1. Four Keys to Effective Leadership
2. Speaking with Charisma
3. Boosting Morale
4. Dealing with Crisis

People Smarts

Leadership Part II

Speaking with Charisma

Leaders aren’t born or made; they are perceived. A person can be intelligent, a good decision maker, honest and credible, but that doesn’t necessarily make him or her a leader. Strong leaders inspire; their presence gives us energy and passion. We believe in them even if we don’t know why.

Whether in businesses, communities or social and civic groups great leaders share one trait: Charisma. It’s that magical quality, almost impossible to describe, but we know it when we see it. Charisma is not the message, it’s the medium. It’s a way of preparing people to accept an idea or a vision as their own.

Think of reading Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” in a monotone, passionless voice. The content would still be powerful, but would it have had the same overwhelming impact? Whether you are promoting a product or an ideal, charisma is what makes a message strong and credible.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a brilliant orator to be charismatic, and it’s not mysterious, magical or even complicated. It’s a skill, and we can get better at it. Here are a few tips that you can start practicing starting today.

1. Use powerful language. Most of us get caught up in trite, pedestrian words that don’t accurately describe what we really believe. Instead of saying, “these tests suggest that our product is better than our competitors,” try “these tests prove that our product is superior.” A lack of confidence in language means a lack of confidence in your product, your vision and in yourself.

You can practice using powerful language by thinking about what you plan to say before an important meeting or presentation. Repeat the points you want to stress in your head, or write them down. Then change key verbs and adjectives to inject power and clarity in the statement.

Above all, take out these words from your vocabulary: kind of, sort of, a little bit and maybe. You don’t kind of believe in your business goals. You believe in them fully. If you can’t communicate that, you probably need to rethink your goals.

2. Use body language. If you took a public speaking class 10 years ago you probably remember the podium. Your job was to stand behind it, hands on both sides, and look very still. Fast forward to 2005 and forget everything you learned. Studies show that animated body language is a key ingredient of charisma. This doesn’t mean that you should wave your arms about and jump up and down when you are trying to make a point. It means that you should relax your body when you speak, lean slightly forward, and sit or stand in front of your audience with nothing in front of you so that your audience feels connected to you. Use your hands and facial expressions (sparingly) to emphasize a point.

3. Pay attention to rhythm and tone. In one study on charisma researchers played speeches in a language listeners didn’t understand. Across the board the listeners felt most inspired by rhythmic speech (similar to iambic pentameter) that was repetitive and song-like. Studies have also proven the power of the pause. When you want people to listen, stop for a moment instead of talking louder. This leaves people waiting to hear what you will say. And when you speak, vacillate your tone to keep your listener’s attention. Steady consistency in tone makes a great lullaby, but it’s no way to keep an audience captivated.

One word of caution: Don’t confuse charisma with hubris. Charismatic people use their gift carefully, finding a balance between confidence and modesty. We all know that the best leaders serve their followers, so remember that with the power of charisma comes great responsibility. Use it with humility.