Three Critical Elements of Charismatic Influence

An old colleague of mine and I used to get into lively debates around the idea of charisma, especially as it relates to leadership. We considered that some thought leaders argued that charisma is entirely natural and possessed by only a few special leaders, while others argued that audiences actually give charisma to the leader who has learned to demonstrate the core elements of this elusive characteristic.

Charisma is probably a combination of these points of view; however, one thing we always agreed on was that charismatic leadership is learnable if the leader is open and willing to adapt his or her impact using the elements that charisma entails. In the time since those debates, some excellent work in the field of leadership studies has led to a more evolved understanding of charisma, especially as it relates to presence. Two books that effectively address charisma are: The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism (2012), by Olivia Fox Cabane and The Coachable Leader: What Future Executives Need to Know Today (2012).

As Cabane points out, charisma does not require being a boisterous extrovert or even being naturally outgoing as introverts can practice charisma too. Charisma requires practicing certain skills that make others feel intelligent, impressive and interesting. Anyone can add these skills to their behavior.

Here is how mindfulness can be used to create presence verbally, vocally and visually. Charisma is an inevitable result.

Use Mindfulness to Create Presence
The three working parts of any speaking exchange with a person or a group of people require the verbal, vocal and visual elements of speaking: being mindful of the words you use, the tone of your voice and your facial expressions.

Verbal Mindfulness is critical because words improve the range and depth of personal and professional experience with others. When words are imprecise, improper, disorganized, ambivalent or inadequate the other person does not feel drawn into the conversation. Suggestions for using verbal mindfulness are to:

• Keep language simple and short.

• Use creative repetition of new content.

• Appeal to the senses of others by letting words visualize ideas.

Vocal Mindfulness is being aware of how sound (such as tone, pitch and volume) impacts words themselves. According to Aristotle, it is not sufficient to know what one ought to say—one must also know how to say it. Some suggestions for using vocal mindfulness are:

• Use energy to talk as it displays enthusiasm.

• Avoid dropping the ends of words or trailing off at the end of a sentence.

• Alter the volume of your voice to keep the audience attentive.

• Use silent pauses to balance the sounds of your words and give the audience a chance to reflect.

Visual Mindfulness is being aware of the visual impression you reveal to the other person and whether or not they see it as aligned to the verbal and vocal part of your message. Some things to remember include:

• Stand tall but not stiff.

• Relax facial muscles and match expressions to the content of the message.

• Use gestures that best match the words.

• Maintain sincere eye contact but don’t hold gaze longer than five seconds.

This is a two-part look on charisma. In part two of the blog, I will look at how to properly apply the five sources of power when speaking and working with others.

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