How To Be Charismatic
I was a really shy kid. I was awkward. I didn’t know how to be charismatic. I didn’t know how to make friends.
But I desperately wanted to.
I looked at the popular people and wondered, how did they get that way? What made them attractive? How did they always know the right thing to say? For a long time I thought people were either born that way or they weren’t, and there was nothing I could do to change that.
But then I started learning.
I did tons of research on how to be charismatic, how to have engaging conversations, and how to build social connections. Then I started going out to social events and to test what I had learned. It wasn’t easy, but I started making progress. And over a number of years I developed how I presented myself to be more charismatic and attractive. In that time, I’ve been able to make amazing friendships, become CPO at a 120-person tech company, and ask the love of my life to marry me.
In this guide, I’ll explain the most important things I’ve learned that have made me more charismatic, so you can learn how to be charismatic to.
Table of Contents
- The 3 Elements of Charismatic Behavior
- Obstacles to being Charismatic
- How to Overcome the Obstacles to being Charismatic
- Creating Charismatic Mental States
- How to make a Charismatic First Impression
- How to Listen Charismatically
- How to Speak Charismatically
- Charismatic Body Language and Appearance
Charismatic behavior is made up of three core elements:
In this section, I’ll explain what each of these elements mean, why they make you more charismatic, and how you can level up each one.
What is Presence?
Being present means paying attention to the people and things going on around you. It means not getting lost in your thoughts and instead engaging fully with the person you’re talking to. It means focusing on what they’re saying and responding to it, not thinking about what you’re going to say next.
Why is Presence Important for Charisma?
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and you could tell you didn’t have their full attention?
How did it make you feel?
Annoyed? Maybe even unworthy? Like there was a personal reason they weren’t giving you their complete attention?
The paradoxical thing about charisma is that it’s not about making yourself look cool and important, it’s about making the other person feel good about themselves. The way people perceive you is based on the way you make them feel. If you make them feel positive, they’ll feel positive towards you. If you make them feel bad about themselves, then that’s how they’ll feel about you.
Presence is where this begins. When you are present, focusing on the person you’re talking to, they feel like you care about them, and that you’re a genuine, authentic person.
You can’t fake Presence
You may feel like you can “hack” presence by just faking your attention on the other person by just holding eye contact and nodding, and that way be able to keep thinking about what’s on your mind or what’s going to happen next. But they’ll be able to see it immediately. Your eyes will glaze over, your reactions will be a split-second delayed, and the other person will notice it. This will make you look inauthentic and kill your ability to build any kind of rapport or relationship with that person, which is our real goal.
Techniques to boost your Presence
Next time you’re talking to someone, and you feel your mind start to wander and your presence dropping, try these techniques to give it a boost:
1. Focus on the sounds in your environment
This will force your mind to keep its attention on the environment you’re in. The best sound to focus on is the voice of the person you’re talking to of course, but try to take everything in to truly be present in the environment.
2. Focus on your breathing and the sensation it makes within your body
Focus on your breathing pattern and the physical sensation it created throughout your nose and your chest. Notice everything about the breathe, and how it passes through your body. Focusing on this consistent, physical sensation throughout your body is a great way to keep your mind focused on the present.
3. Focus on the sensation in your toes.
This causes your mind to pass down your entire body, helping you get into the physical sensation of the moment. You can even curl your toes to help create more sensation in them to focus on.
4. Write down your current thoughts before starting the conversation.
When you’re in the middle of an important task and someone comes to speak with you, before you get into the conversation, do the following:
1. Tell the person it’s great to see them
2. Ask for permission to make them wait so you can write down your current thoughts
3. Write down the important points about your current train of thought
4. Thank the person for waiting
5. Start the conversation
This way, when you’re talking with the person, you won’t be worried about losing your current train of thought, and you’ll be able to stay present throughout the entire conversation. And when the conversation is over, it will be much easier for you to pick up where you left off and complete your task.
5. Keep your phone on silent and out of sight
If you’re talking to someone and your phone is in your hand or the table you’re sitting at, they may believe that you’re thinking about who’s going to call you, instead of about them. This will drop your perceived presence. It will also keep your own mind from unconsciously wondering if someone is about to call you, decreasing your actual presence.
What is Power?
People see you as powerful when they believe you have the ability to affect the world around us, through the influence or authority you have over other people, your wealth, intelligence, physical strength, expertise or high social status.
People perceive your level of power in several ways:
- Your appearance
- How other people react to you
- Your body language
Why is Power Important for Charisma?
You need power to balance warmth. If you’re a nice, warm person, but don’t possess any power, you can be perceived as overeager, or desperate to make friends and please people, which isn’t charismatic.
What is Warmth?
Warmth is goodwill towards others. It’s the perception of being caring and willing to impact the world positively. The person your speaking with gauge your warmth on how likely you are to use your power in their favor.
People evaluate your level of warmth through your behavior and body language.
Why is Warmth Important for Charisma?
You need warmth to balance power. If you’re seen as powerful, you can seem impressive, but without warmth you can come off as imposing, arrogant or cold.
Your mental state is critical to your ability to be charismatic. Why? It’s because your body language, which is the main way people perceive your charisma, is wholly determined by your mental state. Your facial expressions, voice, and posture are all a reflection of your mental and emotional state.
Have you ever seen the difference between a fake smile and a genuine one? There’s a clear difference in how it affects a person’s face. A fake smile will just lift up the corners of a person’s mouth, whereas a genuine smile will also cause the eyes to squint slightly, and the skin around the eyes to crinkle. If you aren’t in a genuinely charismatic mental state, people will see the inauthenticity in these kinds of microexpressions, which will nullify your ability to be perceived as charismatic.
So to project warm, powerful, charismatic body language, first we need to get into the right mental state. And to do that, first we need to know what obstacles will stop us from doing that.
Obstacles to being Charismatic
- Physical Discomfort
- Anxiety Caused by Uncertainty
1. Physical Discomfort
Any physical discomfort that affects your outward body language can negatively impact how charismatic you are perceived to be. This is because when people interact with you, they’ll assume, even subconsciously, that whatever you do is directly caused by how you feel about them. So if you start showing pains on your face because you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes, the other person won’t help but feel like they are causing that pain with their presence. This will then make them feel bad about themselves, and leave them remembering, even subsciously, that you made them feel that way.
How to counteract physical discomfort
1. Plan ahead
Do everything in your power to set yourself up to be comfortable:
- Choose clothing that will be comfortable for the temperature and situation you’ll be in
- If it’s going to be bright and sunny, bring sunglasses
- Ensure that you’re well-fed (and your guests are to if you’re hosting)
- When choosing your spot to sit or stand, avoid spots that face the sun or are too noisy
2. Recognize discomfort
Check in with your face and body regularly. Notice if you’re feeling tense or are in a position that’s causing you discomfort. This is another reason that being present is so important.
3. Fix (or explain)
If you do find yourself feeling uncomfortable or tense, do something about it. If it’s due to your location, maybe because the sun is in your eyes, tell the person you’re speaking with and then move to a more comfortable position. If you’re truly unable to fix a physical discomfort, tell the other person to keep them from thinking that they’re the reason for it.
2. Anxiety caused by uncertainty
A state of uncertainty is incredibly uncomfortable (most people would rather get bad news that to have to sit and wait to find out). And it can cause a huge strain on our ability to be charismatic: It causes us to feel anxious, and project that anxiety to others. And it causes our presence to drop, since our mind is constantly thinking about the thing we’re anxious about, and about how we’ll deal with all the possible outcomes of the uncertain event (this is something I do over and over again for the same outcomes).
How to alleviate the discomfort caused by uncertainty
One of the most effective techniques I’ve found to alleviate this discomfort is the Big Brother Technique.
Remember back when you were a kid and something bad happened – maybe you got into trouble or forgot to do something important – and your parent or older sibling told you everything was going to be OK? Remember how you felt like they always had the answers, so they must be right about this to? This helps you believe that everything will work out alright, and helps decrease your anxiety.
Here’s how to do the Big Brother Technique:
1. Sit comfortably or lie down, relax and close your eyes
2. Take two or three deep breathes, and just focus on the physical sensation of breathing
3. Choose a person you deeply admire or look up to
4. Imagine that person is sitting next to you
5. Tell that person everything you’re concerned about
6. Imaging that person taking everything in, thinking about it very deeply, and then telling you it’s all going to be alright. Imagine them giving you a confident smile, like they know deep down that it will be, and you have nothing to worry about.
7. Feel yourself agreeing with them that they’re right, and you really don’t need to worry because it will work out.
I use this technique so often, that’s it’s become instinctive. If you do it continuously, you’ll find it becomes easier and easier to visualize it, and get the positive effect from it.
It’s so powerful because, when you were a kid, you really did believe your parent or older sibling when they told you this So that feeling, like so many others from childhood, is hardwired into our brains.
This won’t actually dispel the uncertainty (since the outcome will still remain uncertain), but it will help make you less uncomfortable. This is due to the placebo effect, in which, even when we know that the action we’re taking is just in our imagination, it can stimulate the brain into alleviating the discomfort.
Self-doubt is a lack of confidence in our own ability to succeed at something. We doubt our ability to do it, or fear that there is something essential we lack, that everyone else has – that we are just not good enough, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Memories of past failures, humiliations and inadequacies can all rise up within us to cause this.
The interesting thing is that most people, especially high performers, often feel this way. Every year, the incoming class at Stanford Business School is asked: “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” And every year, two-thirds of the students immediately raise their hands.
In this section, you’ll learn how to counteract negative mental states like self-doubt, irritation and impatience that hurt your ability to be charismatic. The way we counteract these negative mental states is with a simple 3-step process:
1. Destigmatize Discomfort
2. Neutralize Negativity
3. Rewrite Reality
Step 1: Destigmatize Discomfort
Destigmatizing an uncomfortable event means reducing its impact by simply understanding that it’s normal, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody experiences these things. Know that every person you admire and respect has felt these feelings and gone through them. They are nothing to feel ashamed or inadequate about.
The next time an uncomfortable feeling bothers you, follow these steps:
1. Remember that emotions are normal, natural things
2. Dedramatize: Understand that this is common, and every person who is alive today feels this way at some point
3. Think about someone you admire who’s gone through something like this before. Think about how you would expect them to handle these feelings.
Step 2: Neutralize Negativity
Next, neutralize the negative thoughts using these techniques:
- Realize that your thoughts aren’t necessarily accurate at all. The coldness, reservation or annoyance you see in someone’s face probably has nothing to do with you, and is instead caused by some internal discomfort that they other person is experiencing.
- Visualize seeing yourself from afar. Zoom out so far that you see planet earth from space. This will help you realize that the negativity has no impact on what’s happening to the universe around you, so it’s really not such a big deal.
- Think of all the previous times you felt like this, that you were stuck or you wouldn’t be able to make it, and yet you clearly did
- Remember the human tendency for negativity bias: Our mind’s pre-programmed tendency to focus on negative elements or perceived elements as negative due to our natural survival instinct to focus on things that are dangerous to us. This causes us to have a distorted, negative view of reality, and to miss, ignore or downplay the positive things.
Step 3: Rewrite Reality
If somebody does something selfish or unhelpful, imagine that they themselves are in an emergency situation, or are under great duress, or just went through an extremely sad or painful ordeal. This will help reduce your anger toward the person and allow you to be more OK with it mentally. It will give you a version of the event in your mind that allows you to get back to the specific mental state your need to be charismatic. To truly internalize this, write down the imagined reality.
Example of Rewriting Reality
If a colleague sends a really sarcastic sounding message, this will naturally bring up negative emotions and send you into a negative thought spiral. So, instead, imagine that the person is really lonely and doesn’t know how to reach out, so they’re trying the best they can to connect.
Choosing to change your memory of what occurred (technically called cognitive reappraisal) is very effective at lowering the brain’s stress levels. This phenomenon was discovered via research performed at Stanford using MRI machines. The research team concluded that choosing to change your belief of what happened was far more effective and healthier than attempting to repress of ignore the emotions.
Being angry or resentful towards someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Think about this, laugh about it, and neutralize it. The key question is: Which mental state would be most useful for the situation you’re in? And which version of reality will help you get there? Rewrite reality to create that version in your mind to achieve the mental state you need to succeed.
Write the apology you wish you received
We all have a person in our lives who has wronged us who we wish would apologize for it. This leads to mental anguish and resentment. To help relieve yourself of this resentment, and get back to a charismatic state, use this 3-step technique:
1. Think of one person in your like who has aggrieved you
2. Write a letter saying all the things you wish you had ever told them
3. Write their response just the way you wish they would respond
6-Step Exercise to Crush Anxiety and Self-doubt
If I’m ever feeling anxious, upset or filled with self-doubt, I do this 6-step exercise to get myself into a charismatic mental state:
- Alleviate all physical discomfort
- Dedramatize: Zoom out to 10,000 feet and realize you are just one small person moving around a room, in a building, in a city – and that this sensation is having no impact on the world
- Destigmatize: Remember that this feeling / situation has happened to all the people you admire
- Neutralize Negativity: Remember that your perception of events is not always correct, and we always focus on the negative aspects, while ignoring all of the positives
- Rewrite Reality: Imagine that the reason the other person is doing something is not due to ill will, but because they don’t understand, they are doing their best, or they are in an extremely stressful or emergency situation
- Big Brother Technique: Visualize someone you admire or look up to telling you it’s OK, and that everything will work out.
Broaden your Social Comfort Zone
One last big obstacle to charisma is our tendency to be uncomfortable around people, especially strangers. Most of us have a fairly small Social Comfort Zone, and will be uncomfortable with something as simple as making eye contact with someone. But boosting your Social Comfort Zone is essential to mastering charismatic body language. If you aren’t able to be comfortable around people, you won’t be able to affect a charismatic presence that makes others feel comfortable around you.
To be charismatic you need to be able to look people in the eye, be comfortable with physical contact and close proximity, and be able to speak charismatically with everyone, not just your close friends. Here are 4 exercises I do regularly to help broaden my comfort zone:
4 Exercises to broaden your Social Comfort Zone
- Hold eye contact with while interacting with someone the entire time
- Make eye contact and smile at strangers in public
- Move physically closer to people than normal in situations like elevators, public transit, and waiting for a crosswalk signal
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger by asking their opinion on something, such as asking what drink they would recommend in the lineup at Starbucks
These will help you to get comfortable with any social situation. And when you want to turn on your charisma, you’ll have already built up an immunity to your pre-disposed discomfort.
Visualization is the most powerful way I’ve found to change my mental state. You can’t just tell yourself to be confident. You need to visualize it happening to rewire your brain into thinking it’s happening. It’s the same thing pro athletes do before a big game – they visualize themselves winning, which rewires their brain into believing they can win. This, in turn, pushes their brain, and body, to do everything possible to win – simply because they believe they can.
How to use Visualization to create a Confident State
- Close your eyes and relax
- Remember a past experience where you felt absolutely triumphant – for example, winning a game or getting accepted to college
Hear the sounds around you: the words of approval, the rise of applause
See people’s smiling faces and expressions of warmth and admiration
- Feel your feet on the ground and the high fives and hugs
- Experience your feelings, and the warm glow of confidence rising within you
I also find it helpful to do the movements and sounds from the triumphant moment to really experience it.
Visualize Success before a Meeting or Presentation
Visualize the smiles on the faces of the people you’re presenting to, and the sound of them agreeing to your proposal
Visualize to quell Anxiety
Visualize being hugged by someone you love for 20 seconds when you’re feeling anxious.
3 Steps to Access Warmth
Warmth is one of the key elements of charismatic behavior. It’s what makes people trust you and believe that you care about them. But it’s always something I struggle with. If you do as well, here are 3 steps to access warmth:
1. Gratitude and Appreciation
The opposite of gratitude is resentment, neediness, and desperation, not of which are charismatic. Gratitude is a great antidote to these feelings because it comes from thinking of the things you already have, and, therefore, have accomplished and have reason to be happy and confident about. This can include things like your family, friends, diplomas, and your career.
One issue with this technique is that it can cause you to feel guilty, since you have so many good things in your life that you are not grateful for. One way to avoid this is to, instead, focus on the little things in life that are physically present: Sunlight, warm room, clean water, comfortable chair, absence of sickness or injury, and access to a bathroom.
Imagine your own funeral
This will bring you into a state of emotional aliveness as you realize you still have your life left, and will feel grateful to have it.
2. Goodwill and Compassion
Goodwill is the state of wishing others well. It’s a very effective way to project warmth and create a feeling of warmth in others.
One easy way to create the feeling of goodwill inside yourself for another person is to find three things you like about that person and write them down.
Another way I find powerful is to imagine that the other person is just a big child, who is learning and trying to find their way. They may have just had some negative influences in their life, or not been taught at all, which are causing them to act negatively – and they don’t know any better. Imagine that all they need to feel and act positively is one kind and confident role model.
Self-compassion is the warmth and goodwill that we have towards ourself, especially when we’re going through a tough experience. It’s different than self-esteem, which is how much we value ourselves, generally against our standards, or others. Self-compassion is what prevents internal criticism from taking over and playing across your face, ruining your charisma potential.
Self-Compassion is a 3-step process
- Realize that you’re experiencing difficulties
- Respond with kindness and understanding toward yourself, rather than harsh criticism
- Realize that whatever you’re going through, people you admire have gone through it
Use Metta to Counter your Inner Critic
Metta is a Buddhist visualization exercise that roughly translates to “loving kindness”. It helps to create self-compassion when you feel your inner critic start to attack you. Here’s how to perform it:
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
- Think of one occasion in your life when you performed a good deed – just one good action of truth, generosity or courage
- Picture all of the people you admire and look up to in front of you, radiating warmth, affection and kindness toward you. Feel them giving you complete forgiveness for everything your inner critic says is wrong with you
Use your Body to Affect your Mind
Psychology researchers from Harvard and Columbia found that when people posed in a strong, confident physical posture, and then spoke with a strong voice and imposing hand gestures, it produces a biochemical reaction that actually put their mind into a confident mental state.
Display confident body language to biochemically make your mind feel more confident. This mental state will in turn make your body language more confident and charismatic.
Plan a Warmup Routine
Plan a gradual warmup routine before key situations, like presentations and social events, to reach your peak charismatic state. Follow these techniques while you’re in your room getting ready to go out to get yourself into a charismatic mental state before you walk out the door.
First impressions are generally the way people will think of you forever. Nobody likes to be wrong. So no matter how long you know someone, they will subconsciously find ways to prove that they were right about the way they thought about you from your first meeting.
The Golden Rule
People like people who are like them. This includes their clothing, appearance, demeanor and speech. If you want to impress others, the best way to do it is to look at the style of clothing they wear and choose the upper end.
The Perfect Handshake
Follow these 5 steps to master the perfect handshake:
- Keep your right hand free and don’t hold a drink with it (so it’s not cold and clammy when the opportunity for a handshake comes up).
- Keep eye contact and smile warmly but briefly – too much smiling makes you appear overeager
- Keep your head straight
- Keep your hand straight up
- Lock your thumb down and squeeze firmly
Break The Ice
Use this 3-step technique to break the ice when you first meet someone:
- Offer a compliment about something the other person is wearing. This will make the other person feel warm towards you
- Ask an open-ended question about the thing you complimented. Open-ended questions start with “how” or “why”, and provide an opening for the person to discuss their thoughts, feelings and motivations. The opposite of an open-ended question is one that can be answered with yes, no or a simple statement of fact.
- Continue to ask open-ended questions, or ask what their opinion is about something you’re doing that they asked about previously.
Presence is a cornerstone of charismatic listening. Use the Presence techniques discussed above to keep yourself focused on the person you’re speaking with. This will allow you to listen carefully to what the person is saying, so you can respond to it in a way that is engaging and keeps the conversation flowing.
You should never interrupt someone – even if you have an incredibly interesting point to make that you know they’ll love. If you interrupt someone, it will make them feel like you don’t care about what they have to say, and you can come off looking arrogant. It can also halt the flow of an engaging conversation by making the other person lose their train of thought. On the other hand though, you should always let others interrupt you – even though they’re wrong to do that, it’s not worth making them feel wrong. Why? Because the way to appear charismatic is to always make the other person feel right and good about themselves.
Use Deliberate Pauses
After someone finishes speaking, don’t jump right in with your response. This can either make the person feel like you didn’t really listen to them, or make you look needy – neither of which are charismatic. Instead, force yourself to pause for a second or two before responding – this will make the other person feel like you’re thinking about what they said, and that you’re comfortable with empty silences.
Here’s the steps of the technique in action:
- They finish speaking
- You absorb their statement for a moment
- Your facial expression reacts
- Then, you respond
To be perceived as charismatic by others, you need people to feel good when they’re around you. One of the best ways to do this is to be truly interested in other people. Assume that the person you’re speaking to knows something you don’t that’s extremely valuable to you (because, honestly, it’s probably the truth). This will help keep your mind focuses, even during small talk phase of the conversation, which many people find boring.
Use Visual Metaphors
Instead of just telling people concepts and facts, use visual metaphors and scenes to describe them. They’re far more memorable and interesting to people than the fact themselves. For example, when Steve Jobs presented the IPod Nano, instead of saying the Nano’s exact weight, he said it weighed as much as 8 quarters (and showed them each on one side of a scale).
Deliver High Value
Time is a person’s most precious resource. Anytime you ask someone to listen to you, they’re paying you with their time. So you need to give them something of value in return for their payment.
There’s 3 ways you can deliver high value when you speak:
- Entertain: Make it funny and enjoyable
- Inform: Make it interesting
- Charm: Make them feel good about themselves
And remember, the longer you speak, the more your listeners pay. So use the minimum about of words and time necessary to deliver value.
Tuning Your Voice
How you speak is just as important as what you say. You can tune your voice to project power and warmth to boost your charisma with a few simple techniques.
How to project power when you speak
- Pitch/Tone: Make your voice lower and fuller to increase your perception of charisma to others. Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of your sentences to broadcast power. Visual the way a judge says “Case, closed”, and hear how the intonation of the word closed drops.
- Speed: Speak slowly. Visual the difference between an anxious, high-pitched adolescent speaking at high speed, and the slow, deliberate speech of a judge delivering a verdict
- Pause: Pausing for one or two seconds between sentences conveys the feeling that you’re so confident in your own power that you trust people won’t interrupt you
- Breathing: Breath deeply through your nose. Breathing shallowly through your mouth can make you sound breathless and anxious.
How to project warmth when you speak
The one way to project warmth when you speak is to smile. One study found that listeners could identify sixteen different kinds of smiles based purely on sound. That’s why it’s so powerful to smile even when you’re on the phone.
But what about serious situations in which you don’t want to smile? You can affect the same change to your voice just by visualizing yourself smiling in your mind.
Body language affects us on a visceral, emotional level. It’s this emotional level that you need to access to get people to follow you and be attracted to you. In this section, I’ll show you a number of things to do, and a few things to avoid to create charismatic body language.
Imitating someone’s body language is a powerful way to establish trust and rapport. It will cause the person to subsciously feel like you’re similar to them, which is one of the easiest ways to attract people to you. Here’s how to do it effectively, without making it obvious:
- Be selective: Only do what feels natural
- Use variations in amplitude: If they make a big gesture, make a smaller one
- Use lag time: Let a few seconds go by before mirroring their posture
To make people feel at ease, give the amount of personal space people need to feel comfortable. And don’t unnecessarily touch someone you just met, other than via your introductory handshake.
Charismatic Eye Contact
Roaming eyes that look away and dart around are not charismatic. Maintain a soft focus eye contact at all times when talking to someone. This will create presence, warmth and confidence in how people see you.
Be the Big Gorilla
Make yourself big and take up space. A charismatic posture is one in which you stand up straight with your chest out, taking up as much space as you can. Keep a wide stance, keep your chin up, and use your arms to make gestures as you talk.
Be like James Bond: He’s cool, calm, and makes few but deliberate movements. Don’t fidget or bob your head. Don’t say “um” – this makes you sound insecure. Get comfortable with stillness and silence. Being able to handle it for stretches of time makes you look very confident.