Charisma is a skill, not a gift — a Stanford psychologist shares 6 ways to build it

Emma Seppälä, Contributor
May 12, 2017, 1:30 PM

We think charisma is a gift, a special charm that some people have and others don't.

In researching my book "The Happiness Track," however, I found that charisma is not so much a gift as a learnable skill you can master.

What presence has to do with it

If you meet someone at a cocktail party whose eyes are constantly flitting around the room, do they make a good impression? Do they appear magnetic or charming? The answer is probably not.

Their mind is clearly somewhere else — maybe trying to figure out if there is someone in the room who is more important than you. They are not focusing on the conversation, and they may glance at (or even focus on) their mobile devices.

Are you likely to want to speak to them again? Chances are you will not. No one is interested in talking to someone who is not present. Worse yet is if they are not present and they are focused on technology. One study showed that the mere presence of a cellphone impaired people's sense of connection in face-to-face conversations.

However, if you meet someone who is completely attentive to you, and actively engaged in the conversation, you are much more likely to find them likable and interesting. If that person's cellphone rings without them checking it, they get even more points. Why? Because in that moment, the only thing that seems to matter to them is you. You are the most important person there, and they have gifted you all of their attention at that moment.

A charismatic person is able to exert significant influence because he or she connects with others in meaningful ways. It's no surprise people often describe highly charismatic people — presidents including Bill Clinton are frequent examples — as having the ability to make you feel as if you were the only person in the room.

Given how rare it is to receive that kind of attention from anyone, the ability to be fully present makes a big impression.

6 ways to increase your charisma

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