People known for their charisma must have been born with it — because if charisma could be learned everyone would have it, right?
Olivia Fox Cabane says charisma can be learned, but many people don't understand how to go about it. They make attempts that fall flat or use strategies that make them seem fake, annoying and arrogant.
"You can be born with a predisposition for charisma," she says. "And some people are naturally better at it than others, just as some people are naturally better drivers than others
"But just like driving, charisma is a skill," she says.
As an executive coach, Cabane has run into many people who use charisma correctly and recently wrote a book, "The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism," (Porfolio, $25.95)
"The thing to remember is that some of the most charismatic people — such as Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey— are also the most disciplined," she says. "They pay an extreme amount of attention to what another person is saying and don't get distracted."
That ability to listen intently and make a person feel like he or she is the most important one in the room is a key trait to learn if you want to be more charismatic. Among Cabane's suggestions:
• Get in the mood. Before going to an event, think about which meetings or activities you will be attending.
During this time, try to avoid difficult conversations and focus on pleasant or fun interactions. Consider using a music playlist that gives you the energy boost you need or helps you move into a calmer state.
• Choose your style. Not everyone has the same type of charisma.
It could be that a certain situation calls for you to be more kind and empathetic to others while a situation at work calls for you to be more charismatic by demonstrating confidence and authority — or you may have to move between different kinds of charisma.
• Listen carefully. It's not enough to stay quiet and watch the other person's mouth move.
You've got to be really tuned into what they're saying or it will be evident. If you find yourself zoning out, try focusing on your toes, which will "force your mind to sweep through your body," she says.
Another trick: Pretend the person is the subject of an independent short film and you're doing a character study, Cabane says.
• Be aware of feelings. No one will think you're charismatic if you evoke bad feelings.
Highlight what someone does right more than you point out what is wrong. If someone pays you a compliment, don't brush it off but take a moment to enjoy it and then let the person see that you're pleased.
Offer a "thank you very much" or tell the person that their kind words made your day.
• Mirror body language. Don't invade someone's personal space or dart your eyes around when listening.
Assume the same kind of body language as the other person to promote comfort. If someone is hostile or defensive, hand him or her something to look at, which can help break a rigid posture.
• Email doesn't count. "There is no such thing as email charisma," Cabane says.
"Face to face is the way you develop charisma. If you're on the phone, you can have voice charisma," she says. "Be warm, be present and don't try to do something else like typing on your computer."
What the biggest mistake people make when trying to be charismatic? Cabane says many people have running conversations in their head "full of self-recrimination" for what they said or didn't say.
This distraction is evident and undermines your ability to be present and be confident. It also makes people think you're cold, aloof or arrogant, she says.
"Your own criticism is what undermines your ability to be charismatic," Cabane says.