Give Your Charisma A KICKSTART; Personal Magnetism Isn't Something You're Just Born with -- Charisma Coach Olivia Fox Cabane Insists It's a Skill That Can Be Learned like Driving a Car. Jane Mulkerrins Takes a Masterclass
It is a sunny summer afternoon in downtown San Francisco and I am browsing in a boutique, idly trying on sunglasses. 'Hi, how are you today?' trills the young assistant. I will myself to respond with uncharacteristic honesty: that, actually, I had a terrible night's sleep, I'm waiting to hear from a guy who is giving me the runaround and, quite frankly, I've had better Fridays.
Of course, I bottle it. I'd die with shame telling a stranger in a shop how I really feel. So I smile and reply in the socially acceptable vernacular: 'I'm doing great, thanks. How are you?'
While my politeness avoids a potentially awkward moment, it won't, apparently, make me more appealing to others in the long term, or help me get on in life. According to the brief tutorial I was given a few hours earlier, until I can conquer my reserve, make myself vulnerable and become comfortable with discomfort, my levels of charisma will never increase. I clearly need more practice.
Most of us, watching the masters of charisma at work -- Madonna, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair -- generally assume that the alluring alchemy that makes some people so inexplicably attractive is innate. However, according to Olivia Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth: Master The Art Of Personal Magnetism, and my 'charisma coach', we could not be more wrong. Charisma, she argues, can be learned by anyone. 'No one has innate charisma: it is like learning how to drive a car,' she insists. 'You might well have a greater or lesser propensity to be a good driver, but the skills can all be taught.' The book, which 34-year-old Olivia describes as 'storytelling in the style of Malcolm Gladwell [author of The Tipping Point], with hardcore science and practical tools,' has sold thousands of copies in the US, and is now published worldwide.
And it's a lot more scientific than giving a firm handshake or sustained eye contact. According to Olivia, boosting one's charisma involves projecting more of three core qualities: presence, power and warmth, which are communicated mostly through body language - something that isn't under our conscious control. Charisma begins in the brain, she believes, but with the right exercises, tips, techniques and training - from learning tango to focusing on the sensations in your toes - we can control what is communicated from mind to body and face, and so projected to others. It's part of what she calls 'neuroshaping', playing chemist with our own brain to achieve remarkable powers of charm and persuasion. The book is certainly more accessible than most aspects of Olivia's work: the majority of her one-on-one coaching is with ubersuccessful businesspeople - CEOs of huge multinational corporations in the US, Europe and the Middle East, who each hand over $150,000 a year to boost their personal appeal. This allows them 24-hour access to Olivia, including phone calls and Skype sessions as well as face-to-face coaching; some clients fly her to New York, London or Dubai for consultations.
In spite of the powerful positions many of her clients hold, she's not afraid to be brutal with them. 'I'm an incredibly tough coach,' she says. 'And I will fire clients in a heartbeat - it is in the contract.' So I will admit to being a little nervous when I meet Olivia at her apartment in the elegant Potrero Hill neighbourhood of San Francisco. With a French father and an American mother, Olivia grew up in Paris, and her parents' professional careers directly influenced her interest in the field. ('Papa is in research science, my mother is in behavioural psychology,' she says.)
In person, she is confident, commanding, authoritative and polite, but, I must say, not brimming with what I would think of as traditional warmth or crackling with irresistibility - in fact, she seems slightly aloof. 'I am, by nature, a socially inept, awkward introvert,' she admits.
Introversion needn't hinder charisma, however. 'It's a myth that you have to be outgoing or boisterous to be charismatic,' says Olivia. …