Is charisma an innate talent bestowed on a lucky few? A divine gift or something that you can learn?
Often, those who exude charisma—whether a celebrity, a politician, a business leader, or your kids’ soccer coach—are seen by others as possessing a gift. It’s magical draw that attracts others to them, to their work and ideas, to whatever they are advocating. That’s pretty powerful.
Were they born with it? Probably not.
They may have some skills that are natural for them, but research reveals they may have learned how to successfully combine and instinctually use a set of unique emotional, social and technical skills that feel authentic to them and resonate with others.
Here’s a surprise: Charisma isn’t just about how demonstrative you are or the energy you project. It’s also about the rhetorical devices you use, which are powerful contributors to the perception of charisma. How you “speak” nonverbally—your gestures, eye contact, and voice dynamics—is just part of the picture.
A group of researchers at the University of Lausanne identified 12 such skills. They call them “charismatic leadership tactics,” or CLTs. More importantly, the researchers learned these skills can be taught.
12 tactics to build charisma
In a series of two experiments with two sets of executives, researchers John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti identified 12 “tactics” that helped the managers to develop a more charismatic presence, and in turn, more effectively captivate, motivate and inspire their audiences.
Here are the charismatic leadership tactics, broken down by category:
Charismatic leaders used five literary devices that made their content more effective and compelling.
1. Metaphors, similes, analogies. These devices all use different types of comparisons to help audiences better understand and remember an object, concept, idea or experience. Some examples:
Metaphor: “Our current approach has us drowning in details.”
Simile: “Launching a new business is like starting a family, building a house and running a marathon all at once.”
Analogy: Our delivery glitches are like a car with three wheels. Until we get them fixed, we aren’t going anywhere.”
2. Stories and anecdotes. The most effective stories tend to come from real life, be emotionally engaging and support your key messages while aligning with your audience’s goals and values.
3. Contrasts. This is when a speaker emphasizes differences between two concepts, objects, ideas or positions. The inherent drama in that dichotomy can make what you say more memorable. (“This latest crisis revealed that we had a great plan, but our execution was a failure.”)
4. The power of “three.” It’s generally believed that people are predisposed to listen and remember when information comes to them in threes. (“For us to be successful, we need to raise revenues by 10%, cut expenses by 15%, and give 110% toward reaching our individual sales goals.”)
5. Rhetorical questions. Could something as simple as a question be effective? Yes.
A question—even if you already know the answer—can encourage your audience to think about what you are saying, draw attention to your point or help you to persuade your audience on a course of action. (“Have you thought about how emerging technologies are going to change the way you work in five years? Do you have the skills to survive in this new workplace?”)
The researchers also discovered that the executives who appeared more charismatic used their words to share their aspirations and passions, to highlight connections with their audience and to build confidence in others. They did that by:
6. Expressing their moral conviction. By linking your messages to a sense of doing what is right, you reveal your character to your audience, as well as help establish credibility.
7. Reflecting the sentiments of the audience in their words. Understand the needs, concerns, wants and values of your audience and seek areas of common ground, similar background, or shared experiences.
8. Setting lofty goals. This tactic is a way to share your passion, energize your audience and inspire others to follow you.
9. Communicating the confidence that they can be achieved. Lofty goals are best met when a speaker offers the reassurance that they can be realized.
Certain types of body language were particularly effective at helping speakers appear more charismatic.
10. Using your voice to its fullest. Beyond the words that you say, your voice can be an incredible tool to help emphasize, give meaning and provide context to your key points, as well as convey emotion. Simply by altering your pace, tone, pitch and volume—as well as knowing when to pause—you can better connect with your audience and retain their attention.
11. Letting your face do the talking. Rather than holding a frozen expression throughout, charismatic speakers smile, widen their eyes, make eye contact, raise their brows, and, in general, use effective facial expressions to relay their enthusiasm and excitement to reinforce their main points.
12. Gesturing with intent. Gestures can help the audience and the speaker retain and recall of main ideas. (You can learn more about gestures here and overall body language here.)
How many of these techniques can you spot in this video?
Can anyone be charismatic?
As with any skill, it’s going to take some preparation and practice. As we’ve advised in the past, don’t try to tackle all dozen tips at once. Don’t feel the need to wow the crowd with analogy after analogy or one expressive brow raise after another. These should feel natural, or at least increasingly feel more natural, as you use them in subsequent talks.
And remember, these are not the only techniques or tactics you can use—a point the researchers concede. They are simply part of a bigger toolbox of strategies and tips you can use to become a better public speaker.