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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
A step-by-step guide to charisma
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Charisma graphic
Scientists claim to have found the secret to that magical quality, charisma, and they say it can be learnt. But before you enrol for classes, don't think it will get you the job of your dreams.

Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is deluded in believing that charisma, or being "well-liked" as he calls it, is more important than ability in making a person a success.

His philosophy is exposed as flawed but he did have half a point. After all, most of the greatest leaders in history possessed a star quality that drew others to them.

Churchill, Napoleon and Martin Luther King had a magnetism which is often easier to identify than it is to explain.

Until now.

General: Open body posture, hands away from face when talking, stand up straight, relax, hands apart with palms forwards or upwards
To an individual: Let people know they matter and you enjoy being around them, develop a genuine smile, nod when they talk, briefly touch them on the upper arm, and maintain eye contact
To a group: Be comfortable as leader, move around to appear enthusiastic, lean slightly forward and look at all parts of the group
Message: Move beyond status quo and make a difference, be controversial, new, simple to understand, counter-intuitive
Speech: Be clear, fluent, forceful and articulate, evoke imagery, use an upbeat tempo, occasionally slow for tension or emphasis
SOURCE: Prof Richard Wiseman
Researchers say having an infectious personality induces others to copy your body language and facial expressions.

The study, led by British Professor Richard Wiseman, involved more than 200 people taking part in FameLab, a national competition to find the new "faces of science". The ones who scored highest in a questionnaire about how much they seem to transmit their emotions to others also progressed the furthest in the competition, when they used their personalities to impress a panel of judges.

"When you see someone else who has charisma, without realising it, you're mimicking their posture and their facial expressions," says Professor Wiseman, a psychologist. "An obvious example is when someone smiles at you and you smile back. And how you hold yourself influences your emotions."

You're unaware you're mimicking this person, although you know they make you feel happy, he says.

A charismatic person has three attributes, says the professor:

  • they feel emotions themselves quite strongly;
  • they induce them in others;
  • and they are impervious to the influences of other charismatic people.

Lucky ones

But don't despair if you haven't got these qualities because you can learn them. Professor Wiseman estimates charisma is 50% innate and 50% trained. His tips include keeping an open body posture and communicating your ideas clearly.

Jeremy Milnes
I honestly believe that these are techniques and skills which can be learnt and practised
Jeremy Milnes
Confidence tutor
Broadcaster and confidence tutor Jeremy Milnes agrees that techniques can make a huge transformation, and says nearly all the people he's worked with have improved. Key areas are listening, asking questions and not trying too hard to be the centre of attention.

"There are some people who are just lucky buggers and are just naturally charismatic, like Johnny Depp, David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe," he says. "But I honestly believe that these are techniques and skills which can be learnt and practised and can be made part of your own behaviour.

"I don't deny there's a bit of magic there, but these are things which can be worked on. They're not out of people's reach. You might not learn them all but you may be comfortable with some of them."

Winston Churchill
It's not about sex appeal....
Charisma plays a huge part in bringing success because it goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence, he says. But although it can be learnt, it can't be faked.

"Whatever skills and techniques you have are routed from your own personality, so you don't come across as fake or insincere. There's nothing worse than that."

Michael Mallows, an author and personal development coach, says whether the group he addresses is five, 50 or 500, he usually has their full attention within 10 minutes. Although he teaches people to keep their integrity and avoid over-selling themselves in interviews, it can happen.

Charis means "grace" or "gift" in Greek
A gift or power of leadership or authority (OED)
A certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities (Sociologist Max Weber 1947)
"A lot of work I do is with people who did fabulous interviews but are then not up to the job," he says. "There could have been some rapport in the interview between you and one key person on the panel, but then in the job the people don't like your style and you can't understand why your natural charm isn't enough."

But recruitment consultants say charisma is not enough to con a good interviewer.

"Interviewing has progressed in recent years and competencies are used to find out what the person has done," says Alison Burgin of Badenoch & Clark. "This means getting down to specifics, so it doesn't matter how much you buy into a wonderful personality if there's no justification for taking that person on."

Coaching interviewees in personal skills enables them to overcome nerves and be more themselves, she says.

"Without coaching, a good person could be missed, but it won't make a bad person good."

A selection of your comments appear below. The debate is now closed.

It's all to do with confidence. If you feel uncomfortable with over-smiling or touching upper arms then you simply won't appear charismatic, just awkward. Work on not giving a damn and the rest will follow.
Kate Ellis, UK

Charisma is for wimps! It's a smokescreen for those people who have no real depth. I have bucket loads of charisma but it's all bravado. When it comes to getting down to business and 'getting the job done' I find it's those people who are not charismatic that achieve more as they have more to prove...
Mark Knight, UK

Charismatic people, although attractive on a first approach, tend to irritate me, especially those who are self-aware and take advatage of their charisma to climb their career ladder. I'd rather work with a shy, uncharismatic but effective and intelligent person.
Oscar Lima, United Kingdom

I once saw Maya Angelou speak, and despite her standing in front of around 4 or 5 hundred people she was still able to make the event appear as if we were all guests in her home, listening to her telling a story to each of us. She used song, used rhyming words, took pauses and made good eye contact. She also had a very strong, confident bodily presence that may have come about in part from her clothes but also from her size. It was fascinating to watch, and interesting to see how some of the most attractive people are not necessarily the ones that appear on magazine covers and in movies.
Alastair, UK

What about Jesus? Jesus was probably one of the most carismatic persons in history! Please note that I'm not a religious person, but I have to admit that there are very few people that can be charismatic enough as to be remembered for more than 2000 years after his/her death!
Atheist, Denmark

Perhaps we should look for our own best gifts and treat those gifts as if they had quite a lot of their own magentic draw-- and to be eager to find the most charismatic character traits in others. Rather than crowd in like a braying mule.
Richard Green, USA

Who the heck wants to learn how to be charismatic? Who is that bored? Just be yourself. ughh.
Lape, USA

Personal sources of charisma come from disarming smiles where the whole face smiles, where the mind smiles. Sincere empathy that helps to connect with an audience also helps. I'd add emotional intelligence in picking issues and turning a phrase that paints pictures. Desmond Tutu has charisma of the uplifting kind.

I work with managers who have been made redundant and coach them through applications and interviews. The key to charisma is having a genuine interest in the other person - hard to manufacture! Charisma is generated by those who are not too self-aware and there is always a little of the ingenuous about them!
Sandra Culham, England

What a load of rubbish. Hitler was probably the most charismatic out of any leader in the 20th century - he led an entire country to its doom - but I wouldn't say he smiled a lot!
Ian Wild, UK

Another word for leader is manipulator. I'd rather "science" also be paying attention to the other side of the equation: How easily followers are lured by charismatics, for better or worse. I'd rather people be taught not how to manipulate others but rather think for him/herself.
Dan Stephens, USA (I didn't vote for Bush!)

Part of the charisma is also based on the clothes a person wears. There is a saying in Tamil " A person is made of half himself and half cloths" it similar to saying "you are as good as the cloths you wear". Naturally charismatic people, in my opinion have good dress sense too!
Malar Ponnusamy, USA

Charisma, like common sense, is innate. It cannot be developed or learnt as this strikes at the whole concept of the matter. What these scientists are discussing here is the projection of confidence, which does not necessarily constitute charisma. Many people are confident; this does not mean they can, or will, inspire others to follow them or their lead
Matt, UK

Charisma is very innate in people. Some people are born with it. I have a cousin, who has been so charismatic since her childhood, it shows in her pictures too!, but it does wear off on people. Seeing her, I too have imbibed some of her charismatic features. It's more like, one can absorb them, but to entirely learn them from a book seems quite difficult to me.
Rachna, Canada

I believe it's a fallacy to expect people to formally 'learn' these behaviours and implement them successfully. The best method of learning this in this case would be in a natural and informal way. One only needs to look at how insincere politicians come across in interviews (think Michael Howard and his hand gestures) to see how faking it comes across.
Sundeep Sidhu, UK

Charisma is more than just simple ability to communicate or extrovertedness. And science should be pursuing something more useful with their time.
Alex, USA

Charisma: Thatcher had it, so did MacMillan. So did Clinton... and Hitler (which goes to show that charisma does not always work to the good). Blair has charisma but over-plays his hand (by which I mean he acts the part rather than lives it). David Davies doesn't have charisma: the Tories will be backing a loser if they make him their leader.
David Seekings, England

Some of this is just common sense but if anybody makes a habit of trying to touch me on the upper arm (as recommended in the article) it drives me insane.
Paul, UK

Undoubtedly, the most charismatic person I have ever seen is Bill Clinton. The techniques noted here are so much part of his performances: he has them in spades. I'd use him if you want to learn from a true master.
Alan Davidson, London, SW16

Cor I wish I had read this a day earlier! At least then my X factor audition may not have been so uneventful and I could have got a chance to have a pop at Simon Cowell! he he
Ant, UK

Hitler had charisma but I wouldn't want him working with me.
Kevin, UK

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