Last week, I was minding my own business on my morning commute when a woman got on the train. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her, yet the head of every passenger turned as she boarded. It was as though something powerful had shifted. As if this perfectly ordinary human being had somehow changed the space by moving into it.
Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this before? It’s an occurrence commonly known as ‘charisma’.
I frequently explore this subject with clients, and I’ve found a surprising number of people struggle when asked to describe the ‘phenomenon’ of a charismatic co-worker. I’ve borne witness to many an intelligent person responding with things like: “Well, they just have it…. they’ve got it, the X factor, oh you know….. it!”
Maybe the struggle is not so surprising when you examine our reliance on supernatural abstractions to help define it. Our universal belief in the ‘gift from the gods’ is deeply embedded. It taps straight into one of our most primitive fears: the notion of a quality or condition beyond our control, a state of powerlessness, the ‘either you got it or you don’t’ trope. That elusive, unknowable it.
I say it’s time we take back control and retire the mystical approach; it’s really not serving us very well. The truth is, charisma is more earthly than that and what’s more, is well within our power to acquire. Learning how to be charismatic is no different to learning a musical instrument or a sport. Of course there will always be those who have the benefit of an innate ability, but with the right techniques and practice anyone can learn the skill. Ultimately, charisma is as un-mystical and straightforward as learning how to be the best version of yourself.
Right, so where do you start?
It begins with developing awareness.
The non-verbal cues we humans communicate reveal an awful lot about who we are. Physical presence, bearing, energy levels and focus – even the way we feel about the world and ourselves – are all sized up in seconds by the people around us.
A person bearing visible physical tension, a collapsed spine, and shallow or strained breathing sends out a strong message to the casual observer. Those non-verbal cues tell the story of someone disempowered or low-status, someone to be ignored. This is the opposite of charisma. Unfortunately these mannerisms perfectly illustrate the kinds of unconscious habits that so many of us live with and showcase to the world on a daily basis.
Learning how to be self-aware (as opposed to self-conscious), alert and responsive to one’s environment is the best way to begin the charismatic journey; in other words, learning how to be present.
At NIDA Corporate our team believe the ability to be present is fundamental to all communications, whether that be in the context of delivering a key note address at a conference or simply stepping into a new space. Through the application of our most powerful learning tool – the imagination – an awareness and understanding of physical presence can flourish, enough to eventually transform behaviour.
Let’s return to the woman on the train for a moment and identify some of her charismatic qualities, along with some quick, introductory exercises you can practise to cultivate your physical awareness and kick start your charisma*
*NOTE: mobile phones are kryptonite to charisma. This is not a dig, just a wee reminder that our beloved devices have a very special way of pulling focus when they’re around.
There was an openness, immediacy and authenticity about the woman on the train. She was watchful and attentive to everything around her. She was balanced, calm and truly appeared in-the-moment.
Imagine a piece of string is attached to the very top of your head, gently pulling it upwards. Allow your head to release, floating up to the top of your spine.
Her body language told us she was relaxed and ready to engage with the world. Her bearing, the ease and strength of her gestures told us she was in full command of her body.
Lift your shoulders to your ears and hold for one or two breaths, then allow your shoulders to gently drop to where they want to be. Draw your scapulae (shoulder blades) as close together as you can and hold for one or two breaths, then allow them to release back.
Her certainty told us she was powerful, someone worthy of our attention, high status. Whether she’d just had a great session at the gym or was eagerly anticipating the delicious dinner she’d planned for that night, her joie de vivre was unmistakable. Her eyes were alive, optimism shone from her like a beacon – there is nothing more magnetic than a strong, positive focus.
Imagine there is a beaming light radiating from your chest. Wherever you turn, the warmth of this light shines from you, illuminating the space you are in.
Developing charisma is a process which takes commitment and practise. If you’re interested in delving deeper, give the NIDA Corporate team a call on 1300 650 357 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to discover more about our courses and private coaching programs.
This article was written by NIDA Corporate Course Manager, Belinda Sculley – a NIDA Graduate (2000) and an energetic, collaborative leader who is passionate about delivering engaging, accessible and inclusive learning experiences for a diverse range of audiences.