Charisma is rooted in language, values, and emotional expressiveness. So says John Antonakis, Marika Fenley, and Sue Liechti in their excellent June 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Learning Charisma: Transform yourself into the person others want to follow“.
The authors further define charisma as “the ability to communicate a clear, visionary, and inspirational message that captivates and motivates an audience.” That definition pretty much sums up what every public speaker strives to attain.
This article details twelve key charismatic leadership tactics and another five bonus techniques. Filtered and shaped through my lens, here are the ones that should resonate with you as an amateur or a professional speaker.
Tactic 1: Use metaphors, similes, and analogies
I am a gigantic fan of speakers that employ a master metaphor in their talks. The subtext of my last comment is that you must be careful not to go overboard in the use of metaphor. Pick one metaphor and hit it from different angles over the course of your speech. Such metaphors are far more powerful when they draw on language with multiple meanings. Perhaps the best example I can think of is Lance Miller’s “The Ultimate Question” speech that won him the 2005 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. In that speech, he uses parking lot validation as a metaphor for emotional validation. You can turn any object, action, or concept into a metaphor by thinking about how it can represent your core theme.
Tactic 2: Tell stories
Storytelling has been dusted off, polished, and reintroduced as the hottest new thing in marketing, public speaking, and personal branding. Experts like Michael Margolis from Get Storied are at the forefront of this revolution. You can get his Storytelling Manifesto free here. Charismatic speakers start with story to develop immediate connection with their audience.
Tactic 3: Frame using contrast
Pairs of contrasting words or phrases readily ignite emotion and interest. These are easy to construct. For example, it is not what you say, it is how you say it. You should lead with the negative half of the contrasting pair. The negative part frames a problem that triggers your listener to go into seeking mode. The positive half then provides an immediate and satisfying answer. Remember that pairs can often be turned around. It would be just as easy to the opposing position – it is not how you say it, it is what you say.
Tactic 4: Ask rhetorical questions
Thoughtful questions followed by healthy pauses are one of the most effective ways to engage your audience in conversation. Just today I listened to a woman deliver her first Toastmasters speech. She asked “What would you do if you were not afraid?”
Tactic 5: Follow the rule of 3
The aforementioned neophyte speaker added: “What would you do if you are not afraid to fail? What would you do if you were not afraid to lose your job? What would you do if you were not afraid to die?” Though this speaker had never heard of the rule of three, it is innate in all of us and she demonstrated the principle brilliantly.
Tactic 6: Express moral conviction
The secret to expressing moral conviction is to focus your inspirational message on a single eternal truth or virtue. These include the seven Catholic virtues of: prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope, and charity. There are many others with a partial list including: authenticity, tranquility, compassion, passion, and citizenship.
Tactic 7: Embrace repetition
Repetition is to speaking what bold, underline, highlight, and exclamation point are to writing. At minimum, you should craft a short catchphrase that encapsulates your key theme and repeat it strategically during your introduction, at some point in the body, and during your conclusion. Among my all time favorites is Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.” Those three words tell you unambiguously what to do to be a great leader or a great company.
Tactic 8: Bring humor
Too many people make the mistake of associating authority and charisma with seriousness. That could not be further than the truth. When you make someone laugh, you connect with them. Even serious speeches need humor to break the tension. The three most effective forms of humor are self-deprecation, over/under exaggerated reality, and challenges to authority.
Try it out!
The authors give sage advice on how you can apply charismatic leadership techniques without being overwhelmed or demoralized along the journey. I will leave you with their words: “The goal isn’t to employ all the tactics in every conversation but to use a balanced combination. With time and practice, they will start to come out on the fly.”