London - Princess Diana had it, Helen Mirren has it. Some people effortlessly ooze a natural air of confidence and composure that puts everyone at ease - people hang on their every word and they never seem short of friends, lovers or money.
You might assume that with charisma you either have it or you don’t, but experts now say anyone can learn it, and the effect can be life-changing.
In a fascinating new book The Charisma Myth, behavioural scientist Olivia Fox Cabane claims even the most timid and self-effacing can master the art and science of personal magnetism, thanks to techniques drawn from behavioural psychology, neuroscience and meditation.
‘You don’t have to be naturally out-going or exceptionally physically attractive and you won’t have to change your personality to become instantly charismatic,’ Olivia says. And she says anyone can pick up these tricks easily...
PUFF OUT YOUR CHEST
The way you stand or sit can have a powerful effect on your mind and your feelings. When you slump your shoulders, hang your head and let your face sag, Olivia says it is nearly impossible to feel really, truly excited.
Exchange that for positive body language - jump up and down with excitement, smile the biggest smile you can, wave your arms in the air - it is impossible not to feel good.
She claims displaying confident body language makes you feel more confident and powerful, and this forces your body language to give off yet more confident signals.
Studies show people who assume ‘big’ poses, and actually take up more space, experience chemical changes in their body - levels of assertiveness and energy-promoting hormones rise and anxiety hormones fall.
So before you have to confront your boss, your child’s head- master or the manager of a shop to complain, practise this:
LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Great conversationalists exude charisma. The key to charismatic interaction is to keep the spotlight on the other person and make them feel good about themselves. When you meet someone you don’t know, start with a compliment about something they are wearing, then ask ‘what’s the story behind it?’.
The word ‘story’ has a strong emotional effect on most people, sending them into storytelling mode which instantly creates rapport between you.
Use open-ended questions such as, ‘what brought you here tonight?’ or, ‘how are you connected to this event?’ Ensure the word you use most is not ‘I’ but ‘you’. Great listening skills are an absolute requirement for charisma.
And a few simple tweaks can turn your listening skills from good to extraordinary.
Practise listening attentively. Stop yourself ‘zoning out’ during a conversation by occasionally focusing quickly on something tangible. Don’t interrupt - let the other person interrupt you and leave pauses for them to do so. This makes people feel truly listened to, intelligent, interesting and even impressive.
LEARN PHONE CHARISMA
Don’t answer the phone in a warm or friendly manner. Answer crisply, then, when you hear who is calling, let warmth or enthusiasm pour forth in your voice to make people feel special.
THE POWER OF A GOOD HANDSHAKE
A great handshake costs far less and will do far more for you than a great outfit, but a bad handshake can leave an unfavourable first impression. Women are particularly prone to the ‘dead fish’ handshake - but beware overcompensating with the equally bad ‘knuckle-cruncher’.Practise with friends and family until you get it right: rise out of your seat, hands out of pockets and face the person, keeping eye contact. Smile briefly (any more makes you seem over-eager).
Offer your hand, opening wide the space between thumb and index finger to get what Olivia calls ‘optimal thumb-web contact’ with the person you’re greeting.
Keep your palm flat and wrap your fingers round the other hand as though hugging it, lock on with your thumb and match the other person’s level of pressure exactly. Linger for a moment to convey particular warmth, then step back and let go.
BE COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT
The ability to handle social discomfort is a valuable skill as it helps protect you against things that might impair your charisma potential. Practise these exercises to strengthen your resilience and expand your comfort zone:
Hold eye contact for longer than is comfortable. Experiment with personal space. Move closer to people than you usually would and fight the urge to step back.
When getting in a lift, hold the door open for everyone else, get in last, and stand with your back to the door, facing everyone.
And strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.
BOOST YOUR CHARISMA INSTANTLY
THE CHARISMA MYTH: How Anyone Can Master The Art And Science Of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane (Portfolio Penguin).