April 11, 2015

Summary "The charisma Myth" by Olivia Fox Cabane

The charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane
How anyone can master the art and science of personal magnetism

[A very good book and I am going to own a copy]

Charisma gets people to like you, trust you, and want to be led by you. As extensive research in recent years has shown, charisma is the result of specific nonverbal behaviors, not an inherent or magical personal quality. This is one of the reasons why charisma levels fluctuate: its presence depends on whether or not someone is exhibiting these behaviors

Charisma demystified:

Through charisma training you will learn how to adopt a charismatic posture, how to warm up your eye contact, and how to modulate your voice in ways that make people pay attention. Three quick tips to gain an instant charisma boost in conversation:

Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of your sentences
Reduce how quickly and how often you nod
Pause for two full seconds before you speak

Charismatic behavior can be broken down into three core elements: presence, power and warmth. These elements depend both on conscious behaviors and on factors we don’t consciously control.

If you are not fully present in an interaction, there is a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or that your facial reactions will be a split-second delayed. Since the human mind can read facial expressions in as little as seventeen milliseconds, the person you are speaking with will likely notice even the tiniest delays in your reactions.

Not only can the lack of presence be visible, it can also be perceived as inauthentic, which has even worse emotional consequences. When you are perceived as disingenuous, it is virtually impossible to generate trust, rapport or loyalty. And it is impossible to be charismatic.

Presence is a learnable skill. Like any other ability, you can increase it with practice and patience.

Presence exercise - http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/

Why fully present is not easy? First, our brains are wired to pay attention to novel stimuli, whether they be sights, smells or sounds. We are wired to be distracted, to have our attention grabbed by any new stimulus. The second reason is that our society encourages distraction.

Focusing for just a second on your breath or your toes - this will instantly bring you back to the present moment. When you are fully present, it shows in your body language in a highly charisma-enhancing way.

Increasing your ability to be present not only improves your body language, listening skills and mental focus, it could even enhance your ability to enjoy life.  

We look for clues of power in someone’s appearance, in other’s reaction to this person and most of all, in the person’s body language. Warmth is a goodwill toward others. Being seen as war, means being perceived as any of the following: benevolent, altruistic, caring or willing to impact our world in a positive way.  Warmth is assessed almost entirely through body language and behavior; it is evaluated more directly than power.

Someone who is powerful but not warm can be impressive, but isn’t necessarily perceived as charismatic and can come across as arrogant, cold or standoffish. Someone who possess warmth without power can be likeable, but isn’t necessarily perceived as charismatic and can come across as overeager, subservient or desperate to please.

For charisma, your body language matters far more than your words do. Projecting presence, power, and warmth through your body language is often all you need to be perceived as charismatic.

Charisma begins in the mind:

There is far too much body language for us to control consciously and it has two consequences: First, because we cannot consciously control all of our body languages, we can’t just broadcast charismatic body language at will.  Second, is that our body language expresses our mental state whether we like it or not. Because what is in your mind shows up in your body and because people will catch even the briefest microexpressions, to be effective, charismatic behavior must originate in your mind. Stanford researchers conducted experiments, showing that when people try to hide their feelings, they provoke a threat-response arousal in others)

Individuals with strong internal skills are aware of what exactly is happening inside them and know how to handle it. they can recognize when their self-confidence has taken a hit and have the tools to get back to a confident so that their body language remains charismatic. .The internal skills necessary for charisma include both the awareness of your internal state and the tools to effectively manage it. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu reportedly said, “ to know others is knowledge, to know oneself is wisdom”.

Because your brain cannot distinguish imaginations from reality, imaginary situations cause your brain to send your body the same commands as it would for a real situation. Whatever your mind believes, your body will manifest. Just by getting into a charismatic mental state, your body will manifest a charismatic body language.

Physical discomfort does not just affect your external state, it also affects your internal state. Counteracting charisma-impairing physical discomfort is simple:

Remedy or explain

Our inability to tolerate uncertainty carries multiple costs. It can cause us to make premature decisions. It can lead us to feel anxious. Anxiety is a serious drawback to charisma. First, it impacts our internal state:it is hard to be fully present while you are feeling anxious. Anxiety can also lower our confidence. Anxiety, low presence, and low confidence can show up directly in our body language, as well as reduce our ability to emanate warmth.

It is worth learning how to handle uncertainty, not just because it increases charisma, but also because the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of success in business. The single most effective technique I have found to alleviate the discomfort of uncertainty is the responsibility transfer.

Responsibility transfer exercise - http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/

Our brains are wired first to understand, then to believe and last to disbelieve. Since disbelieves requires additional cognitive effort, we get the physiological effects first. Our physiology responds to visuals well before cognitive disbelief kicks in. In addition, visuals short-circuit our cognitive-circuits and go straight to our brain's emotional levels.


When our internal voice starts criticizing us, lashing out, it can feel like we are under attack. David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, explains that ‘the threat response impairs analytical thinking, creative insight, and problem solving;. This kind of negativity doesn’t just affect our actual performances, it also affects how others perceive us.

Self-criticism is one of the most common obstacles to great performance in any field. it is often called the ‘silent killer’ of business, because so many executives suffer from it, yet so few dare to speak out about it.

Self-doubt: is lack of confidence in our ability to achieve something.  This is common and just knowing the universality of such feelings can help us neutralize their effect and reduce their power.

Skillfully handling any difficult experience is a three-step process: destigmatize, discomfort, neutralize negativity and rewrite reality.

Neutralizing negativity. http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/

Rewriting reality technique is to get into a better performance mental state. One CEO told,” I decide to interpret everything favorably toward myself. it is not just that I am optimistic, I am actually conveniently deluded”.

Destigmatize and dedramatize uncomfortable feelings by remembering that they are survival instincts and a natural part of the human experience. Think of others who have gone through this before and see yourself as part of a community of human beings experiencing the same feeling at the same moment.

Neutralize unhelpful negative thoughts by remembering that the mind often distorts reality and filters your environment to highlight the negative. Think of your negative thoughts as graffiti on a wall, but just because you see an ugly sight, doesn’t mean you are an ugly person

Rewrite reality by considering a few helpful alternatives to your current perspective. For maximum effect, write down your new realities by hand and describe them in vivid detail

For advanced practice, delve into the physical sensations of discomfort. Focusing on the sensation gives your mind something concrete to focus on, drawing your attention away from our feeling that the experience is unbearable.

Creating charismatic mental state


There is good evidence that imagining oneself performing an activity activates parts of the brain that are actually used in performing the activity. Visualization can even physically alter the brain structure: repeated experiments have shown that simply imagining yourself playing the piano with sufficient repetition leads to a detectable and measurable change in the motor cortex of the brain.

The mental preparation technique has also become standard practice in Hollywood, where a technique known as Method action is used by many of the Hollywood’s most respected actors. Rather than having people try to control their body language, it went straight to the body language source - the mind - and had the actors strive to become the characters they were aiming to play so that they would really feel the emotions they wanted to convey.

Visualization practice (http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/)

My clients have found a wide variety of phases useful, so here are a few examples, which could help you access calm and serenity.

A week from now, or a year from now, will any of this matter?
This, too, shall pass. Yes, it will
Look for little miracles unfolding right now
Love the confusion
What if you could trust the Universe, even with this?

You can also add real sensory input to your visualization. For instance, play music while you verbalize or sub-vocalize, choosing songs that you know make you feel esp. energized and confident. The executives I coach often mention the musical scores from Rocky III (Eye of the tiger), Chariots of fire (Vangelis), Top gun (top gun theme) and my personal favorite is Peter Pan: Flying by James Newton Howard.

If you are ready to go all out, add movement to make your visualization reach an entirely new level. Because physiology affects psychology (yes, body affects the mind).

Just before giving a presentation: After fifteen years of speaking professionally, I find that doing even thirty seconds of visualization makes a substantial difference in my performance.

Anytime you are feeling anxious, the surest way to feel better when you are feeling anxious is to flood your system with oxytocin. One of my favorite neuroscience resources, the Wise Brain Bulletin, suggested that a twenty-second hug is enough to send oxytocin coursing through your veins and that you can achieve the same effect just by imagining the hug.

Visualization is indeed a powerful tool. Of all the charisma boosting techniques, this is the one I recommend making a permanent part of your toolkit.

{Due to higher suicide rate, the MIT health center now distributes visualization CDs to students during final exams - https://medical.mit.edu/community/stress-reduction)

Gratitude, goodwill and compassion:

You are going to get a three step gradual transition into warmth, from the least personal to the most personal.

Gratitude can be a great charisma conduit, bringing you back to the present and giving you immediate access to feelings of both confidence and warmth.

Gratitude exercise -  (http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/)
Goodwill is a highly effective way both to project warmth and to create a feeling of warmth in others. When you truly focus on someone's well-being, you feel more connected to them, it shows across your face, and people perceive as someone full of warmth. Your charisma quotient soars. One simple but effective way to start is to try to find three things you like about the person you want to feel goodwill toward. When you start searching for positive elements your mental state changes accordingly and then sweep through your body language.

A best secret to have better goodwill is in any interaction, imagine the person you are speaking to, and all those around you, as having invisible angel wings. If you respond better to auditory guides, try a few different phrases (I like you, And I like you just for you, Just love as much as you can from wherever you are).

  • Goodwill means you wish someone well without necessarily knowing how they are feeling
  • Empathy means that you understand what they feel; perhaps you have had a similar experience in the past
  • Compassion is empathy plus goodwill: you understand how they feel, and you wish them well.

Self-directed warmth is called self-compassion.

  • Self-confidence is our belief in our ability to do or to learn how to do something
  • Self-esteem is how much we approve of or value ourselves
  • Self-compassion is how much warmth we can have for ourselves, esp. when you are going through a difficult experience.

Kristin Neff, one of the compassion's foremost researchers, define self-compassion as a three-step process: first, realizing that we are experiencing difficulties. Second, responding with kindness and understanding toward ourselves when we are suffering or feel inadequate rather than being harshly self-critical. Third, realizing that whatever we are going through is commonly experienced by all human beings, and remembering that everyone goes through difficult times.

Metta is a millennia-old Buddhist compassion practice

Behavioral science researchers have come to the conclusion that willpower is a bit like a muscle that fatigues depending on how much we use it.

I curate my playlists considering both tempo and lyrics, and when preparing for a key moment, I am careful to choose songs that correspond with the mod I’m trying to practice. I have playlists for self-confidence, warmth, empathy, and patience. I have found that it really makes a difference. These playlists are also organized as pre-speech, morning wake-up, and even pre-family gathering.

Different Charisma style:

We will look for four distinct kinds of charisma: focus, visionary, kindness and authority.

To develop focus charisma, cultivate your ability to be present: make use of, the techniques from the Presence section. Good listening skills are non negotiable, as is a certain degree of patience.

The message matters for visionary charisma. This means knowing how to craft a bold vision and knowing how to deliver the message charismatically.

Kindness charisma is primarily based on warmth. It connects with people’s hearts and makes them feel welcomes, cherished, embraced and most of all, completely accepted.

The more charisma styles you can access, the more versatile and confident you will be. Stick with styles you already know well in high-stakes situation.

Three keys to communicating presence: attentive listening, refraining from interrupting, and deliberate pausing. Listening comes first and foremost, because listening lays the groundwork for the presence that is fundamental to charisma.

Knowing how and when to pause is also an art in business conversation and something that most charismatic conversationalist does naturally. Considered a key tool in negotiating, pausing can also play a wonderful role in making people feel good about themselves when they are around you - it is an easy way to make people feel intelligent, interesting and even impressive.

The sequence of responding  should go like this:
They finish their sentence
Your face absorbs
Your face reacts
Then and only then, you answer.

Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming truly interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”.

When you speak in words, the brain has to relate the words to concepts, then translate the concepts into images, which is what actually gets understood. Why not speak directly in the brain's language? Whenever you can choose to speak in pictures. You will have a much greater impact, and your message will be far more memorable.  When you speak or write, use few words and lots of pictures, and strive to make your communications useful, enjoyable and even entertaining.

Voice fluctuation is the foundation for both vocal warmth and power. The degree to which your voice fluctuates affects your persuasiveness and your charisma. Increasing voice fluctuation means making your voice vary in any of the following ways: pitch (high or low), volume (loud or quiet), tone (resonant or hollow), temp (fast or slow), or rhythm (fluid or staccato).

Pitch and tone: The lower, more resonant, and more baritone your voice, the more impact it will be

Volume: One of the first things an actor learns to do on a stage is to project his voice, which means gaining the ability to modulate its volume and aim it in such a targeted way that specific portions of the audience can hear it, even from afar. One classic exercise is to hone your projection skills is to imagine that your words are arrows. As you speak, aim them at different groups of listeners.

Business guru Alan Weiss likes to say “ Logic makes people think, and emotions make them act’.  In high stakes situations, we reach more strongly to body language than two words because our fight-or-flight response activates and a more primal part of the brain takes over.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher explains that when you stare with intensity at someone, it can speed up their heart rate, and send a hormone called phenylethylamine or PEA, coursing through their bloodstream. PEA is the same hormone that produces the phenomenon we call love at first sight.  Our eyes are a key part of our nonverbal communication, perhaps the single most important one. (Windows to the soul)

Eye contact is so meaningful to us that our brains are hardwired to experience separation distress whenever someone with whom we have significant eye contact turns away. One good way to avoid creating this anxiety is to keep eye contact for three full seconds at the end of your interaction with someone. This may sound short, but it all actually feels endless. If you can get into the habit of doing this, you will find it well worth the effort.

To communicate warmth, aim to make people feel comfortable respect their personal space, mirror their body language, and keep your eyes relaxed.

When people come to you in need of reassurance, first mirror their body language, anthem lead them to more calm, open and confident positions.

When people are defensive, break their body language lock by handing them something to look at or something they will have to learn forward to take.
To project power, take up space (be the big gorilla) and be still (adopt a regal posture).

Cut out verbal and nonverbal reassurances like head bobbing and excessive uh-huh-ing.

Difficult situations:

Benjamin Franklin’s favorite way to win over his political opponents wasn't doing them favors, but rather to ask them for favors. This technique has become known as the Ben Franklin Effect.

Human beings remember ‘firsts’ - the first time something happens, or the beginning of an experience - and we tend to remember ‘lasts’ as well.

In order to increase kindness charisma, thinking of keeping your chins down, your eyes wide open, and your voice warm and slow, leaving frequent pauses to make room for the other person to jump in should they feel the urge to do so.

To communicate presence, Michael Feuer, the founds of OfficeMax, says that he often closes his eyes when listening. For best results, get up from your desk and away from all distractions. Stay standing and walk around (your voice will sound more energetic) while focusing entirely on the phone call. Remember the smile studies that showed that listeners could identify sixteen different types of smiles based on sounds alone.

Presenting with Charisma
Select the single most important idea you want to convey and make it as crystal clear and easy to understand as you possibly can. Ideally you should be able to articulate your message in one sentence.

Each of your supporting points should open with entertaining anecdotes, fascinating factors, compelling statistics, great metaphors, examples and analogies. Stories have a particularly strong impact on people. In fact audience will often remember first the story, and only second the point the story was making. Since the dawn of time, people have been telling stories as a way to transmit information to one another.

Using metaphors and analogies can be a highly effective way of capturing your audience's imagination. The speeches that give us a feeling of awe and wonder are those that appeal to our childhood roots.

Personally, I avoid formal QnA entirely; instead my introducer warns the audience that there will be no QnA session at the end, so their only chance is to ask questions during the speech. This has the added advantage of increasing the audience involvement, participation and general energy level.

Charismatic speakers know how to give the impression that they are as comfortable walking across the stage as they would be walking across their living room. This is called owning the stage and there are three tricks to making it happen.

First, when you stand, be sure to have a wide stance, well balanced on both feet. Not only you feel more confident, you will also look more confident, more stable, than if you are standing on one foot. Wide, stable stance also helps you to project confidence.

Second, practice without a podium or lectern. Speaking behind one can give the impression that you are fearful to venture out and prefer staying behind the safety of a shield.

Third, find the right volume to project confidence. This is tricky, as so much can depend on the microphone you are given that day or how the sound system is set up.  Your best best is,. Just before the speech, to ask a few people sitting in the back of the room to be your sound experts and give you a prearranged signal to raise or lower your volume if need be.

A fireside chat is a comfortable conversation that creates a sense of intimacy.Imagine sitting by a fire telling stories to your favorite friends or having a comfortable conversation with just one person. To make your audience feel particularly special, speak as if you  were sharing a secret.

Another way to make people feel special as you roam about the state is giving one to two second eye contact per person. Though this may sound like a short amount of time, I promise that in the midst of a speech it feels like an eternity. But it’s worth it.  You can make this easier by making eye contact first with the people who see the most animated - those who are smiling, showing interest or nodding.

Pause, breathe, and slow down: Every speech outline I prepared was emblazoned with one bold word scrawled across the top of every page: BREATHE. Today when learning a new speech, I will often still include notes to myself every page: Pause, breathe, slow down.

After your last words, pause, then say, ‘thank you’ and stay there while you endure the applause for a few seconds.

Recommended resources:
Radical acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha  by Tara Brach. A great source for emotional training (aka graduate school for the heart).

Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert B Cialdini. Considered the bible of influence.

Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl. A great help in gaining equanimity, this is a worthwhile read for anyone facing a crisis.

The mindful path to self-compassion by Christopher Germer. A great resource if you’d like to focus on self-compassion.

The happiness hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Best science I have found in the scientific study of happiness. Fascinating.

Get out of your mind and into your life by Steven Hayes. The best book I have found on how to handle your own mind

All the exercises are available from http://foxcabane.com/book/exercises/

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