The Art of Communication podcast transcript
Episode 2: Can you teach Charisma?
Hello, this is Sian Hansen and welcome to The Art of Communication Podcast. I’m here with Robin Kermode
In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about charisma. Could you tell me what charisma is?
Well, charisma is one of those X Factor words. A lot of leaders say to me, when I’m coaching them, they say I wish I had more charisma. And then they quote, people like Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, or they quote maybe a famous movie star, a newscaster or someone they feel has this weight. But what’s interesting about charisma is, I think there’s a big myth about charisma, because charisma comes from the Greek word meaning favour freely given, or the gift of grace. And both of them are about bringing a sense of authority and respect for the people we’re talking to. The derivation is interesting, because it implies that charisma is about giving something back to other people rather than being charismatic. So a lot of people think I need to be something, in other words, I need to change my behaviour to be charismatic.
Isn’t that interesting? Because a lot of people see charisma as something where they have to either learn to be funny. Or it’s much more of a sense of ego, you know, a look at me.
Learning to be the centre of attention in the sense, yes,
But you’re saying it’s not?
Well,it’s not actually about that, it’s actually about making other people feel special. If you make other people feel special, they like being around you. That’s the case. That gives you charisma. But if you go around saying, Look at me, I’m very important. You just think actually, you’re quite annoying. but the people who are really confident, don’t have to try so hard. And they always said in my former life as an actor, if you want to play a king or a queen in Shakespeare, how do you do it? And the answer is, you do nothing. But everyone else bows to you. Now, if you make other people feel special, they’ll give you that status, because they like being around you.
I understand that, and I’m sure our listeners do. But how does that compare to confidence and gravitas? You want to sprinkle of those things too, when you’re making a speech, don’t you? In other words, you don’t want the charisma to be overboard, and you come across as I don’t know, flirtatious or lightweight. So how do you balance that out?
There are certain times when we want to have gravitas and we’ll cover gravitas, maybe in another podcast because gravitas is a whole other area. But I think charisma probably is what we would call the X Factor. Why do we listen to this person? Why do we watch this person? Gravitas is more about, do they have weight and authority? An airline pilot might have gravitas because you want the airline pilot to take the job seriously. But charisma is about are they inspiring. I didn’t particularly want an airline pilot to be inspiring, right? I want them to concentrate on their job.
You want them to inspire confidence. We’re playing with words now, but I take your point. Here’s an interesting one, are women and men and anything else you choose to be, is there a difference in their charisma? Or is charisma the same for any human being?
Charisma is the same for any human being. Without question.
It’s the same ingredients.
Yes, gravitas might sound different with a man and a woman because a man’s voice might be deeper. But a woman can have huge amounts of resonance as well. I’ve met lots of hugely charismatic women with gravitas. There are hundreds of female actors that we go, Wow, you just want to watch them all the time. You watch them live on stage, or you watch them on a film and they have this thing. People say to me, these other people must have been born with it. And I’m saying you can teach it.
Yes. I was just going to say, Can you teach charisma?
Well, you can teach it to a certain level. Of course, some people just walk in the room and they’d literally light up the room. Now, of course, it’s a combination of all sorts of things. It’s a combination of how open their face is. And interestingly enough, it’s not about being beautiful or not being beautiful. It’s about is your soul open, in a sense. Is there a light shining from your eyes? That’s what charisma is. And that’s the religious connotation of gift of grace. It comes from a position of open spiritedness. There’s a great Leonardo da Vinci drawing where the finger touches the universe. It’s like a lightning bolt. And I think that people who are charismatic have that natural flow of energy. And that’s almost like they’ve somehow channelled the universe. And you can learn how to do that. I don’t know whether you believe in reincarnation or not, but some children seem to have this from birth. One client actually phoned me up once and worked with his team, and he said, Robin, can I have a session on my own? And I said, Sure, do you have a big speech to make? And he said, No, he said, I feel a bit embarrassed asking for this. I said, Okay, so what is it you want? He said, Well, I want to be able to walk into a room and I want people to say, Wow, who’s that? And I said, Yeah, you can have that. He said, How long will it take? I said, well, in your case, it would take two half days. And it would depend on where people are on that scale.
There’s going to be some circumstances, I’m sure, where charisma is not needed. Although you still have to deliver some news.
Yes, maybe even speaking at a funeral, for example, you can still speak at a funeral and be charismatic, because you’re not saying, Look at me, I’m important delivering this eulogy. You can say, I’m here being very open, spirited, very human, very connected. And I’m speaking to you as human beings. And you still think that person is amazing? Yes, because what they say is relevant and appropriate.
So did you get some of these tools from learning to be an actor, because I know, let’s say actors learn how to deliver lines to certain parts of the audience. Is that part of the equation?
Delivering lines to certain parts of the audience is about holding the room. But charisma is probably deeper than that. It starts off with how comfortable you are in your own skin. So if I’m working with people, the first thing we look at is how comfortable they are in their own skin. It sounds like therapy, but it’s not therapy, it’s almost on a physical level. Because if the audience is distracted by confusing movements, and nervous tics and this sort of thing, then obviously, they’re not going to see the real you. So what we want to try to do is to get the body language nice and calm, and the voice emotionally connected. And we’ll look at voice in another podcast and in a much deeper level. But once the voice is emotionally connected, then the next thing is can we make it about the audience? Right? So in other words, our own issues, our own stuff, is not getting in the way. And therefore people can listen to what we’re saying, we can make them feel special, we can make the construction of the message about them. And then they think, wow, these people are amazing, because they make us feel amazing.
So we’re getting into the ABCs on how you actually teach charisma. Now, like you said, each one of these topics can be a podcast in its own, they will be and they will be coming up. But what I’m interested in is, you’ve mentioned teaching charisma starts maybe with simply the body language that you’re giving off, and then centering your voice. Can you deliver a rather somber message charismatically? Can you deliver a very funny after dinner speech charismatically? Is it all the same?
The mindset is, I want to be relevant to these people, I want to make these people feel special. That’s the mindset. And I suppose if I was going to give somebody a couple of tips about how to suddenly add a little bit of charisma, the first thing I would say is breathe, and breathe slowly. And if you breathe slowly, and you could try this, if you sit in a chair, and you put your hand on your lower stomach, and you breathe into your stomach, I breathe in for a count of three and out for a count of three, three times, this will just calm everything down. And then on top of that, we want to add in the Inner Twinkle. The Inner Twinkle is incredibly important. We were taught, when we were young actors, if you don’t know how to say a line or a piece of dialogue in the play, you just say it with a twinkle and it adds an extra dimension. So if you had a line in the film that says, I’m going to get a cup of coffee, and you think why is my character saying that? I don’t know why I say that. All you have to do is to say it with a twinkle. So you say I’m going to get a cup of coffee, and you think you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing outside the room or whatever, it adds an extra level. And there’s something about charisma where you’re not quite sure what they’re going to do next, you’re always on tenterhooks thinking, Where are they going to go? And what are they going to do? And the Inner Twinkle is about whatever happens, life is a game. I haven’t met one charismatic person who doesn’t have that sense of life fulfillment, life enhancement. We talked about that Leonardo da Vinci drawing with the finger and the lifeforce coming through, I think charismatic people demonstrate that they are somehow in touch with the lifeforce, and that can be learned. And if you can do that, then you can truly be charismatic.
I remember you once said to me, when you walk in the room, you should lift the energy of the room by 10%. Is that because you are charismatic?
There’s a famous story, of Marilyn Monroe walking down the road with her friend, and the friend is saying, but you’re Marilyn Monroe, why is nobody noticing you? And she said, Oh, do you want me to be Marilyn, and she just flicked a switch in her head. And she’s put on the Inner Twinkle, and suddenly the whole street stopped. They had to call the police because there was almost a riot. So it’s not like going around being a game show host constantly smiling in a slightly cheesy, Okay, good morning, welcome way. Because this kind of DJ stuff is very irritating to be around. And it’s not even Pollyanna saying everything is fantastic. It’s not about that. It’s just about being in the moment and being present. And when you asking a question, you ask a genuine question, and you listen to the answer. So if you say, Are you, OK? Someone’s probably going to say, I’m fine. But if you say, in a different tone of voice, How are you? They give you a more honest answer. Because it’s an honest question. It’s a question that actually demands an answer. So charismatic people, make you feel that they are interested in you. And everyone likes to feel special and that other people find them interesting. I remember once I was at a party, and I sat next to a man and I realized that he wanted to tell all the jokes. He wanted to be found funny. So I spent the whole evening laughing at his jokes and he was quite funny, but I mean, I made an effort to laugh at all his jokes. I hadn’t told one joke. At the end of the evening, he went up to the hostess and said Robin’s a funny man, isn’t he? And I hadn’t said one joke, but I’d made him feel funny because I laughed at his jokes. He probably went away and said, Robin’s a really charismatic, funny guy.
So if you had to name the most charismatic people, you know, who would they be?
A lot of the people that I find really charismatic are family, friends. They’re not necessarily famous people. They just have that ability to walk into a room and suddenly the energy changes. It’s almost like they walk in the room and they go, Okay, now the party can start. They’re also very genuine, as well.
I know that Michelle Obama has been in Britain recently and she is so charismatic. She sits in a chair being interviewed and has 15,000 people hanging on her every word. That would be my choice.
Yes, a good one.
Thank you for listening. It’s goodbye for me.
And it’s goodbye from me. For more information on my online Public Speaking Masterclass, visit robinkermode.com