A guide to cultivating charisma and projecting clear confidence on stage

A charismatic speaker makes you want to lean in and listen.

You feel like they are instantly credible.

Staying engaged with their talk is a breeze.

Their smile is magnetic.

Charisma is a compelling attractiveness or charm that draws others in, gives them the desire to listen, inspires them, and gets them to act.

Some people are born with a lot of natural charisma. However, if you are struggling to get audiences to lean in, it is possible to consciously cultivate specific “charismatic” behaviors.

By changing your mindset, your body language and body behaviors will also change, helping you project charisma and become a more engaging speaker.

Charisma: 3 essential elements

The executive coach and charisma expert Olivia Fox Cabane has defined 3 essential elements that compose charisma:

  • presence,
  • power,
  • and warmth.

In her book, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, Cabane outlines what the three essential elements are in detail. We have summarized her ideas and framed them for professional speakers.

1. Presence

Charismatic speakers make you feel they are entirely with you — that they are completely in the moment and executing their talk flawlessly.

They are not thinking about what happened on the way to the venue. They aren’t worrying excessively that they are going to screw up, and the negative repercussions that could follow. They are in the moment, with you, on stage. This gives them an enthralling quality.

When a speaker is present, the audience feels like they are the center of the universe. They feel that your message is critical to helping them level up, either by solving an issue they have or giving them insights they would not otherwise have had access to.

Here are a few ideas on how to create this kind of presence, this kind of connection with your audience.

A. Stay focused and energetic

If you are too relaxed when you get on stage, you could bore your audience. Perhaps you leisurely stroll on stage, talk in a monotone at a slow pace, you take long pauses and sometimes it can seem like you’ve forgotten why you are there and why it is important. Your laid-backness can easily come across as unenthused.

On the other hand, if you are overstressed, your anxiety is running amok, and you are flustered and overwhelmed, you are likely to speak too rapidly with shaky body language. This can give the impression that you are unprofessional or inexperienced, or just plain difficult to understand.

If you want to project charisma, you need to find a balance between these two extremes. You are focused, calm, and energetic. You are enthusiastic about sharing your message and focused solely on how you can help the audience.

While on stage, a charismatic speaker does not lose this focus and energy.

Speakers that dip too low in energy, or get over-excited or anxious, are more difficult to follow and less engaging. If you feel your mind wandering, or your attention is drawn away, your message might come across as unclear and ill-defined.

When you are on stage, stay in the moment.

A tried-and-true method of getting focused directly before coming on stage is to spend some time warming up. Many speakers have a pre-performance ritual or practice that could be anything from doing burpees to meditating. Anything that helps them get focused.

In the podcast episode “World of Speakers E.27: Inspiring through meaningful connections,” professional speaker and cause adventurer Leon Logothetis shares his routine:

“I spend 10 to 15 minutes listening to a very, very calming song whilst doing breathing exercises.

I do these breathing exercises, I listen to the song that centers me, and then I go in and give the speech, and I feel connected to myself, and then I feel connected to the room.

So that would be the first and the most important thing, because I have done speeches when I haven’t done that, and the speech was nowhere near as good as when I am fully connected to myself.”

Want more ideas on how to cultivate focus before you get on stage? Read this: Pre-performance Routine: Why you should consider creating one and how it can help

B. Find commonalities with the audience

Before you get on stage, research your audience.

Get to know your audience:

  1. Knowledgebase. What do they already know about your topic?
    Determine whether you are going to need to spend the majority of your time giving them a broad overview, or whether you should get into specifics. If, for instance, you are speaking to a group of engineers about self-driving cars, you will most likely not need to start with the basics of how that works. On the other hand, if you are explaining micro-loans in Asia to them, they will probably know as little about that as any other non-expert.
    Trying to get into specifics when your audience doesn’t understand where you are coming from will have a negative impact and leave everyone frustrated — yourself included.
  2. Content expectations. Find out what the audience thinks they are going to get out of the talk. Are they expecting to walk away feeling inspired or to have a new understanding of your topic? Do they expect a motivational after-dinner speech, a political insight, or practical advice on where to invest their savings? Finding out why they are there will help you meet their needs.
  3. Challenges and issues. Understanding the problems and setbacks your audience members face is vital to creating a talk that will engage them.
    Are they struggling with a management issue about workplace productivity? Have they just had a corporate scandal and you were brought in to provide a novel crisis management approach?
    If you can directly address and offer them solutions, you will hook them and keep them interested.
  4. General attitude. How receptive your audience will be to your message can be a significant factor in deciding what you choose to focus on.
    Are you talking about the reliability of clinical trials to pharma executives? Are you challenging conventional wisdom about the safety of a food additive?
    If they are excited to learn more, you can jump right in. If your topic is controversial or a large portion of the audience already disagrees with you, you are going to need to spend more time persuading them to get on board with your ideas.
  5. Tone. Few things are worse than a presenter who has completely missed the tone of the event. Cracking an inappropriate joke at a gala event? Using heavy statistics and corporate jargon at a fun retreat? If things are light and humorous, coming in with a heavy and sombre talk will not match your audience, and vice-versa.
    The timing and setting of your talk will also have a major effect on the tone you should adopt.

Having a better picture of who your audience is and what they need will help you cultivate a more authentic connection with them.

This will help you find common ground and help you fast-track to a more in-depth connection. It will make you trustworthy in their eyes if you are perceived to be on their level.

Read more on this here:

Listen to experts share insights on this topic:

C. Maintain eye contact

“Great speakers find a way of making an early connection with their audience. It can be as simple as walking confidently on stage, looking around, making eye contact with two or three people, and smiling.”
— Chris Anderson, TED Talks curator

Keeping eye contact with your audience will increase the feeling of connection and understanding. It communicates sincerity and credibility.

Effective speakers engage one person at a time, focusing long enough to complete a sentence, before moving to a different person, or in case of large audiences, sections of the crowd in front of you. This being said, don’t stare, as maintaining too much eye-contact might make people uncomfortable; generally, around 4 to 5 seconds is perfect.

Avoiding eye-contact might make you seem insecure or untrustworthy, so keep your chin up and eyes facing the audience as much as possible. Don’t read unless you have to, work from an outline. Reading from a script or slide fractures the interpersonal connection.

Read more on this topic:

2. Power

Charismatic leaders make you feel that they can make things happen.

They have an irresistible quality that draws people in. They give the impression that they have the ability to affect the world around them. While power is easily equated to money, fame, strength, or social status, power goes further than this. When it comes to charisma, people freely follow because they feel it is good for them to do so.

To become a powerful speaker, you need to cultivate conviction or a deep belief in how your message can help the audience. If you are lukewarm on your message, your audience will be as well.

Having a clear message that you believe fully in is vital for influencing audiences.

Three qualities of a powerfully charismatic speaker:

A. They belong there

Some speakers suffer from impostor syndrome.

They feel like they don’t really belong on the stage. They feel that there are other people who are more qualified, or are better orators, or are more experienced to speak on the topic.

They quaver and look uncertain.

They are certain that all their flaws are obvious, and the audience will automatically assume they are a fraud.

This line of thinking can be debilitating.

If you want to come across as powerful, you need to believe that you belong on the stage and your message can make a positive impact on your audience.

Drop the second-guessing and own the stage.

Want more expert insights on this? Listen to these episodes of the World of Speakers podcast:

B. They are confident

It is all about self-confidence. While some people are naturally self-confident in front of an audience, for many people this will require practice.

We talked with professional speaker Daniel Midson-Short about how to become a more confident speaker in the World of Speakers podcast episode “World of Speakers E.09: Speaking is an act of service”. In short, he said it boils down to practice.

Daniel Midson-Short on developing confidence on stage

“Self-confidence comes from competence. If you know how to do something reasonably well, you have competence, you’re much more confident, and you don’t have that fear.

I often use the example of driving a car.

If you’re driving a rental car in a new city, you’re not an experienced driver in that car, and you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to be more nervous.

But if you’re in your own car, and you’re driving around your own neighbourhood, you have a lot of competence, so you feel much more confident in your ability.

I would say it takes about two years to get good at the mechanics of speaking.

Aim to do 100 speeches. If you do one speech a week for 50 weeks — you can have two weeks a year off :-) — in two years you’ll have done 100 speeches.

By the time you reach your 100th speech, I guarantee you’ll have competence, and you’ll also have confidence as a speaker.”

C. They look the part

A speaker’s appearance should be suited to the occasion and should reinforce the impression that they are attractive and trustworthy.

We talked with international speaker Rah Gor about dressing the part in the World of Speakers podcast episode “World of Speakers E.10: From local to global”. He gives insights on how what you wear can make an impact on you and your audience.

Rah Gor on dressing the part:

“I think that it’s important to know that your attire is your uniform, so for me, I love feeling like Bruce Wayne as an entrepreneur, but when I speak and when I present to the crowd, I’m Batman, because my power is my content, it’s my voice, it’s the way that I connect with people.

And so I just love it, I just love feeling that it’s all about: Will you feel comfortable and what makes your swag sharp?

There could be moments where some people may love wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, and that’s their swag, and that’s their style; but it has to make sure that it brings — for me, it’s like it is all about what makes you so confident that even if you trip up, it doesn’t even matter, it’s not even going to hold you back.

I love that way of me saying okay “I’m about to be James Bond. When I go on the stage, I’m going to lay it down, I’m going to lay it down right, I am going to make sure people walk out of here inspired and ready to go all the way.”

So the uniform is what gets me so ready, so that when I get on that stage, I don’t even want to say anything, you can feel it.

Uniforms are very important.

If you think about a lot of speakers, you can take, for example, I am back again on entrepreneurship, but Steve Jobs.

His uniform was simple sneakers, blue jeans and he had the black shirt.

It was that simple, but that was his swag, that was him.

You knew that he was comfortable that way, and when he presented to the crowd, he knew what he was presenting, it was awesome.

But it’s all about what makes you comfortable and what makes you feel like you’re a superhero on the stage, and that’s my thing because, at the end of the day, it’s how do you serve and what do you serve them in.”

3. Warmth

When a speaker radiates warmth, it makes the audience feel comfortable and open.

When we talk about warmth, we are talking about a blend of qualities like authenticity, empathy, and genuineness.

Physically, warmth looks like:

  • genuine smile
  • upright posture with relaxed shoulders
  • open body language and gestures
  • comfortable eye contact

But charisma does not stem from good body language — it comes from being able to develop a feeling of genuine empathy and care.

This requires authenticity, and by cultivating a feeling of genuinely wanting to help your audience, more warmth and charisma will radiate from you.

If you are forcing yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right to you, like you don’t feel that your content is very valuable, or the product or service you are promoting is not very good, you are going to come across as inauthentic.

It will be more of a challenge to come over as charismatic and warm if you are trying to fake it.

If you cannot get behind your content or product, consider making a change. If it is not possible to make a change, and you are still looking for ways to come over as more charismatic, start focusing on the most positive aspect of what you are doing.

Going down any negative spirals will increase tension, resulting in closed, off-putting body language.

Maintain a positive mindset and focus on the good, and your body language will follow.

Be sure to put your strengths at the service of others, think about how exactly you are helping the audience, and your desire to help them. This shift in mindset will naturally help you cultivate warmth.

Thinking about speaking as an act of service

Professional speaker, Daniel Midson-Short, described to us how shifting his mindset transformed his stage presence, ability to connect with his audiences, and helped him build a thriving speaking business.

This excerpt from the full interview, “World of Speakers E.09: Speaking is an act of service”, shares this story.

Daniel Midson-Short on speaking as a service:

“My most profound lesson over the last couple of years was learning that speaking is an act of service. You are there to give the audience value, your time, your attention, and your love.

Doing that makes the audience love you back. It makes them want to listen to you and connect with you, because they can see you’re there to give and not just try to get.

You can tell if someone speaking has an agenda, if they’re trying to show off, or get you to buy something instead of giving, versus a speaker who genuinely wants to share something of value. I think over time, those speakers rise to the top because they genuinely want to share something that contributes to their audience members.

I think focusing on service first is important. Then being able to use that message and monetize it. There’s no shame in that game.

What I’ve learned most of all is that if you really focus on the quality of what you’re doing; the message, the fundamentals, and the mechanics of your speaking ability, and you have the right intention, success starts to come to you.”

If you want to cultivate warmth and charisma, start by adjusting your mindset and focus on how you can help your audience. If you want more on this topic, these three interviews with expert speakers offer insights.

Wrapping it up

Charisma is a compelling attractiveness or charm that draws others in, gives them the desire to listen, inspires them, and gets them to act.

Some people seem almost to be born with natural charisma, and their ability to draw people in and act on ideas makes them ideal speakers. However, you don’t need to be born with charisma to be a charismatic speaker; it can be cultivated. By changing your mindset, your body language and body behaviors will also change, helping you project charisma and become a more engaging speaker.

What to read next

This was originally posted on SpeakerHub Skillcamp.

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