How to be charismatic – backed by science

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Think about the most charismatic person in your life — chances are, someone immediately popped into your head. But if you were to be asked to define why exactly they’re charismatic, you may have a harder time. That’s because charisma is a trait where you just instinctively know it when you see it, even if you can’t pinpoint why.

That nebulous quality of charisma caught the eye of Vanessa Van Edwards. Vanessa is the Lead Investigator for research organization Science of People, and also has a strong following online — her YouTube videos have been seen by over 30 million people and her courses have over 400,000 students enrolled. In her Prezi video, she breaks down the factors behind charisma, and then shares tips to help you become more charismatic in your presentations and business communications. Watch the video here, or read on for an overview of her findings on how to be charismatic: 

The components of charisma 

Harvard Business School researchers identified two important traits that we use to judge people when we first meet them: Their competence and their warmth. 

If someone is highly competent (but not warm), we see them as smart, dependable, and important, but not as approachable, collaborative, or kind. Conversely, someone we perceive as warm (but not competent) is sweet, compassionate, and relatable, but not as intelligent, capable, or impressive. Charismatic people, then, are those who’ve achieved a good balance between these two traits. 

If you skew more towards one end of the scale, Vanessa has some tips to help you become more charismatic in the workplace (and beyond). 

The power of words

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When it comes to business communications, too many of us send emails or messages devoid of emotion. “Priming” is a powerful psychological technique, and Vanessa argues that people often miss out on opportunities to positively prime their audience. 

Take, for example, an email that reads “we are all set for the meeting next week” versus one that reads “I’m looking forward to collaborating in next week’s meeting.” While the first version is perfectly adequate, research shows that the more emotive words in the second one (“looking forward” and “collaborating”) will make people more likely to tap into that part of their brains and be more collaborative. 

Even calendar invites can use priming words to get people into the right mindset before joining. Instead of “call” or “meeting,” try using words like “strategy session” or “creative time.” The key is to think about how you want someone to feel before, during, and after interacting with you. And be mindful of where you currently fall on the “warmth” and “competence” scale — using words on the other end will help you reach the sweet spot of charisma. 

The importance of non-verbal cues 

With non-verbal communication, the most important takeaway is to simply do it. This is easier said than done, though, especially with remote work and video conferencing, where the screen makes it harder to see body language and hand gestures. And without body language, you’re robbing yourself of a valuable communication channel. 

Upon meeting someone, the first thing many people notice is the other person’s hands — that’s because hands act as a “trust indicator” for our brains. Vanessa and the team at Science of People analyzed thousands of hours of TED Talks, and the most popular speakers use an average of 465 hand gestures in 18 minutes, while the least popular ones only use an average of 272 hand gestures.

When applying this to charisma in the workplace, then, you’ll want to lead with your hands (e.g., waving when you join a video call) and then use gestures to emphasize and complement your words. 

Now it’s your turn — apply these tips to create your own charismatic Prezi video to share as a recording or to present live to your colleagues. Or, if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out our Video Gallery

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