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Carol Kinsey GomanIn business dealings, charisma counts. A lot. And charisma is as much about impressions and body language as it is about issues and substance.

I’ve seen many qualified people get passed over for promotion (or lose a sale or fail an interview) simply because they couldn’t project an engaging attitude.

Max Weber, the father of sociology, first coined the term ‘charisma’ to describe inspirational leaders. Originally from the Greek kharisma, meaning favour or divine gift, charisma has also been defined as “part confidence, part presence, and part sex appeal.”

But however we define it, we know it when we see it. We call someone charismatic when they somehow compel us to embrace their vision – whether it’s corporate, social or political.

As a leadership presence coach, I define charisma as focused passion/energy that results in complete congruence between what you say, and how you look and sound when you say it.

Body language communicates your emotions and motivations, likes and dislikes, and interest and disengagement. Whether you’re interviewing for a job, pitching your idea to a venture capitalist or presenting a new business strategy to the board of directors, you’re the most charismatic and convincing when what you feel internally is perfectly aligned with what you’re verbally expressing. (At that point, your body language automatically becomes congruent with your words.)

That’s why my coaching sessions always begin with questions about your emotional intent:

  • What’s the heart of the message you want to communicate?
  • How do you truly feel about it?
  • How important is this to you?
  • Why do you think others should care?

Charismatic leaders use a wide range of non-verbal warmth and likability cues. They display genuine smiles, maintain positive eye contact, use a variety of gestures, orient their torsos toward those with whom they are engaging, touch others during conversations, etc.

And anyone can be coached to include more of these positive signals (and to reduce unwanted, negative signals) in their interactions.

But here’s something else I discovered about charisma: Sometimes all you have to do to be truly impressive is to get out of your own way.

I once worked with the head of a research department who was preparing for a major business presentation. One-on-one, this man was charming, smart and had a great sense of humour. In informal settings, his body language was congruent and expressive. But he was also an introvert. Put him on stage in front of an audience and he became a non-verbal disaster: he slumped behind the lectern, read from notes without making eye contact with the audience and used very few gestures.

You may be in a similar situation. When talking with friends, you use your hands and face to help describe an event or object. You smile, frown, shrug your shoulders and make broad illustrative gestures. Yet during important business presentations, you become anxious or self-conscious. And, as a result, your usually eloquent body language suffers.

If so, you may not need to work on non-verbal techniques. Rather, like my client, you might be better off learning to relax and to focus more on your audience than on yourself – in order to let your natural, sparkling personality and body language speak up.

Most of all, we tend to follow charismatic leaders because they’re perceived as confident and upbeat. And here you can see the power of the body/mind connection in action.

You already know that the way you feel affects your body language. (If you’re depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump and look down. If you’re upbeat, you tend to smile and hold yourself erect).

But did you know that the reverse is also true? The way you hold and carry yourself, your gestures, your movements and even your facial expressions affect your emotions by sending messages back to your brain.

In several experiments, individuals were asked to smile and were then shown pictures of various events. The smiling participants reported that the pictures pleased them and even made them feel elated. When asked to frown during the same kind of experiment, subjects reported feelings of annoyance and anger. Additional studies demonstrated that a smile is not only a consequence of feeling happy or content, but also that putting on a smile can induce physiological changes in body temperature, heart rate and skin resistance. Smiling can make you feel happier.

So the next time you want to be seen as your most charismatic self, try these simple but powerful tips: Begin to align your verbal and non-verbal communication by focusing on the emotional intent of your message. Then stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and hold your head high. Just by assuming this physical position, you’ll start to feel more sure of yourself. And if you add a smile, you’ll affect your brain and attitude even more positively.

You’ll be irresistible!

Troy Media columnist Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead.

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