How to Wow

What do Bill Clinton, Barak Obama, Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey have in common? They are all physically attractive, intelligent, extremely accomplished in their chosen careers, and each has achieved celebrity status. But there is an even more important common denominator here, one that has played a significant role in their notable achievements. Each possesses an irresistible charm that draws and captivates people, turning them into friends, allies, supporters and fans. This charisma is a hard to define personality trait that gives each of them a magnetic quality and appeal that allows them to persuade, influence and lead others in a seemingly effortless way.

To those around them, this elusive quality appears to be innate, and coupled with their good looks and intelligence must surely be a gift one is either born with, or not. After all, if we can't really define it, how can it be learned? Fortunately this is not true, and everyone does have the ability to increase their charisma quotient. However, for each person this learning must be individualized in a way that it becomes their own signature style, not just an obvious attempt to imitate the behaviors that work effectively for others. The first step towards increasing your personal magnetism is to make the decision that you want to work on your attraction skills, and are willing to put in a consistent effort and practice them in your day to day life. Once you have made this commitment to change, you are ready to begin a study of the common traits of irresistible people--and look at how each of these can be adapted to your own unique style and personality type

To begin with, it is important to recognize that charisma is encapsulated into both verbal and nonverbal communication and behavior. Optimal expression occurs when these two are in sync with one another because a consistent and clear message will be more convincing and powerful to the listener. Keeping this in mind, let's take a closer look at what these individuals have in common that makes them so irresistible, and use this to help you learn how to wow the people around you.

An acquaintance who works in the field of politics once told me about an experience he had with a prominent individual of the opposing party. Prior to their first in-person encounter at a large reception, his impression of her had been a negative one, in which he viewed her as a cold and self-serving individual. However, when they were introduced, he was wowed by the person he encountered. He told me that; "She made me feel like I was the only person in the room." The way she interacted with him completely turned around his opinion of who she is, and influenced how he sees her as a person and as a legislator and leader. Now that is charisma in action.

I went on to ask him for specifics regarding their interaction and the interpersonal skills she employed that made the most positive impression on him. Not surprisingly, he talked about those traits that all magnetic people possess. As you read through these, think about if and how you employ them in your work, personal and intimate relationships.

* Make an immediate connection.

Use strong eye contact, give them a sincere smile and offer a strong handshake. Match this with an open posture and a warm hello. Avoid being distracted by others seeking to interrupt--because giving your complete attention to this other person, for however brief the interaction, will help them to feel important, attractive and valued.

* Keep the initial focus on the other person

Use questions to draw them out and flush out some common views and shared interests. Use your facial expressions to communicate feelings like empathy, surprise, a keen interest and/or appreciation of who they are and what they feel/believe. This communicates that you like the person and feel good about being there with them. Think about how well Oprah does this when she has a quest on the show. She uses great questions that help them to open up to her and the audience, and this creates a group rapport between host, guest and the audience.

* Practice active listening

Make sure you get the person's name correctly, even if you have to ask for it again. Use their name at least once when addressing them and again as you exit the interaction. Use reflective listening to let them know you are listening by picking up on something they have said and asking a follow-up question and/or paraphrasing something they have shared. This puts the other person at ease and helps to establish an immediate rapport. Make sure your nonverbal communication is sending the same message by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, keeping your expression open and not letting yourself be distracted.

* Use your energy

Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard, but not enough to be overbearing. Your tone of voice communicates how you feel about yourself and the person you are speaking with. Strong energy communicates confidence, a good sense of self and a feeling that you are in charge of your emotions. Can you think of any high profile people who speak too softly or who fail to articulate their words clearly?

* Use humor to convey feelings and put others at ease

Bill Clinton is a master at this. Regardless of how "funny" you may perceive yourself to be, showing a lighter side and an ability to laugh at yourself are a winning combination. Seeing the humor in a situation and expressing it without malice will help others relate to you and find a common ground. When you make someone laugh, you leave behind a positive impression.

* Stay tuned to your own emotions

Good use of self is a critical component in relating to others. Insincere expressions are red flags in any interaction. No matter what you may be feeling, you can learn to control and moderate your behavior. Even Oprah and Katie have bad days and conflicted feelings--but they handle them with careful expression and attention to the subject they are discussing. They have learned how to phrase their questions and comments in a productive way, even when the topic is a challenging one.

* Steer away from presenting strongly different viewpoints

Seek common ground and keep controversial opinions to yourself. You can always find something on which you can agree and make a positive connection. You never want to come across as a know it all or as someone who is intolerant or dismissive of how others feel, regardless of your different ideologies or points of view. Respect is a cornerstone of all relationships, and this is an excellent way to demonstrate it. If you choose to offer a differing opinion, do it with grace and style and never communicate that you feel the other person is flawed in some way because they don't agree with you. Think of how well Barak Obama has used this skill throughout his campaign.

* Never gossip or make negative comments about others

Most of us know instinctively that someone who gossips and maligns others will do this to us as well. This kind of behavior communicates pettiness, insecurity, and leaves the other person with a negative feeling, no matter how it is phrased. If you must communicate that you have a difference with someone else, stay with the issue and make sure you throw in a positive trait that you have observed in them.

* Be careful not to bring up a taboo subject

Have you ever had something make a comment or offer an observation that made you uncomfortable? Or perhaps you have been asked a question that was very personal and felt completely inappropriate? Keep your boundaries strong and clear. If you are not sure, follow the other person's lead, and avoid any topic they shy away from. Think before you speak and err on the side of caution, which is not the same thing as being timid.

* Offer compliments freely but genuinely

Nothing charms like a warm compliment. In every interaction there is an opportunity to pick up on something the person has just shared with you or offer a "second hand compliment;" which is one that someone else shared with you about the person. These are even more powerful as they covey that the person is admired by others.

* Always be honest

Don't exaggerate, inflate the truth or tell a lie. Even if the other person can't pinpoint why, they will sense that something feels off. Insincerity has cost many a candidate the race. It has also led to many first meetings not leading to a second one. It is also hard to maintain an untruth as it can spread like a virus that requires further explanations, backtracking, and corrections to others.

Remember that studying and observing the behaviors found in charismatic people can help to provide you with a model for what charisma is and how it can be employed. However, you must work on practicing and incorporating these in a way that allows you to be the uniquely charming person that you have the capacity to be.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"Weeding Out the Players From the Keepers"
List of more "Nonverbal Communication" articles

"How's your BS radar?"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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