May 24, 2024

An Expert Shares the Science

You know the person. They sparkle and shine in every conversation, are comforting to talk to, and invite everyone in with seamless ease. This person is never at a loss for words, nor do they ever seem to feel awkward in even the most cringe-inducing situations (shudder). Everything about them seems to be drowned in an inexplicable, angelic glow. Heck, the phrase “light up a room” was coined to describe their very being. They have grace, spirit, and the ability to make even the coldest among us warm up to them after a brief chat. They’re charming, inspiring, and in many ways, larger than life. And so if you’re wondering how to be more charismatic, then you’ve stumbled upon the perfect corner of the internet.

I’m certainly not immune to the occasional etiquette stumble. But in an effort to cut down on my blunders, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn the art of charm. While you may think that some are simply born with charisma, you can actually learn how to be more charismatic. And so, to arm myself with the knowledge and skills it takes to develop that certain air of magnetism, I looked to an expert. Enter: Vanessa Van Edwards.

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

Image by Michelle Nash

The Science-Backed Tips Behind How to Be More Charismatic

Vanessa Van Edwards is a behavioral investigator with Science of People and a two-time author of some of the most game-changing self-help books I’ve ever read. Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People and Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication. While both provide insights into what it takes to communicate effectively and productively collaborate with others, it was Captivate that propelled my dive into the science of how to be more charismatic (and clearly I’m not alone, the book has been translated into 17 languages).

If you’ve ever wished to be granted the power to know what others think (specifically, to know what others think of you), Captivate equips you with the guidance and knowledge to decode others’ behavior. The ability to read people’s body and language signals—and to use these gestures and language effectively yourself—is a key skill in just about every area of life. From networking events to parties to going on first dates, knowing how to build memorable conversations is a resume-worthy feat.

That’s where we find ourselves today, learning how to be more charismatic. Below, Vanessa shares the ins and outs of charm and charisma—plus everything you need to build a thriving social and professional life.

What makes someone charismatic?

Highly charismatic people have the perfect balance of two traits: warmth and competence. Charismatic individuals are able to project both a sense of genuine warmth, trustworthiness, and friendliness, as well as a sense of confidence and competence in their abilities. This combination makes them highly attractive and engaging to others.

People often forget that charisma is a skill that we can develop—not an inherent trait. Why might we have this belief?

I am a recovering awkward person, so social skills did not come naturally to me. I was convinced that charisma was innate. But my life changed when I learned that charisma is learnable! And good news: You do not have to be extroverted to be charismatic. Charismatic people may make it look effortless to connect with others and spread their influence, and this has nothing to do with extroversion. Charisma can be learned and practiced.

Good news: You do not have to be extroverted to be charismatic.

Image by Belathée Photography

What are ways more introverted people can work beyond these constraints to cultivate a charismatic personality?

Many introverts can be just as charismatic as extroverted ones in their own unique way.

Understand that charisma is not about being outgoing or loud. It’s about being able to connect with others and make them feel comfortable. Introverted individuals can use their natural ability to listen and observe to build strong relationships and connect with others on a deeper level.

Use warm nonverbal cues. This can look like head tilts, nods, and angling your body toward whoever is speaking. In this way, your body can speak when you don’t have to! There are 96 cues you can learn, and the more you use, the more charismatic you become.

Focus on competent body language. This is nonverbal communication that speaks louder than words and shows people you have deep knowledge. Use hand gestures that match your words. We analyzed thousands of hours of TED Talks and found the most-viewed TED Talks had over 465 hand gestures in 18 minutes. Use your hands to emphasize important points. For more examples, watch my TEDx London Talk.

Practice, practice, practice. Charisma is a skill that can be developed over time, and the more you interact with others, the more comfortable and confident you will become. I always recommend starting to practice these skills where you feel the most comfortable (ex., with friends and family).

Image by Michelle Nash

Vanessa Van Edwards’ Top 11 Tips for How to Be More Charismatic

1. Be aware of microexpressions. There are seven universal facial expressions. Learn how to decode each.

2. Be a good storyteller. Learn to use storytelling as a way to connect with others and communicate your message. When you experience something funny or interesting, write it in a note on your phone.

3. Watch an old recording of a ZOOM video or recorded speech and log all of your nonverbal cues. This is the start of how we improve our nonverbal presence.

4. Move your camera back. Sounds small, but the ideal distance from your nose to your camera is 18 inches to 3 feet. Too close, and it triggers our danger reflex!

5. Do an email audit. Examine your recent emails and evaluate how they are perceived. You may need to incorporate more words that convey warmth or competence to enhance the effectiveness of your emails.

6. Take our free Charisma Quiz. This is a quick and easy way to assess your warmth and competence. Have a friend, a partner, and a colleague take the same quiz as you to double-check your results. Do you come across the way you think you come across?

7. Build connections. Always be looking for opportunities to build genuine connections. This will make you more trustworthy and increase your influence! Be an inviter—invite people to sit with you, go to happy hour, or chat.

8. Be a good listener. Show genuine interest in what others have to say and actively listen to them. Try a slow triple nod. This is one of my favorite of the 96 cues because research shows it makes people talk 3-4 times longer!

9. Be charismatic in different settings. Charisma is not only about public speaking; it’s also about how you interact with people in different settings like one-on-one conversations, in groups, or in written communications.

10. Mirror others. Focus on mirroring one or two key elements of their body language, such as their posture or the way they hold their head. Gradually, you can build up to mirroring more of their body language as you become more comfortable with the technique.

11. Keep learning. Keep learning and developing new skills, whether it’s a new language, a new hobby, or a new skill that can help you connect with people in different ways. There are 96 cues, so try a new cue every week.

Image by Michelle Nash

Resources to Help You Learn More

My book, Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication is a great place to start! I share the latest research in human behavior and psychology to build stronger relationships, communicate more effectively, and become more influential in both their personal and professional lives.

Watch me analyze the Rock’s cues, Britney Spears’s cues, and even learn from Justin Bieber. Browse our Science of People website for topics you want to learn more about.

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