breathing deeply into your belly and inhale and exhale through your nose rather than your mouth. Breathing through your mouth can make you sound breathless and anxious.

Deliver the message:

Be a story teller – The human brain is wired for stories and pictures. Tell a story your audience will enjoy and find memorable.

Use lots of metaphors and analogies. Captivate them. Make your audience feel important.

But make sure you spend a lot of time rehearsing your story. The best speakers rehearse and visualize their presentation or pitch for at least a few hours before they deliver it.

Using body language – Techniques like Body Mirroring (try to mirror the other person's actions, postures and tonality) and acting regally (be silent and cut the head nodding).

One of the best examples of this is Bill Clinton's RDF (reality distortion field) - google it:

Here's something from the Charisma Myth I want you to remember before your next meeting:

"IN THE TORRID London summer of 1886, William Gladstone was up against Benjamin Disraeli for the post of prime minister of the United Kingdom. This was the Victorian era, so whoever won was going to rule half the world. In the very last week before the election, both men happened to take the same young woman out to dinner. Naturally, the press asked her what impressions the rivals had made. She said, "After dining with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But after dining with Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest person in England." Guess who won the election? It was the man who made others feel intelligent, impressive, and fascinating: Benjamin Disraeli."

How do you want the other person to feel ?

There are a lot of other books that taught me how to be a better listener and sales person, here are a few that are a must read:

Influence (Robert Cialdini) – You can't be in sales without reading this

Charisma Myth (Olivia Fox Cabane) – Great quick read on how to pack more Charisma into every meeting

The Art of the Sale (Philip Delves Broughton) – an overview of some of the best salespeople in the world and what they do well

What I Learnt on Wall Street
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