• Having charisma and presence in public speaking

What is charisma?

Harnessing the power of charisma and presence allows us to connect and influence others on a much stronger level than we would otherwise be able to.

Close your eyes and think of a famously charismatic speaker. Once you get going I’m sure you can come up with plenty…

  • Ghandi
  • Michelle Obama
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Russell Brand
  • Winston Churchill
  • Barack Obama
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Beyonce
  • Martin Luther King Jnr
  • Katherine Ryan
  • Graham Norton
  • The list goes on!

All these speakers have little in common, but we can recognise that they all have something special – a charismatic presence that allows them to connect with an audience.

Now try and describe what makes them charismatic.

Suddenly it becomes a bit more tricky. A definition of charisma can be very hard to pin down.

We all know what charisma is when we see it – it’s also very clear when someone doesn’t have charisma – but it can be extremely hard to succinctly describe what makes a charismatic personality. If you asked fifty people what made someone charismatic you might get fifty different answers:

  • Self-assured
  • Energetic
  • Steady
  • Commanding
  • Dignified
  • Charming
  • Heartfelt
  • Direct
  • Honest
  • The list goes on!

The challenge of charisma

The truth is that charisma does not come in a ‘one-size fits all’ box that can simply be un-packed and memorized minutes before going onstage.

Instead charisma is a complex series of tools, skills and attributes.

The good news is that these can all be learnt. None of the speakers mentioned above were born with charisma. But over time they developed the ability to harness the power of charisma – and you can learn it to.

The power of ‘personal charisma’

When we talk about charisma and presence in public speaking we often think about an external force that we exude onto our audience. But the truth is that all good charisma comes from within us.

Developing and expressing this ‘personal charisma’ gives us all the building blocks we need to become a charismatic speaker.

Rather than ‘inventing’ a more charismatic version of ourselves for an audience, we need to reveal more of ourselves.

So how do we reveal our personal charisma?

Learn to be authentic

  1. Be comfortable with who we are

Becoming a charismatic speaker requires total authenticity. This is true of all types of public speaking. Good stand-up comedy, for example, involves the comedian basing what they’re saying in truth – they ‘reveal’ rather than ‘invent’ – which creates a much more impactful impression with the audience.

It also helps us relax. When we’re allowed to be completely ourselves in a social situation, whether it be a house party, a work function, or a family gathering, our anxiety levels completely disappear. We’re much more relaxed and much more confident than if we were worried about saying the wrong thing and appearing the wrong way. The same is true of public speaking.

Authenticity also breeds confidence in those listening to us and helps us appear more charismatic. People trust us because they’re getting to know the REAL us, and will engage all the more strongly.

  1. Overcome our own defences

Appearing authentic in front of an audience means becoming comfortable with being vulnerable.

The main obstacle to being authentic is putting our guard up. We feel that we’ll be judged if we show too much of our real selves, or that people will reject us.

In fact, the opposite is true. When we’re authentic people sit up and take notice. They lean in to hear more from us and are more willing to engage.

So we must learn to drop our defensive shields. People notice inauthenticity immediately. If our face is saying one thing but our brain is saying another then people will realise that something isn’t quite right. Don’t be inauthentic to try to please others. Remember; being authentic gives us confidence and draws others to us.

  1. Discover our genuine self

We’re only able to attain personal charisma by feeling truly worthy. A sense of personal unworthiness impedes this connection and means we feel ‘exposed’.

We appear authentic by revealing what’s already inside us – our genuine passions, beliefs and values. It’s impossible to be truly authentic when we’re talking about something we don’t really care about. Knowing about what we’re talking about and having a passion for it helps give us the ease and confidence to appear authentic with an audience.

In order to discover our genuine self we need to better understand and appreciate our own values and beliefs:

a) When we find ourselves vulnerable we get overly obsessed with being perfect, which holds us back. Instead we need to have an honest conversation with ourselves and admit that we’re not perfect and be happy with that fact.

We need to recognise that we lie and put out fake versions of ourselves in certain situations.   There’s no judgement involved in this, but it’s important to identify when we do this. We need to become aware of what goes through our head when we act fraudulently and when we act genuinely.

Exercise – Try and think about a time that you weren’t yourself and a time that you were honest. What do you feel in each situation? How were they different?

b) We then need to recognise our strengths and appreciate what we contribute the most. This will boost our sense of self-worth and allow us to embrace being vulnerable. Charismatic individuals view vulnerability as neither painful or comfortable, but simply necessary.

Exercise – Go through and make a list of all the positive ways that you feel you impact on the world. This can be in the workplace, family or social life. Can we recognise moments where we’ve brought out authenticity in others?

By appreciating where we’ve helped others this helps us reinforce our own sense of value.

  1. Review our strengths and learn to appreciate them

Emphasise with ourselves than we have value and that we’re bringing this value to our public speaking. Having this outlook gives us the mental fortitude against worrying about how we appear to an audience, and makes us more charismatic and present.

Playing to our strengths means that we focus on what we do know rather than what we don’t. We can accept that it’s absolutely fine not to be perfect.

By removing defensiveness we decrease our stress levels and become more relaxed. If we’re protecting ourselves against possible criticism or failure then we can’t be present and we’ll be disengaged from the moment.

By harnessing authenticity and vulnerability we develop the courage to be flawed, to take risks and to be compassionate toward ourselves and others. We therefore become more charismatic.

Learn more about expressing yourself genuinely and tell your own story with our article on impactful storytelling.

Create an emotional engagement with the audience

People often mistakenly believe that charisma involves ‘forcing’ people to listen to you through sheer willpower on stage. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather than pushing an audience to connect with us onstage, a truly charismatic speaker gets their audience to emotionally engage with what they’re talking about, thereby ‘pulling’ them in. We can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Believe in what we’re talking about

Emotional engagement starts with having a deeply personal connection with the subject we’re discussing. Care about what we’re talking about and the audience will care with us. Inversely, the audience will twig when those feelings are being faked.

Positive feelings towards what we’re talking about will help us speak with energy, conviction and command. It will also allow us commit fully to our subject, overcoming any feelings of vulnerability we still might have. An audience very much values passion and sincerity in a charismatic speaker.

  1. Be optimistic

An audience want their public speaker to be positive and to radiate hope. It’s important that we come across as a warm personality onstage. If we’re negative, downbeat or pensive then the audience will pull away and the connection is lost.

  1. Show empathy to your audience

The most charismatic speakers reflect the values, aspirations and goals of the people they’re talking to.

To resonate with an audience we must show they we understand and empathise with them. This may involve doing research in advance, otherwise known as ‘audience profiling’. We can better understand our audience in several ways:

  • Segmentation – We can analyse our audience using a wide range of criteria; age, gender, location, lifestyles, attitudes, self-perceptions and interests. This will allow us to better understand who our audience are.
  • Messaging – We can then shape our messaging more clearly towards our audience, using the interests, attitudes and behaviours that most appeal to them.
  • Engagement – Shaping our voice in the right way, for maximum impact.
  • Measurement – By understanding the impact of our efforts, we can tweak our public speaking to better land with them.

One way we can better understand our audience is through an ‘empathy map’

An Empathy map will help us understand our audience’s needs and help us craft an emotional connection towards them. Empathy maps vary in shapes and sizes, but a typical empathy map includes four quadrants:

  • Say – What the audience says about our public speaking.
  • Think – What the audience is thinking about while we’re speaking. What occupies an audience members’ thoughts?
  • Feel – What emotions does an audience member feel about our public speaking and the experience as a whole?
  • Do – What actions and behaviours does an audience member inhabit while we’re speaking?

The map provides an overview of an audience member’s experience and can help us better emotional engage with them.

  1. Show positive body-language

Charisma comes from the physical signals we give off through our body language. We therefore want to control this language to impress and influence our audience. We can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Open body language with confident posture; shoulders back, head held high, feet firmly placed shoulder length apart
  • Controlled movements and gestures around the stage
  • Warm facial expressions
  • Strong eye contact with your audience
  • Friendly and strong voice; adjustment the tone and volume when needed
  • Relaxed breathing

Read more tips from our trainers on how to get the audience on your side.

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