Charisma, that irresistible magnetism some people possess, is often thought of as trait you’re born with — you either have it or you don’t. In The Charisma Myth, however, author Olivia Fox Cabane explains that charisma is a skill you can learn, and she explains exactly how with examples, exercises and practical tips you can try with anyone.
This is part of Lifehacker’s book review series. Not every life hack can be summed up in a blog post, so we’ve decided to review some of our favourite life-changing books for deeper dives into life’s most important topics.
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism is author Olivia Fox Cabane’s first book, but it’s based on years of personal coaching, speaking engagements, and an impressive amount of scientific studies. Cabane regularly coaches and speaks to leadership at Fortune 500 companies, has been a columnist for Forbes and The Huffington Post, and also taught a course at Berkeley’s Business School so popular that university staff had to be on guard to keep unregistered students from attending. Inside the book you’ll find plenty of practical tips on how to be more charismatic, all backed by sound research, and simply explained with easy-to-follow examples.
Who This Book Is For
This book is for anyone that is looking to up their social game or get ahead in their career. As Cabane explains in the book, charisma can help with both your work and personal life, so it’s perfect for someone who wants to be better at networking, give better presentations, close sales more often, land the next job, make new friends, or even get better at dating. If you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of a book helping you become more likeable right now, this book will probably surprise you. There’s no “hocus-pocus” or “learn to love yourself” mantras here. Each lesson is filled with practical, real-world-ready tips, and Cabane explains why each one is effective every step of the way.
What You’ll Get
This book touches on a few major concepts to help you understand and develop charisma. The title itself, “The Charisma Myth,” is attacking the widely accepted notion that charisma is something you either have or you don’t. It opens by explaining why that isn’t true, explains the key characteristics of a charismatic mindset, and then delves into the “how to” of it all. Here’s some of what you’ll learn:
- In the chapter “The Charismatic Behaviours” you’ll learn that there are three keys to being charismatic: you need to be present in the moment when engaging with others; you need to give off warmth by implying goodwill toward others; and you need to appear powerful by coming across as someone capable of affecting the world around you.
- In the chapter “Overcoming the Obstacles” you’ll learn how to find the right mindset for becoming charismatic by handling discomfort, neutralising negative thoughts by recognising them instead of suppressing them, and alleviating your anxiety by rewriting reality in your mind to better suit you.
- In the chapter “Charismatic First Impressions” you’ll learn how quickly someone sizes you up, that people really like people that like them, how to dress to impress, how to give the perfect handshake when meeting for the first time, and how to make a graceful exit with a lasting impression.
- In the chapter “Charismatic Body Language” you’ll learn the importance of “how” something is said versus “what” was said, how body language can be an “emotional contagion” that infects people around you, how to effectively mirror someone’s body language and mannerisms, how to use personal space to your advantage, the power of charismatic posture, and how to use eye contact without being a creep.
The book does an excellent job of introducing each topic, explaining its importance, then going into the technical aspects. At the end of each section, you’ll also find a dedicated exercise that embodies the core value of the lesson. I attempted a majority of these exercises (some require other people or certain environments), and found them to be quite useful despite how simple they are. Additionally, Cabane does a fantastic job of using stories and make-believe examples to thoroughly explain each point. You’ll never be left wondering “what does she mean by that?” or “why would that matter?” Everything is crystal clear.
One Trick You’ll Take Away
There are so many good mental tricks and “how-tos” to learn here, but here’s one that really stuck with me. So many of us worry about making a good first impression, so I really identified with the “Charismatic First Impressions” chapter. The key to a good first impression is about more than coming off as likable; it’s also about being memorable. That’s why Cabane suggests you make a graceful exit by offering the other person something of value before you go:
- Information: an article, book or website you think might be of use to them
- A connection: someone they ought to meet whom you know and can introduce them to
- Visibility: an organisation you belong to, where you could invite them to speak
- Recognition: an award you think they should be nominated for
Offering value will often create in others a feeling of warmth and goodwill toward you, and your departure from the conversation with be haloed by the impression of generosity you’ve created.
Also, don’t wait too long to end your conversation. For a first impression there’s no need to oversell yourself. It’s all about quality time you have with the other person, not quantity, so don’t overstay your welcome.
This book has it all. It will help you be a better listener and feel more confident around others. By the time you finish it, you’ll be dying to go out and try some of the things you’ve learned. The best part: reading the book doesn’t feel like you’re reading some kind of mumbo-jumbo self-help manual. It reads much more like a (fun) textbook, with well-documented information that is organised to be easy to understand. The end of each chapter even has a “Key Takeaways” section to help you review what you just read.
If I had to pick something that brings this book down, it would be the abundance of examples Cabane uses to explain most of the major lessons. The examples are very good at explaining the point, but on occasion, they seem borderline unnecessary. It’s probably better that they are there for those that don’t get it, but once it clicks in your head, you’ll feel like you’re slogging through the rest. Of course, you can always skim forward in those sections if you don’t need the explanation.
On a personal level, I’ve specifically worked at being more charismatic and sociable since I was a shy, awkward teen. I’ve read a lot of stuff on how to increase likability, and even written it about it here a few times. That being said, this is one of the best resources I’ve ever come across. It’s something I wish I could have read back in high school, and its practical, no-nonsense approach makes it perfect for Lifehacker readers.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that while this book is filled with good tips, it won’t make you more charismatic overnight (or by the time you finish reading it). Cabane makes it clear that the strategies within the book are supposed to be practised. Just like any other skill, it takes deliberate practice to develop. Give the tips and exercises here an honest effort, however, and you might be surprised at how fast you’ll see some of the benefits.
You can grab The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism on Amazon Kindle or paperback. You can also learn more about the author at her website.