Home » Transcript: Olivia Fox Cabane Debunks Charisma at Stanford Entrepreneurship Corner

Transcript: Olivia Fox Cabane Debunks Charisma at Stanford Entrepreneurship Corner

When you’re with a charismatic master, take Bill Clinton, for example, he gives you the feeling that he’s completely here with you, in the moment. Present. And I’ve met hardened Republicans, who’ve told me Bill Clinton, I hated him before I met him, I hated him after I met him, but while I met him, ma’am, I loved the man.

Have you ever felt in the middle of a conversation as if only half your mind were present, while the other half was busy thinking about something else? Raise your hands if that’s ever happened to you. All right then.

Do you think the other person noticed? Yes. When this happens, there is a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or that your facial reactions will be a split second delayed. Here is the thing: because people can read facial expressions in as little as 17 milliseconds, the person you’re speaking to will likely notice the smallest delays in your reactions. And on a gut level, they’ll get the feeling that something is not quite right, something doesn’t quite fit. This delay, technically called an incongruence, can even give them the feeling that you’re being inauthentic. Nothing ruins trust or charisma faster than appearing inauthentic.

We think we can fake presence. We think we can fake listening. We think that as long as we seem attentive, it’s OK to let our minds turn on other things, but we’re wrong. When you’re not fully present in an interaction, the person you’re speaking to will likely notice it. I’m sure you’ve had this experience of speaking with someone who wasn’t fully listening. You noticed.

So, how do you get presence? Well, my favorite technique to stay present in a conversation is kind of quirky, but remarkably effective. So, right now, if you would, focus on the physical sensations in your toes — your toes, big toes, little toes, all the toes in between however many of them you have, focus on the physical sensation in your toes. What this does is that it forces your brain to sweep your body from head to, of course toe, and gets you very physically present in the moment. So, you do that for only a split second, then you get back to the conversation. But it’s very effective. Just by focusing on your toes you can up your level of charisma immediately. I realize that you probably weren’t expecting your toes to be crucial to charisma, they are. That’s one technique.

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Technique number two, is to really focus on the colors in the eyes of the person you’re speaking with. If you pay close attention, you will see that their eyes contain a dazzling array of colors that can keep you quite captivated. And better yet, give you the kind of deep soul searching eye contact that is extremely powerful. The kind that Bill Clinton is famous for. So, obviously don’t over-do it, a little goes a long way.

Realize that giving people your full presence is one of the most effective ways to make them feel that they’re the center of the universe. And guess what? Charisma is not just how you make people feel about you, it’s also how you make them feel about themselves.

In the heated London election of 1886, William Gladstone was running against Benjamin Disraeli for the post of Prime Minister to the British Empire. Now this was the Victorian era. So whoever won was going to rule half the world. And in the very last week before the election, both men happened to take the same young lady out to dinner on consecutive evenings.

Naturally the press asked her, what impressions the rivals had made upon her? She said, “After dining with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest men in England. After dining with Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest women in England”. Guess who won the election?

It was the man who made others feel intelligent and fascinating — it was Benjamin Disraeli. I often tell my clients: Don’t try to impress them. Let them impress you and they will love you for it. So, that is what charismatic presence can achieve.

Presence, once again, is the core component of charisma, the foundation upon which all else is built. Together with presence, power, and warmth combine to create charismatic magnetism.

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So, let’s look at Power. Power is not commanding an army. It’s not the actual power you wield. It’s our perception of your ability to affect the world around you. Whether this be through raw physical power, or large amounts of money, influence, expertise, intelligence, high social status and so forth. We look for clues of power in the person’s appearance, in others’ reaction to that person, but most of all in the person’s demeanor in their body language.

Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the importance of body language. But listen to this. The MIT Media Lab was able to predict the outcome of negotiations, sales calls, and business plan pitches with 87% accuracy without listening to a single word of content, only by analyzing the voice fluctuation and the facial expression of the person pitching.

So what’s a powerful body language like? Well, imagine an alpha gorilla whose territory has just been breached by a rival. Our alpha wants to intimidate the intruder off his territory. What does he do? He beats his chest. Why? Why does he beat his chest? To scare the other people. What’s he signaling, what does beating his chest make him? Strong, feel strong. Feel strong, okay, but look technically from here to here, what does it make him? It makes him bigger — it turns out — Stanford researchers found, alpha humans do exactly the same thing. They sit on one chair, they drape their arm on a second, they put their feet upon a third or even on the desk. These gestures are always of claiming space.

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