Charisma is a learnable skill. Harris O’Malley teaches you how.
Originally published on DoctorNerdLove.com
Whenever I think of charismatic people, I can’t help but think of my friend Bert.
Bert is a working actor in Hollywood and easily one of the most magnetic individuals I’ve ever met. He’s a larger than life person – literally, the man’s a goddamn giant - who has the gift of making everyone who meets him feel as though they’ve known him all their lives. Within minutes of being introduced to him, you’ll find yourself swapping life stories like you were best friends and he leaves you walking away feeling as though you just met one of the coolest people in the room. He networks the way other people breathe and glides through social situations with such ease that it’s hard to believe until you see it in person.
He simply has it, that instant, infectious charm that pulls us in and makes us want to like him and leaves us hanging on his every word. When you see him leaving women goggle-eyed and panting after a few minutes of simple conversation, you’re left wondering how the hell you could bottle that and sell it on the black market.
But the thing is: charm isn’t a binary process. It’s not something that either you have or you don’t. In fact, once you understand what makes people so charming, you can learn and practice it for yourself.
Bring The Positive Energy
Here’s the first key to being charming: you have to make other people want to talk to you… and that means that you want to be open and welcoming. The broody, stand-offish or even snarky characters from fiction – Loki, Sherlock, Dr. House – are inherently unapproachable figures. We love them because we like to see them lash out with their rapier wit and skewer fools and make asshats look stupid, and we like to think that we could be just as cool and witty. We never stop to think that we’d be the ones on the business-end of that skewering.
Compare this with, say, Ryan Gosling, who forever comes across as someone who would want to share a beer with you and listen to your theories on how exploitation cinema was, in many ways, a sneaky way of introducing strong female characters into the public consciousness. People who are charming are people who make us feel good. They make us feel like they understand us, value us and think we’re awesome. They’re non-judgemental, empathetic and caring. They’re the sort of people you feel like you could rely on when the chips are down because they’re just that kind of person.
So how does one convey warmth to others?
To start with, you want to smile. A broad, genuine smile that reaches the eyes – the famous Duchene smile – is a way of making yourself instantly seem friendlier and more approachable. It also forces you to feel happier and friendlier in a nice bit of biofeedback; by making yourself feel more friendly, you will come across as friendlier and more likable.
You also want to adjust your body language. Start off with open body language – your arms should be at your sides or angled slightly away from your body and your legs should be uncrossed. One of the most common ways that people inadvertently close-off their bodies is when they’re carrying drinks; they hold them across their torso like a shield. Putting anything between you and the person you’re talking to is going to create an ersatz barrier, making it harder for others to feel as though they can connect with you. Hold your drink down by your side or out away from you. You also want to make sure that your posture is erect but relaxed. Slumping conveys disinterest in others, but standing at attention with military precision comes off as tense or nervous. As you’re talking to others, start to subtly mirror their body language, adopting a pose or posture similar to theirs; it’s a quick and dirty way of increasing commonalities between the two of you and making them feel comfortable.
You want to make sure to be as positive as possible. You don’t have to be a wide-eyed optimist, but we are instinctively drawn to people who are happier. Happy people give energy to the room and make others feel good. Being negative – whether it’s through being bitingly sarcastic or just being a general downer – sucks the life from others. Nobody is going to want to hang out with somebody1 who constantly brings the party down and drains the energy from the people around them. Being the human equivalent of mono is never sexy.
Build The Emotional Connections
The next key to being charming is to build the emotional chemistry by finding commonalities with the person you’re talking to. Charming people have the ability to make us feel as though we’ve known them forever – even if we’ve only just met them thirty minutes ago. They bring an easy sense of familiarity and intimacy that we don’t often feel with other people, especially with people we’ve only just met… but it feels so natural that we never think about it.
In fact, one researcher found that it was possible to build an incredibly intense emotional connection – one stronger than even some long-term friendships – in the span of an hour.
The key to building this emotional intensity comes from sharing personal emotional information with one another. Now it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you just start rambling about the time your parents got divorced or the first time you discovered that your ex broke your heart, stole your dog and gave you the clap; that just becomes a matter of over-sharing that implies that you’re badly calibrated socially. You want to share emotional truths that illustrate some of what makes you who you are. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the Question Game– taking turns asking meaningful questions of one another. Those questions like “what would a perfect day look like to you”? They may sound cheesy… but they’re the ones that elicit the emotional truths and help forge those surprisingly deep and intimate connections that make us feel so close to someone we’ve just met.
So you may want to ask something like “What would you do if you could do anything with no chance of failure?” or even just sharing an embarrassing – but amusing – incident in your life. The key is that you want to allow yourself to be vulnerable; being charming means letting others feel as though they’re getting insight into you that few other people may get.
Just be sure to leaven it with humor. After all…
Funny is Sexy
As I’ve said many times before, there’s a reason why women rank a sense of humor so highly when they’re listing what they find attractive in men. In fact, some researchers believe thatthere’s a direct correlation between being able to make a woman laugh and her level of sexual or romantic interest. The most charming people out there have excellent senses of humor. Some are droll and witty, others are self-deprecating, while yet others are brash, even borderline offensive… and we love them for it.
So why is humor so important to charm? It’s the way that it makes people feel. Charm is all about making the other person feel good in your presence. Laughter releases muscle tension in the body, leaving you feeling relaxed calm while also releasing endorphins in the brain. If you’re able to make a woman laugh, you’re able to make her feel good… and she’s going to associate that feeling with being in your presence.
A good sense of humor is also a reliable indicator of intelligence; after all, most humor – even puns – is intellectual in nature. Even pratfalls and low-brow humor require a strong sense of comedic timing and being able to gauge the social appropriateness of the situation. Plus: being able to understand the proper time and place for different forms of humor is a sign of finely tuned social calibration.
This is why you can’t just knock-knock joke your way into somebody’s pants; it’s all about knowing when and how to use humor. Someone who tells jokes all the time quickly becomes tedious, while somebody who makes an ill-timed or especially poorly-chosen joke comes off as an asshole.
The line between someone being charmingly funny and trying too hard – or worse, being painfully unfunny – is a very thin one that requires careful social calibration. Adversarial flirting and banter, for example, requires that you clearly signal non-verbally that this is intended to be playful and fun, rather than actually insulting the other person. Cocky-funny and negging, on the other hand, are designed to insult the other person and demonstrate your supposed superiority; this is neither attractive, nor particularly charming. Even offensive or uncomfortable humor has its place – one of the sex-gettingest men I know can say the most shockingly outrageous things and have the entire room eating out of his hand – but you have to be unto a damn surgeon, socially, in order to use it without coming across like a shithead who watched too many Tosh 2.0 comedy specials.
Develop Your Presence
The final part of charm is to utilize your presence. We often talk about people who feel larger than life, or who have us riveted. These people have presence.
We like people who like us… and the ability to make you feel liked is one of the keys of being charming. Charming people have a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world. They give you their full attention and give you the impression that not only are they hanging on your every word, they’re finding absolutely everything you have to say fascinating. Whether you love him, hate him or think he’s a couch-jumping nut-job, Tom Cruise has made a career out of being almost unbelievably charming… and much of that is in his sense of sheer presence. Everyone who has met him will tell you that when you talk to him, he makes you feel as though you’re the only person in the room and he’s absolutely riveted by what you have to say… no matter how banal, obscure or simply mundane.
The first and most important way of using presence is simply to give someone your full attention. This means not being distracted by the people around you – unless you’re both making a point of people-watching – or letting the TV at the bar drag your eyes away. And for fuck’s sake do not fiddle with your goddamn smartphone. Smartphones are distraction devices that will ruin any attempt to build a sense of presence when you’re with somebody. Do not check your texts. Do not check your email. Do not even check2 to see who is calling. Mute it, put it into Do Not Disturb mode, leave it in the goddamn car but do not let it interrupt your conversation. Having it with you – or worse, having it on the fucking table in front of you - tells the other person that they don’t have your full and undivided attention.
The next way that you develop presence is to indicate that you’re actually paying attention. There are many ways of doing this – countless non-verbal signs like nodding your head and “go on, I’m listening” sounds, for example – but the most powerful is to be an active listener. Making a point to ask questions about the things that she’s telling you, especially if you use her choice of words or phrasing, makes it abundantly clear that not only are you paying attention but that you’re making a point to engage with her, not just passively absorbing her words like a sponge. Even just repeating the last couple of words back in an intrigued, questioning tone can build and signal your interest in what she has to say.
It’s about more than just listening though, it’s about acknowledging and connecting with her when it’s your turn to talk. When you’re sharing stories, you want to make sure that you perform what are known as “check-ins”, little verbal signs that you care about her interest. The simplest way to check in while you’re speaking is to actively include her by saying “you know what that’s like, right?” or a “Have you ever felt something like this? Check this out…” It ensures that you’re remaining present in the conversation with her, not just slipping off into lecture mode without caring about her input or interest.
Once you have their attention and you’ve learned how to make them feel incredible, you’ll notice that they will start to want to impress you and start trying to display their best selves. It’s an electric, intense feeling; they’ll feel inspired by you and, in turn, want to charm you back. And when you’ve mastered the art of charm, you’ll find that it will start to come naturally… and you’ll be that person who people will tell their friends is the most electrifying, magnetic and fascinating man they’ve ever known.