Charisma for Dummies…


Think back to your time at school. There was a boy in your class; he wasn’t particularly good looking, he wasn’t outstandingly clever, his dad didn’t own Hampshire – and yet he always had a girlfriend. In fact Nige had a string of ’em.

While you spent six months building up your courage, turned bright red, stammered and stuttered only to be told, ‘No thanks, I’m washing my hair’ Nige calmly waltzed off with yet another girl – quite possibly the one who’d just been ‘washing her hair.’

Looking back you now realise the secret of Nigel’s success – and you can make yourself feel better about it. Why did he have more girlfriends than you? Well, sales lesson number one, he simply asked more girls out and – sales lesson number two – he wasn’t afraid of hearing ‘no.’

What Nigel did have though, was a spark of charisma. He smiled a lot, he was confident, he was good company.

And that’s the subject this week. Charisma – and a simple question: can charisma be taught? If you haven’t got charisma, can you learn how to get it? Because goodness me, charisma can certainly be lost. I bumped into Nigel on Facebook the other day. Overweight, middle-aged and bald…

As you know, my basic position is that so much can be taught but there’s an indefinable quality that can’t be. Back to your class at school again – and there was a boy who was simply funny. He just looked funny: something about his face, the way he walked, the way he moved his arms…

I saw Milton Jones last month. Absolute proof of an indefinable quality. I could deliver those jokes and raise barely a smile. Milton Jones could walk on stage, not say a word and still have people laughing.

And yet the psychologists insist. Charisma can be taught. So if you’re staring into the bathroom mirror and you’re a little perturbed by the grey person staring back at you, here’s the current thinking from Psychology Today. How to be charismatic in ten easy steps.

  1. Use metaphors – ‘we must change course’ – because they show how smart you are
  2. Tell stories and anecdotes
  3. Display moral conviction
  4. Stress collective sentiments
  5. Set high expectations for yourself and your team
  6. Communicate confidence
  7. Use rhetorical questions – ‘can we do this?’
  8. Make sure your body language is right
  9. …and your facial expressions
  10. Keep your tone of voice animated

(The article finishes with some sage advice: before you go out you might want to practice these skills in front of your loved ones. It was clearly written by someone who doesn’t have two near-teenage boys…)

But that doesn’t convince me that charisma can be taught. Most of those points are common sense – and come naturally to the members of TAB York. If there’s anyone round the Alternative Board table who doesn’t tick boxes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 I’d be astonished.

Nope – I think you can learn (or be coached) to give a good presentation. You can learn to be a good host. But I don’t think you can learn charisma: it’s not a quality that can be turned on and off.

Besides – why should you? As I’m writing the first draft of this post on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, let’s turn to Polonius for advice:

This above all: to thine own self be true

And it must follow, as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man

Be yourself – and if you’re not blessed with charisma, let your other qualities shine through. After all, that’s what Nige did – while the rest of us pretended to be something we weren’t Nige was happy to be himself. And it paid off…

And now, until next week, Farewell, my blessing season this in thee…

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One comment

  1. simonjhudson · April 25, 2014

    Hmmm… can charisma be taught?
    There may be a faulty premise here, which is that some people have charisma and some don’t (and therefore can’t be taught it). I don’t buy that. Everyone has some measure of charisma, though it may be measured on the nanometre scale in some cases…

    My observation is that, at school, I was the very antithesis of Nige. Girls, nope, not a chance. Witty and engaging conversation? Hardly.
    Until I started to identify my own moral convictions, have strength in my beliefs and develop the confidence to express them. Then I learned ( or was taught by the cold fire of reality) what did and didn’t work; was given guidance by friends and mentors and through experimentation and observation.

    So, actually, I think everyone can improve their charisma, but only if they have something worthy of engaging in.

    And I did get the girl and have been glad of it for over 25 years.

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