There is a charisma deficit, a deficit apparent in all too many managers, executives, and plenty of other people needing to lead. Charisma…the ability to communicate a clear vision, to captivate and motivate, to inspire. Too many believe it is impossible for them to become charismatic, or, at least to greatly improve their ability in this critical skill.

Yet leadership success or failure is often dependent not on technical expertise and experience but on your ability to paint a picture that excites and motivates, that fires people up and enables them to reach new heights.

Charisma is the ability to inspire by using powerful rhetoric and personal credibility to tap into the hopes and ideals of others and give them purpose that enables them to achieve great things.

Luckily it is possible to learn the skills that lead to improving your ability to create an emotional connection, to build your appearance of competence, and to build respect for your vision. All it takes is a bit of thinking about how you present yourself, how you communicate, and then incorporating some new and creative methods into your speech and presentation.

The most important skill in building charisma is becoming a storyteller. We all use stories all the time but here we’re talking about stories with specific messages that build the vision. Stories that incorporate metaphors, similies, and analogies. Stories filled with emotion that engage the listener and build connection.

Use contrasts and rhetorical questions to get people thinking, to encourage engagement. They give you a change to show the alternative and clarify your position in dramatic ways. They bring reason into your story.

Most people can remember three things which is why three part lists are extremely effective. In a few short words you distill your message into easily remembered takeaways: let’s see what we did right, let’s see what we did that went wrong, let’s develop a plan to make us the best.

This leads to setting goals. Always set high goals. It demonstrates passion and belief in the team. But it always requires that you convey total confidence that the goals can be achieved, confidence not only in yourself but in the team. It shows that you believe all is possible with committment, belief, and passion for the vision.

Which brings us to passion. It’s all about passion. Moral conviction and deep belief that is expressed both verbally but also through the passion you show as you share the vision.  Passion that success will come. Passion that the team can do it. Passion backed by integrity.

There are a few nonverbal cues to strengthen your message.  Be careful with these since they can be culturally variable but they are more powerful than that actual words you use. Just balance how you use them with the cultural context you find yourself in.

Use your voice fully. Your voice has varying volume, it has varying emotion. You can speak more rapidly or slower. You can pause…or not. And yet too often the dreaded monotone prevails.

You can move…so do. Walk around, use gestures of arm and hand. Use big gestures and small gestures.

Remember your face. Your face expresses your sentiments…so express them fully. Make eye contact. Smile…or frown. Laugh, shake your head, nod.

People often ignore your words and take away the message of your actions so make sure your actions match your words. Your physical presence and nonverbal cues ultimately build the passion, lead to the committment, drive success.

We’ve briefly covered quite a bit of information about building your charisma. Some of you are thinking “no way can I do all that. It’s not me.” Luckily these skills are like many skills, they improve with practice.  Start small. Pick a couple of ideas above and try them out. Keep on practicing as you try other ideas. Ask for feedback. Perhaps tape yourself and notice what works and where you need more practice.

I can’t guarantee you’ll become as charismatic as Martin Luther King Jr. but I can guarantee you will find that you are communicating more effectively and having a larger impact. You impact will increase and you will become a more effective leader as your ability to hold that attention of others as they see and come to believe in your vision increases. You will build a more passionate, aligned organization where failure is not an option.

Charisma is a learnable skill…so you have no excuse for being a boring leader unable to inspire.




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  1. Great points. Consulting firms bring in presentation trainers, and a firm I once worked for brought in a group whose trainers were all professional actors. They put us through a bunch of exercises that we consultants found uncomfortable (I did, anyway), but that showed us how wide the bell curve of emotional expression really is. My takeaway was that I could be a lot more emotionally expressive than I was used to, and still wouldn’t come close to the edge of the envelope. I was probably only moving +/- 2 degrees from the center of the bell curve. If I now move 6+/- degrees, that still isn’t a lot, but it’s 3x more than I was doing!

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