That extra magnetic ingredient—the one that makes some men captivate everyone they encounter—isn’t a mysterious X-factor. It’s charisma, and it can be learned, according to a new study in Communication Monographs.
When 422 students were asked to define charisma, many of those surveyed answered this way: “Charisma is the ability to . . .”—suggesting they believe it’s more than something you’re either born with or not. Then they were asked to list the traits of a charismatic person. The top three: strong, confident, and charming, says co-author Kenneth Levine, D.B.A., of Georgia Southern University.
Luckily, the difference between being perceived as a George Clooney versus a Jesse Eisenberg is easier than you think. Here are four ways to be more charismatic:
Make eye contact
It’s no surprise that this topped the list of nonverbal charismatic traits in the study. University of Colorado researchers found that meeting a person’s gaze makes you seem credible and powerful. If you feel uncomfortable looking directly into the eyes, split your focus between the eyes, cheeks, and mouth, according to body language expert Patti Wood, M.A.
Speak up—and do it well
Skilled communicators charm women, win debates, friends, and promotions. Avoid ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ They make you look nervous even if you aren’t, psychologist and speaking coach Nancy Cetlin, Ed.D., says. Instead, use a wide range of words. In the study, a skilled speaker was commonly associated with someone who had a large vocabulary. But don’t simply start memorizing the dictionary; you still want to seem approachable. “You want your charismatic leaders to be smart but you don’t want them to be brilliant.”
Confidence and charisma aren’t exactly the same but they do go hand in hand, Dr. Levine says. Body language goes a long way in this department. First, take a moment and adjust your posture. Good posture projects power and confidence and makes you feel more powerful, a recent Psychological Science study shows. Assume an open stance. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back and your chin parallel to the ground. Don’t cross your arms. Instead, keep them hanging at your sides.
There’s nothing charming about speaking to someone who isn’t paying attention. Use all of your senses to listen. Only 7 percent of a message’s meaning comes from the words, meaning you should also pay attention to tone of voice and non-verbal cues. For example, if you’re speaking to a woman and her shoulders raise or tighten and her voice pitch rises, you may be upsetting her—even if she isn’t saying it. On the flip side, if she leans forward and tilts her head, she’s interested in what you’re saying.