Do You Have Charisma?

Do You Have Charisma?

Captivate your audience with star quality!

By Eva Kihlstrom

Amazing new research shows that people as diverse as the freedom campaigner Martin Luther King, South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, former US-president John F. Kennedy, the actress Marilyn Monroe, Argentina’s first lady Eva Peron and Britain’s Princess Diana all had something in common. They had the ability to induce their own emotions in others.

If you study these people’s voices and facial expressions in detail, you’ll find that they communicate a considerable number of emotions. In this way they form a vibrant, attractive image of themselves.

Charisma, the magical x-factor, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the capacity to inspire devotion or enthusiasm.” A study of charismatic communication skills by American scientist Annette Towler proved these skills superior to other presentation techniques. The good news is, these methods can be learned and we can all use them in our presentations.

Fifty percent of charisma is innate and 50 percent is trained, says British researcher Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire. Here are some ways to train yourself in the fine art of charisma: 

Harness the Power of Technique
The first way of gaining more personal appeal is to express feelings through your face and the tone of your voice. All Toastmasters know the value of good gestures and vocal variety. But do you recognize their full charismatic power?

Besides using these techniques to strengthen your own presentations, knowing them can help you resist their influence when used by the wrong people. Vocal passion and silent body language work for any who employ them. Mass murderer Adolph Hitler and serial killer Charles Manson were considered charismatic. It is interesting to note just how much influence a charismatic speaker can exert over an unwary audience. 

Master the Details
In sports, a few hundredths of a second can make a big difference, and the same holds true for body language. Your audience will read far more than you’re aware of in your body language, both consciously and unconsciously. How you walk, talk, move and act –
your tone of voice together with the words you choose – all convey messages. Taken together, they create personal magnetism.

A detail such as the position of your eyebrows can affect how others regard you. Yet, most people aren’t aware of their facial expressions and how they might be perceived. Many walk around with a critical wrinkle between the eyes, looking like they are angry or irritated. They’re surprised when others respond to them as though they’re upset. There’s an easy fix, however.

“A smile is the shortest distance between two people” said entertainer Viktor Borge. A smile goes beyond any intercultural communication difficulties. But it has to come from the heart. When it is warm and genuine, it includes the eye muscle orbicularis oculi. Like blushing, this is not controlled by our willpower. Only when someone feels real joy and happiness will it be activated by the brain.

People who laugh and smile a lot shape their wrinkles in a certain manner. A true smile creates what the old Greeks called pistis or faith, building trust and confidence, a foundation for persuasive presentations. Maybe the plastic surgeon of tomorrow will work on arranging our wrinkles in the right direction! 

                    “A person with strong convictions and powerful feelings
                    often appears attractive and charismatic.”

When you speak, do you use the full potential of your voice? Though carrying around a full orchestra, many of us use only one instrument. And do you also work on creating alluring soundbites? Winston Churchill was a great speaker who used soundbites to great effect. Here’s a famous example: “Never before was so much owed by so many to so few” (referring to the Royal Air Force defending Britain against the Germans). His voice, choice of words and appearance allowed people to believe.

Energy is infectious. A person with strong convictions and powerful feelings often appears attractive and charismatic. What makes you enthusiastic, powerful and motivated? Think about it and use those feelings in your speech. Athletes use mental training and visualization exercises to improve their results, and speakers can use the same method. If you imagine something or someone you like very much, the thought affects your body. Muscle-tension softens, the breathing is affected, as is the complexion and expression around your eyes and mouth. 

Be Poetic
Speaking in pictures is another way of increasing your charisma. Why are metaphors, similes and anecdotes so effective? They go directly to our subconscious and, therefore, aim straight for the goal. Some popular American presidents regarded by the public as charismatic used more than double the amount of metaphors compared to other presidents.

So, build bridges by using imagery and reach the listener so that he or she more easily can remember what you say. Each individual can interpret your images in his or her own way. Poetic wording also forms alluring soundbites.

Churchill created the famous metaphor “iron curtain” for the invisible border between Eastern and Western Europe after World War II. Nelson Mandela named the new South Africa “the rainbow nation,” describing how different cultures could live together. And Marilyn Monroe told us what fame is by this simile, “It’s like caviar, you know. It’s good to have caviar but not when you have it every meal every day.” 

Share your Vision
Visions attract! Do you know how to express your dreams meaningfully? Start by cultivating your own passions. Then address the audience’s feelings and help them see and feel why this topic inspires you. If you can imbue others with hope, energy and enthusiasm – making them believe your ideas are possible – you will certainly gain their interest.

Charismatic communication isn’t something to be used every day and everywhere. No one would put up with a colleague or boss who starts every morning by shouting, with passion, “I have a dream...” However, when a speaker is hoping to convince an audience to believe something or to take some action, he or she can use personal magnetism as a tool to help craft a powerful presentation. There is no doubt that charisma training is a great investment for successful speeches.

Eva Kihlstrom is a Swedish lecturer and author of the book Charisma Code - Seven Ways To Increase Your Personal Appeal. She is a member of the Stockholm International Toastmasters group. Reach her at

Metaphor Workshop

Create metaphors and similes with this exercise!


Use the suggestions below to create your own metaphors and similes. For example, you might compare something to eat with a musical instrument by saying, “The extra-rich ice cream floated across his tongue like the haunting melody of a fine violin.”

Something                        Something to                        Something                            Something                        Something
about war                         eat or drink                           from television                     about computers            from the office

A sport                              A musical instrument         A type/make of car                A traffic term                    A film/song title
A kitchen implement     A technical applicance       A weather phenomenon      A wild animal                    A herb/spice 
A part of the body           A piece of furniture             A country/a place                  A house pet                       A tool 
                                                                                                                                                A novel                               A building
                                                                                                                                                A piece of clothing       

In only five minutes, members of the Stockholm International Toastmasters group produced images depicting a Toastmasters meeting:

  • “A Toastmasters meeting is like a cookbook that gives you recipes for baking a speech. The more often you do it, the better it gets.”
  • “Going to a meeting is like having a shot of strong vitamins.”
  • “Attending a meeting is like going for a workout – reluctant in the beginning, sweaty in the middle and happy in the end!”
  • “A Toastmasters meeting is like standing naked in front of a large group of people. Luckily it is a nudist colony.”