Charisma – God’s Gift or a Quality you can Develop?

Haven’t we all tried being in a situation where we have to present something to a group of people, and we just aren’t quite good enough? Desperately hoping for our charisma to kick in, we try to catch the attention of the others, but still, you catch Bob looking at his smartphone under the table, and Caroline is looking out the window while you desperately keep searching for a pair of eyes that are actually focused on you.

Feeling discouraged, you finish your presentation, and straight after you, Amanda starts her presentation. Suddenly, everyone wakes up, and everyone is engaged with Amanda’s words – laughing, asking questions and nodding along. You’re upset that you don’t have the same appeal as Amanda and blame the fact that you just weren’t born with the same charisma as her.

Feedback from others is one way to increase your carisma. Read more about good feedback practices here at

Charisma – God’s gift?

But is charisma even something we are born with? In 1875, charisma was defined as “a spiritual gift or power divinely conferred, talent from God.” If we take this definition, it definitely is something we’re born with – and not only born with but gifted from the big man himself.

Maybe the involvement of God doesn’t fit into our modern understanding, but most of us will recognize the idea that charisma is something you either have or you don’t. The ability to inspire, motivate, entertain and retain the attention of our audience. But what about those of us who don’t have a natural charisma?


John Antonakis to the rescue

Professor of organizational behavior at the University of Lausanne, John Antonakis, opposes the abovementioned definition and points out through a number of studies that charisma can be learned. Antonakis has specifically dealt with charismatic leadership and developed a tool called Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLT), that can help leaders appear more influential, trustworthy and competent.

You may think: “does it even matter if I’m charismatic or not, as long as I’m doing my job?” The answer is: Yes, it does matter. Studies show that charismatic leaders create an environment where their employees can identify more with the company, which makes them more involved in their jobs, more satisfied and higher performing. What’s not to like?

So how do we actually become more charismatic?


8 steps to more charismatic leadership

Antonakis has identified 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics (CLT), that help develop charisma in a person, where he has drawn inspiration from famous speeches. In eight overall themes, here’s what it’s all about:


  1. Use metaphors and analogies

Martin Luther King managed to use the powerful effect of metaphors in his speech “I have a dream”, when he described the fate of the black Americans as if they had “received a bad check.” Metaphors make points easier to understand and remember.


  1. Tell stories and use anecdotes

Personal stories and anecdotes create a connection between speaker and audience, which is particularly relevant if there is a power imbalance. One example of this is Barack Obama’s use of personal anecdotes during the election in 2008.


  1. Use contrasts

“Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” John F. Kennedy said. Antonakis mentions contrasts as a good tool to highlight your position with a beneficial dramatic effect.


  1. Ask rhetorical questions

In school we learn to use rhetorical questions to highlight our points. It engages the audience by encouraging critical reflection, like when Sojourner Truth held her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Women’s Convention in 1851.



  1. Speak in threes

“We have the best product. We have the best employees. But we didn’t reach the goal.” The advantage of this tactic is that the point is clear, and the short sentences make the most important parts easier to remember.


  1. Reflect on the feelings of the group

Your credibility is strengthened if you’re able to reflect the ruling feelings in the room, such as: “I know what you’re all thinking. You’re disappointed, and so am I, because we all worked really hard to reach that goal.”


  1. Aim high and be convincing

Ghandi succeeded in setting very ambitious goals with great conviction: “India will wrench with nonviolence her liberty from unwilling hands.” Setting goals and being the frontrunner increases credibility, encourages the others and enforces the vision of the company.


  1. Vary your tone of voice, facial expressions and movements

The last point is about the non-verbal qualities we can employ when we try to convey a message. Use your body language to catch the attention of your audience, highlight the important points and make your visions visual.


Up and at them

There’s a lot of inspiration to find in the above points if you want to be more charismatic in any public presentation. At Feedwork, we focus on the fact that you can only improve by practicing, and so does Antonakis. His studies have shown that employees evaluate their superiors as 60% better after they were trained in these tactics, and an essential part of this training was constant feedback.

So, if you want to capture your audience in the same way as Amanda, try to add a metaphor, ask a rhetorical question and try to catch people’s attention by varying your tone of voice and your movements. And, very importantly, practice, ask for feedback as you go and we’re pretty sure Bob won’t be looking at his smartphone during your next presentation.


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