Charisma is one of those words that causes confusion. From its roots as an, apparently, God-given gift, to its modern application to pop stars and TV celebrities, it’s confusing and difficult to define. Well I’m determined to define it and turn it into a measurable, trainable, concrete human competence. I’ve spent most of my professional life trying to become a charismatic speaker, and helping others to get there too. Have I succeeded? I feel confident to say that most people who see my work would say ‘yes’. Here’s a quote that I think sums me up pretty well…
”Jim might be flawed, frustrating, funny, and sound a bit like that huge bloke off the telly (Lenny Henry), but I’d say that he’s charismatic…”
My definition of charisma is that it’s a function of social skill and confidence in who and what you are. And it’s the combination of confidence, warmth and generosity that makes Robbie Williams charismatic and Gary Barlow not. Jeremy Clarkson a prat and Richard Hammond a bankable star; G.W. Bush embarrassing, and W. Clinton inspiring. So whether you’re a teacher, a rock star or a politician, I think that the definition of charisma is-
”An ability to transfer an emotion that you feel, directly and honestly to your audience”
That’s it. So it’s relevant for speakers, teachers, managers, leaders, salespeople, kids, lovers and everyone who ever wants to share how they feel. But note in the definition it suggests that GW Bush, Jeremy Clarkson, Gary Barlow et al are actually charismatic, but not in a positive way. Jeremy communicates contempt, anger and pomposity brilliantly. GWB communicates, fear, confusion, hesitancy and a host of other things; and Gary Barlow simply communicates what he is. Ordinary in everything bar his ability to write popular tunes. He’s not a bad person, just not charismatic in a positive way for any but his most ardent admirers.
The question ‘are you charismatic?’ then is not really for one to answer about oneself, but for audiences to answer about the performer.
Charisma is really about what we do for them, what we make them feel, rather than what we think we make them feel.
I, and some very credible contacts, have created the Charisma Group on LinkedIn if you’d like to contribute your thinking about the subject and get involved in the debate.
Here are some more of my thoughts on how charisma is the spark that makes the difference if you want to capture hearts and minds, not just minds.