Fascinate Your Audience
It’s a question as old as the great Greek orators: Is charisma inborn or can it be learned? Sally Hogshead would tell Toastmasters that you don’t have to change who you are to become more charismatic or fascinating, only become more of who you are—and that starts by developing a better understanding of how the world sees you.
Hogshead is an accomplished keynote speaker and author of the book How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through The Science of Fascination (2014). The book’s premise: We already know how we see the world, but most of us don’t fully understand how we’re perceived by others. By learning more about the aspects of our personalities that make us different and most appealing to audiences, we can become more authentic and confident as speakers and leaders.
“If Toastmasters understand how the world sees them at their best, they can hone their content, delivery style and even how they market themselves around those unique qualities,” says Hogshead.
The goal is to create what Hogshead calls a “fascination advantage” when speaking. Toastmasters first have to understand the distinct way their personal advantages engage audiences—or the club members that they lead. Fascination isn’t the same as interest, Hogshead stresses; rather, it’s a neurological state of intense focus and engagement, a force that rules our thinking and emotions.
“Fascination means audiences are focused only on you and not thinking about their to-do lists or what just landed in their email,” she says.
Are You a Change Agent or an Anchor?
Creating fascination begins with knowing your distinct personality archetype. You might be the Change Agent, entrepreneurial and creative with strong goals; the Beloved, nurturing, supporting and comforting; the Anchor, pragmatic, analytical and intelligent; or another archetype.
Hogshead writes in her book that the ability to fascinate often is confused with charisma; she views charisma as only one “flavor” of fascination. While some archetypes, like the Ringleader, have the personal magnetism or “it” factor associated with charisma, others such as Wise Owls are more observant or reflective. In one person charisma might be a powerful confidence, in another it might be a sense of mystery. “Each of these personalities can be equally fascinating,” Hogshead writes. When Anchor archetypes communicate at their best, for example, they are perceived as protective, purposeful and analytical, Hogshead says. If Anchors tap those natural strengths when speaking or leading, rather than trying to be some archetype they’re not, they’ll be seen as more confident and focused.
If Anchors communicate those same strengths when leading a crucial meeting, she says, “They’ll be more likely to get people to listen, remember and take action.”
Conversely, if your archetype is Catalyst, you’ll be most influential and impressive when thinking out of the box and bringing naturally high energy and passion to the stage. Hogshead herself is that archetype. “Before I go on stage, I think to myself, if I can engage and fascinate by using my archetype I will be more authentic and in the flow when speaking,” she says.
It’s important for Toastmasters to focus on those qualities that come most naturally to them, Hogshead says. “It helps us relax, be more engaging and focus on our messages,” she says. “Too many speakers try to water down their dominant traits in efforts to be something they’re not, but they lose the qualities that make them most compelling to their audiences.”
A Tale of Two Colleagues
In her book, How the World Sees You, Hogshead tells a story that illustrates how we all fascinate or engage others in distinct ways. In Hogshead’s first job, as a copywriter at an ad agency in the Midwestern United States, she worked with two standout colleagues: one an account executive who was quiet and unassuming, yet brilliant. The other was the charismatic agency president, who showed up on his first day wearing daring red glasses and a bold attitude. He was a “rainmaker,” a creative force who could woo new clients. There was some natural tension between the two colleagues.
“The president and the account executive offered different competitive advantages,” Hogshead writes. “Both of these men were exceptional in their jobs. One competed by leveraging his personal magnetism, the other by quietly and systematically solving problems.”
So which Archetype triumphed? The answer is both—in different ways.
“Individually they maximized their own advantages to fascinate clients, and together their differences complemented the team’s ability to win,” Hogshead writes. “There is no one right way to fascinate people.” Sometimes the president would dramatically read a TV commercial script to wow a client with a big idea. Yet when high-level thinking was in order, the account executive captured everyone’s attention with his strategic approach.”
How to Develop Charisma
Nick Morgan is among those who believes speakers can learn their own brand of charisma—it’s not bestowed upon them out of the womb. Morgan, founder and CEO of presentation-skills coaching firm Public Words, Inc in Boston, says charisma isn’t just a clichéd concept that attracts us to speakers through their commanding presence or resonant voices.
“What charisma is is emotional focus,” Morgan says. “We are charismatic effortlessly as children, and that’s something we have to learn to summon as adults.” The child who wins a prize in grade school and arrives home bursting with excitement to breathlessly recount the tale for mom is showing charisma. “As children we let our whole being be consumed with that emo-tion,” Morgan says. “And we are hard-wired as human beings, as audience members, to be drawn to strong emotions.”
What does that charisma look like in leaders? Morgan chronicled one example in a blog post about Australian Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison. Morrison was forced to deal with a scandal in his nation’s armed forces regarding inappropriate behavior toward women soldiers. His response to the situation in a public service announcement (PSA) caught Morgan’s eye.
“General Morrison is angry, and it shows—in the clenched jaw, the lowered eyebrows and narrowed eyes, the fierce eye contact and the stillness of his head,” Morgan writes. “As a result you can’t take your eyes off of him. You don’t have to get angry to be charismatic, but you do have to focus on strong emotion. Don’t fake it; feel it.”
The PSA also is a model of clarity and straight talk, according to Morgan, which is another hallmark of charisma. “There is no weasel wording or bureaucratic double-talk. He lets both the public and the armed services know what they should expect and do.” Too often what happens to speakers is that, instead of applying such emotional focus, they let themselves become distracted by all the things that could go wrong with a speech, Morgan says. “And when they walk on stage, their body language betrays them, leaking that scattered sense of presence and low-level feeling of danger,” he says. “That is not particularly charismatic.”
Charisma also is connected to physical presence. “At first walking all over the stage seems high energy and cool,” Morgan says, “but very quickly the audience gets tired of trying to track the speaker.”
Whether it’s creating a sense of fascination or charisma, developing a deeper understanding of our personal strengths and having the courage to show focused emotion can go a long way toward making us all more impactful communicators and leaders.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2015 issue of the Toastmaster magazine.