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Got Charisma?

A charismatic leader binds people together by powerfully articulating their values, hopes and pains. Then he weaves their hopes into an image of the future. And finally, he provides energy, strategy, and faith that the vision can be realized.”  – Ronald Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers

Charismatic speakers, by virtually any measure, are more engaging, passionate, and persuasive. They utilize proven communication techniques: reasoned logic, personal and moral credibility, and emotional appeal.

But charisma is innate, a special gift only a few possess, right—either you have it or you don’t? And if you don’t have it, you are forever destined to attempt to persuade by sheer force of your will or your words, by overwhelming your listeners with facts, logic, and reason.

A research study that appeared in Harvard Business Review debunks that myth. It found that not only can you learn to become a charismatic speaker, you are also far more successful as a result. They define charisma in every speaking setting as the “ability to communicate a clear, visionary, and inspirational message that captivates and motivates an audience.”

In the article titled, “Learning Charisma: Transform Yourself Into the Person Others Want to Follow”, the researchers made a critical finding: Speakers who capitalize on what they describe as “Charismatic Leadership Tactics” (CLTs) are perceived as “more influential, competent, trustworthy, and leader-like in the eyes of others.”

How much more influential you might wonder:

“Overall, we’ve found that about 65% of people who have been trained in the CLTs receive above average ratings as leaders, in contrast with only 35% of those who have not been trained.”

So what are the CLTs you can learn to become a charismatic speaker and a more effective leader? Listed below are several speaking tactics that will have the greatest impact. You can utilize them in almost any context—formal presentations, one-on-one conversations, and team meetings. The goal is not to attempt to use every technique in every presentation, but to practice and prepare to use them until they become a natural part of your speaking style.

Truly charismatic speakers use most of these tactics most of the time.

  • Metaphors: These are words or phrases used to suggest a likeness or analogy. An excellent example is Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech where he proclaimed that America had given African Americans a “bad check,” one that had come back marked “insufficient funds.” A bounced check is a metaphor that will resonate with anyone, a concept that makes the point crystal clear.
  • Stories: When children say, “tell me a story,” they are begging for entertainment, not instruction. Audiences also crave stories. Stories unquestionably enhance every aspect of a speaker’s message: credibility, recall, connection, and engagement. Steve Jobs’ most famous presentation to the graduating class at Stanford in 2005 was set up with these words: “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.”  More than 24 million people have viewed that presentation on YouTube and the message—conveyed with poignant stories—is as fresh today as it was eleven years ago. Stories are essential mental hooks. (see article on Sticky Stories)
  • Contrasts: Contrasts add clarity, help the listeners distinguish alternative positions, and often strike an emotional chord with the audience: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” “Everything you need, nothing you don’t.”
  • Rhetorical Questions: This is an excellent way to engage an audience and convert a monologue into a dialogue. A leader speaking to his employees might provoke them with a series of questions: “What makes us the right choice for our customers? What makes us the best choice? What makes us stand out?” Rhetorical questions, delivered correctly, cause the audience to pause and think—ideal goals for every presentation.
  • Three-Part Lists: Lists of three always resonate with an audience: Three blind mice, three wise men, three little pigs. Lists of three provide key takeaways—benefits—to the audience. Moreover, the Harvard researchers concluded that “most people can remember three things, and three is sufficient to provide proof of a pattern. Three gives an impression of completeness.” It is also much easier for the audience to track the message when the speaker announces “There are three steps that will get us there: First . . . Second . . . And  third . . . .”
  • Conveying Confidence: Some people speak like they have the backbone of a banana. If you want to be seen as a leader, you have to look and sound self-assured from the moment you begin to speak. You may have learned to “never judge a book by its cover” but in practice, that is exactly what every audience is doing every time you speak. You need to look, sound and act decisive, poised, and focused.
  • Gestures: Gestures are signals to your listeners, and your audience trusts their eyes before their ears. In my latest presentation skills book, Present Your Way to the Top, I wrote: “Your gestures should match your emotions and accentuate your message: more restrained if your message is informational, more animated if you are selling or persuading. . . . Purposeful and commanding gestures will enhance your presentation and convey your emotions in a way words alone cannot.”

The key finding of the Harvard researchers is one every speaker should capitalize on:

“If you think you can’t improve because you’re just not naturally charismatic, you’re wrong. The leaders with the lowest charisma ratings in our studies were able to significantly narrow the gap between themselves and their peers to whom the tactics came naturally . . . these CLTs can make you more charismatic in the eyes of your audience and invariably make you a more effective leader.”

Got charisma? Pour on the charisma whenever you speak and reap the rewards!

Related article: Sticky Stories

Until next time!