How does one learn to be charismatic?
August 3, 2014 2:54 PM   Subscribe

There have been a few people in my life who seem to have this trait of being understanding no matter who is saying what to them, who are be the life of the party and someone people flock around. They're sought out for advice, even by those who don't know them. I'm not one of these people. How do I become one?
posted by city_park to Human Relations (21 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I'm not sure one can. I really believe physical appearance has something to do with it. Some people just give off open, inviting vibes, and attractive people do that more easily than others.

That said, body language is also a big part of it. Those people not only are open and welcoming, they smile, and they make eye contact. They don't stand back with arms crossed. But they don't just *appear* that way, they are that way in their hearts, too. They genuinely want to hear what other people have to say, and it comes across in how they listen and respond.

If you're concerned about it, ask a close friend you can trust if there's anything about your posture or communication that might be the opposite of the very-charismatic. You can also just try to fake it 'till you make it. Go to parties. walk up to people, smile and introduce yourself, and ask some kind of question to get them talking, and listen with interest.
posted by colin_l at 3:00 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

How To Win Friends and Influence People is your friend in this department.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:02 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Great question. I don't think that "life of the party" quality can truly be taught, and it's just one of myriad personality types that can be loved, listened to and sought after. As colin_l says, there are definitely aspects of your personality you can work on to partake more easily in small talk and speak smoothly at parties, but ultimately it's going to be more effective to work on being the best *you* -- not in copying someone else.

That said, thinking about some of my friends who have that "star quality" -- I think one quality they share is being __genuinely__ interested in other people, and an ability to communicate to the people they're talking to that *they really like them*. I'm naturally more reserved so I can't just smile at someone to bring out that glowy feeling -- so I focus on ways to express my like/interest in people with qualities *I* do have, like remembering something they mentioned last time we talked and bringing it up again, praising them for accomplishments, expressing empathy around challenges, and organizing outings.

And by the way, some of the most charismatic people I know are actually not that much happier despite being surrounded by laughing, admiring people and never being at a loss for words. That gleeful exterior can hide a very different internal life, and you may find upon truly getting to know the "life of the party" that s/he is very different with her/his close circle of friends. One person I know who is amazing at making a first impression is actually insecure about it - he worries that the only reason people like him is because he is "on" and "charming" and doesn't feel comfortable being quiet or laid back because he worries that people won't want to be around him.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:15 PM on August 3, 2014 [19 favorites]

Another piece of anec-data: I've never thought of myself as one of those people. But after a year on some heavy-duty antidepressant cocktails, people tell me I am one. So make of that what you will.
posted by colin_l at 3:16 PM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's definitely true that good looking people have a certain advantage out of the gate, but I suggest checking out The Charisma Myth . The author makes a convincing case that charisma can be taught and offers a number of practical tips.
posted by rpfields at 3:19 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

The people I know who are super charismatic have three defining qualities:
- they are comfortable in their own skin
- they are interested in other people
- they are empathetic and kind

Attractiveness helps. But I know a ton of attractive people who are completely without charisma. Same with smart. Same with funny (which can be malicious and charmless).

Short term, you can attract people with looks, funny sarcasm, brains - but if you're missing the big three the charm wears off (fast).
posted by 26.2 at 3:29 PM on August 3, 2014 [21 favorites]

Read this book — How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes.
posted by John Cohen at 3:40 PM on August 3, 2014

Seconding that The Charisma Myth has gotten recommended a few times on the green. Haven't read it but sounds worth checking out.

I don't think showing interest in other people has as much to do with it as people think. It's necessary but far from sufficient. Most writers and journalists are interested in people, but that doesn't make them charismatic. If you're cold you can still be interested in somebody, maybe you're doing a profile about them, but you won't be considered charismatic by a long shot.

I think the key is an ability to express genuine like, warmth and empathy for another person without being weird and/or overbearing. Not as easy as it sounds.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 3:43 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe another trait of this type is "engaged." They're not aloof, they're not too cool for school. They dive into things head on, and want to share their excitement with others (and learn from others too).
posted by colin_l at 3:45 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

lillian.elmtree - I think there's a difference between being interested in someone for a specific intent and just generally engaged and interested. I'm in the middle of interviewing a bunch of research subjects and while I'm interested in our shared topic, we are not friends. I'm reasonably sure that they don't see me a partner or friend or even as an especially charming person. I'm just someone who wants their information for a specific purpose.
posted by 26.2 at 3:52 PM on August 3, 2014

My best friend is charismatic. I've known her since the 10th grade and she's always been this way. People are drawn to her and are glad to be around her. Here are her qualities:

1. Lives in the moment and lives her life without searching for answers
2. Physically very beautiful
3. Very kind, warmhearted, accepting of people
4. Fun
5. Very comfortable in her skin, doesn't criticize herself or others
6. Notices other people's good qualities and comments on them in a genuine way
7. Positive. Optimistic. Expects the best.
8. Even-keeled, stable mood, calm


She doesn't have Facebook. I don't know what that says but since I know her, I think it's because she appreciates what is real and what is in the moment.
posted by Fairchild at 3:53 PM on August 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Don't aspire to be charismatic. It's mythical and its qualities are impossible to pin down or mimic. Instead, aspire to be interesting. If anything, that mythical charisma comes to life on its own when one is interesting. This article explains it best: How To Be More Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps)

So not only will you be more interesting to other people, but your life will be more fulfilling for you, too.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would strive to be polite, kind, considerate, helpful, and understanding. Charisma is over-rated and very hard to acquire if you don't have it naturally.
posted by akk2014 at 4:29 PM on August 3, 2014

I know at least one person like this who intentionally (or semi-intentionally) made a choice to become like this. But this person started that process really young. I'm not sure if it could be done as an adult. Also, this might sound strange but I believe that a very charismatic personality can stem from a deep insecurity. It's like a person needs the love and adulation of everyone, so they develop a personality and a way of treating people that ensures this will be the case, at least in public. But a lot of really charismatic people would not be ok if they had to be alone for a few days, or if there were a few months or years where no one was really praising them. I wouldn't waste time striving for it, honestly. I'd rather be my totally uncharismatic self and content with who I am, regardless of whether others constantly flock to me.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:37 PM on August 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think charisma is mostly innate. But you can try working on your "presence" by:

Cultivating a good sense of style
Being immensely self-possessed
Adopting a good-natured and good-humored disposition
Exuding sincerity, warmth, generosity of spirit

The last one being the most important and only achievable if it comes from within.
posted by tackypink at 5:36 PM on August 3, 2014

I'd like to vote too for The Charisma Myth. It draws on studies from Harvard and MIT, to teach people how to be more charismatic.

The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism

The summary is:
1. Be fully present in the moment, and give the other person 100% your absolute attention. Don't be thinking about errands you need to run, what you said earlier, what you want to say next.

2. Come across as powerful.

3. Come across as warm.

Then the book focuses on each of these and teaches lessons on it.
posted by vienna at 6:08 PM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Be genuinely interested in people. See no one as good or bad; everyone is an interesting character.

Have good boundaries.

Believe that Strangers are friends and People naturally like you. Then they will!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:34 PM on August 3, 2014

Good point, 26.2. Let me clarify that. I've met a fair amount of writers and journalists like me who are genuinely interested in people, not just for the hard facts. That's, in part, why we became writers. We love meeting people, where we live or abroad. When I travel, for instance, I seek out meeting the locals because I'm genuinely interested in how people live in other countries. I could sit for hours listening to someone tell me their story, totally engaged the entire time. None of us would be described as charismatic. Curious, yes, interested and engaged, absolutely.

I think for charismatic people, being interested is a natural by-product of their charisma and that's why it seems important. That's just my 2 cents.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 4:18 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are some great answers here, and some of them touch on a distinction that it's taken me a while to identify (and that it might be good for you to consider as well): being Charismatic vs. being Charming. You're kind of asking about both.

Charm can be learned. Pick-up artists can be charming. That guy I dated for a summer, the one who when I look back I wonder "what did I ever see in him?" ...was charming. Charming people know how to draw you in by exploiting some soft spot of yours, they can focus their attention on you for a short burst and dazzle you with the magnetism of their personality, they can always be counted on to be surrounded by a gaggle of friends--but you'll eventually notice it's very often new friends because the older ones catch on to their ways and decide they don't want to be hangers-on any more. Charming people are concerned about their social status, about how they are perceived and evaluated, and ultimately primarily about themselves. They don't want to waste their time on people who don't increase their cachet or have nothing to offer them. It kind of strikes me as hilarious and sad that fairy tales end with the protagonist meeting Prince Chaming, since the word itself certainly doesn't imply Happily Ever After. A charm is a magic spell, superficial and fleeting, and doesn't imply any kind of substantive connection. Don't be charming.

Charisma is innate. The aspect of it you're more curious about--that people be drawn to you--is, to me, ineffable. Looks may perhaps have something to do with it, but then you've got people like Serge Gainsbourg who I daresay isn't conventionally attractive but definitely drew people like flies. (It helps to be insanely talented at something that people find sexy, like being a French musician.) Being the "life of the party" overlaps with this somewhat but is mostly just having a naturally high energy. There may be synthetic ways of achieving that, but I can't recommend any.

The other part of charisma is (I think) the key: a natural ease with one-on-one conversation, a genuine curiosity about and compassion for what someone else is saying and thinking and feeling. My boyfriend is kind of like this: he'll happily chat away with anyone about anything, just for the hell of it, and come away with an appreciation for whoever he was talking to. He doesn't need to be the life of the party and is happy sitting on the sidelines, but the people he does interact with usually remember him fondly and seek him out when they meet again. (After a family wedding I attended recently, my cousin--who had met my boyfriend once before--told me "When I first met him, I liked him. On meeting him again, I really like him. Good job.") They invest in people emotionally, not because they expect dividends but because they want to and find the interaction satisfying for its own sake.

The good news is you don't have to be charismatic to be likeable (and just because someone is charismatic doesn't mean they are thoroughly likeable people; I present to you one Mr. William Jefferson Clinton). I don't know a thing about you and perhaps you are like me--somewhat standoffish at first but willing to befriend people--and it's OK to be that way. It's not glamorous and it's harder work making friends, but there is a place for you at the party too: it's not charisma per se but people appreciate my willingness to be nonjudgmental and hear them out when we talk; in the right social circle simply being not-gossipy is near-oracular in stature. You have skills and virtues that other people appreciate but that you may not yet be aware of; sometimes it just takes trial and error to find them. Good luck.
posted by psoas at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh yes, and also: like others have said, charismatic people have interests and are unabashed about enthusiastically sharing them with other people but are also aware enough to not tip over into monologuing at someone who has lost interest. Charismatic public speakers walk this line all the time, since they can't rely on individual feedback so much as "reading the room." If you watch a few TED talks or check out live performances by stand-up comedians, you can start making a mental list of what works and what doesn't as far as engaging an audience pretty quickly.
posted by psoas at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2014

I think status play might also be a factor in this. By status I mean social ranking - who has control and who is driving the agenda. There are lots of nonverbal clues we give each other to signal the status order amongst the group of people.

I'd suggest reading Impro by Keith Johnston.

I think of this because of an anecdote in the sequel (Impro for Storytellers). An actor found that if he player higher status then agents they would hate him and if he was much lower they would like him but not give him roles. When he equalised status however they started giving him jobs - because he became one of the group.
posted by Erberus at 8:42 AM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

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