Monday, November 29, 2010

Charisma: The 'It' Factor

Bill Clinton has 'it'.
Julia Roberts has 'it'.
Lady Di had 'it'.
John F. Kennedy had 'it'.

What is this intangible something that seems to separate these individuals from those around them, that makes them seem... well... somehow 'more' than everyone else?  It is, in a word, Charisma.

Although it is hotly debated whether charisma is something you're born with or whether it can be developed, I am firmly in the latter camp.  Although I believe that our innate personality plays a role in determining the ease with which we employ these skills (the 'Naturals'), we all have the ability to become more charismatic.

According to Ronald Riggio, PhD and Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at Claremont McKenna College, there are three main components comprising Charisma.


This is our relative ability to strike up conversations with others, to openly and easily share our thoughts and feelings.  Interestingly, despite most people feeling as though others converse more comfortably and easily than they do, research shows that individuals who truly enjoy making small-talk are in the minority.  Therefore, taking the responsibility for initiating small talk from the other person (who is likely just as hesitant and uncomfortable as you feel), will typically earn their gratitude and heighten your appeal.


This is our ability to modify and adapt our persona to fit the needs of a group, the environment or the mood.  This does not imply that you become a totally different person in each situation, but it does speak to the ability to adjust your dial (like a thermostat) a little lower or high to fit/suit what is required.


This is the ability to truly listen to another person, to 'hear' beyond just the verbal content of their message.  This requires both an openness to picking up on others' emotions and a willingness and ability to express your own.

In general, in order to appear more charismatic to others, it is important that you shift from an internal to external mental orientation.  All too often we are focused interanlly, on our own thoughts, wants and needs.  As a result, we are not as open to others around us, not as interested in their stories, as we are in sharing our own.  We appear less interested and, as a result, are seen as less interesting.

Instead, we need to learn to activate an outward orientation to, in a manner of speaking, be out of our heads - present instead to those around us.  This is what some refer to as being present in the moment.  Regardless of its name though, the intent is the same.  You direct your thoughts and energies toward those that you are engaging in conversation.  Giving them 100% of your attention is what makes you more appealing and, ultimately, more charismatic.

This may sound like a much easier task than it proves to be in practice.  In fact though, that's exactly what it will take to improve your Charisma Quotient... practice!  Whenever you find yourself listening to your own internal dialogue instead of the voice of the person you're speaking with... refocus!  Kick yourself out of your head and redirect your attention.  Make eye contact, give the speaker cues (both visual and vocal) that indicate you are engaged.

Truly charismatic people are authentic.  They tend to be those that genuinely like and are interested in others.  If you tend to dislike more people than you like, you may find it more challenging to display interest and maintain your focus on others.  To increase your ability to do so, you need to open yourself to discovering more to like in and about others.  To help with this, try the following exercise at your next networking event.

The Work...

Instead of just making small talk and moving on, task yourself with the challenge of having to discover something fascinating and/or redeeming about at least three people present.  This not only has you strengthening your ability to show interest in others but it also helps you to discover that everyone has a story that can open them to you.  You need only to uncover it.  In doing so, you will likely appear more interesting and charismatic in turn.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Story Time!

Everyone has a story... what's yours?  No, not the one you tell everyone else, the script that you've practiced and told so often that you don't hear it any more, aren't moved by it any more.  I'm talking about the story  you tell yourself.  The story that defines who you believe yourself to be, the story that has you believing what you're destined to be, to do , to have in life.  Yep... THAT story!

Ideally, we would have a story for ourselves that we love.  A story that casts us as the hero, as someone deserving of love, recognition, success and joy.  However, too many of us experience unhappiness, dissatisfaction and sometimes a feeling of worthlessness.  If this sounds familiar, then it just might be time for you to question the story you're telling yourself!

Change your story, change your life  (Anthony Robbins)
Our sense of dissatisfaction stems out of a gap between how we believe that things should be and how they truly are.  Narrow or eliminate this gap and your level of satisfaction and joy increase proportionally.  You need to shift your story though.  Changing your perception of the shoulds in your life (what you should have, be and do) changes the yardstick by which you measure what you currently are, have and do.  Measuring differently gives you different results!

We have all had difficult challenges to face in our lives.  Life can be tough.  The true challenge for us though rests in finding a way to use and learn from the tough moments and in not allowing ourselves to become lost in them.  Sometimes these tough moments impact our story, in ways we didn't anticipate.  Rather than letting these moments create gaps of disillusionment that we fall into and get swallowed up by, shift the story!

We may not have control over everything that life throws our way, but we always have control over how we choose to respond to those moments.  Every time you choose to find a work-around or to push through those challenges, you strengthen your story and create a stronger plot line for yourself.  The stronger you become and believe yourself to be, the more story possibilities that open themselves to you. 

The end of your story doesn't exist yet.  You can't yet know how your story will end.  You are a writer in the process of creating the story of your life though.  Isn't it time that you took control of your script, rather than letting others write it for you?

The Work...

Sometimes we have lost track of our story, of what we want and believe for ourselves.  To get closer to it...

Think about and identify one aspect of your life that you are currently very happy and satisfied with. 
What is it about this that instills in you a sense of happiness?
What is the aspect of your story that it is fulfilling?

Now...  think about and identify an area of your life in which you feel dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
What is it about this that instills you with that sense of unhappiness?
What is the aspect of your story that it is failing to fulfill?

Generally, we have three options for handling our areas of dissatisfaction.  We can...
  1. Blame someone/something else - which drives our feelings of victimization
  2. Do nothing - which heightens our sense of dissatisfaction and helplessness
  3. Change our story and take a different path, gaining control over our lives and our satisfaction
What actions will you take?  Recraft, rewrite your story to better support those new actions and direction.  Given a choice, I will always want my personal life story to end with... and she lived happily ever after.  Why would I ever want to settle for less?

Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Live Before You Die

In my book - It's Time Now, Choose the Life you Really Want, I talk about the fact that we have limited time on this earth, that we need to ensure we are living a life of our choosing, not the life someone else has chosen for us.  The bottom line of course is that we all only get one life to live.  It makes sense that's it's the life we want for ourselves.

I recently came across a Commencement speech that Steve Jobs delivered to the graduating class of Stanford University in June, 2005, in which he shared three stories with the students.  In particular, hang in for the third story - as always, Steve Jobs says it so much better than I ever could...  check it out here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Marshmallow Challenge

I must admit... I am quickly becoming addicted to the website  Fascinating and interesting little snippets of topics - just short enough for me to fill in a few moments here and there learning something new.  The video below is one such film clip on Ted, from Tom Wujec.  Tom is a Fellow at Autodesk, the makers of design software for engineers, filmmakers, designers. At Autodesk, he has worked on software including SketchBook Pro, PortfolioWall and Maya (which won an Academy Award for its contribution to the film industry).

Now... obviously, designing software is not my forte.  However, I think that there are tremendously valuable lessons that we can learn from one discipline and apply to others.  Tom's Marshmallow Challenge is one such.  In this challenge, groups are given 18 minutes within which to build the tallest tower possible using only the materials provided.  In this case, the materials include:  20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string and one marshmallow.  The final rule?  The marshmallow must be on the top of the finished structure.

Check out the video at...

After running this exercise hundreds of times, Tom has grouped some of his findings and experiences into some take-away messages.  In particular, his finding that building multiple prototypes along the way (the need to receive iterative feedback) is critical to the ultimate success of the project.  The value of prototyping is highlighted.  In essence, prototyping requires you to learn through failure.  Prototyping allows us to learn what does and doesn't work, ultimately arriving at a better, stronger, final product.

This process can and should be applied to our lives.  How often do we abandon something without having tried it first, either because we have already decided in our minds it won't work or because we won't risk looking silly (or worse) if it is not successful?  Often it is our unwillingness to 'try' that holds us back from achieving our full potential. 

I invite... no... I CHALLENGE each of you to go out and try something new, something that you've always wanted to but hesitated because you felt that you might not be thtat good at it.  Create a new mindset...  this is just a prototype attempt!  Prototypes are designed to be a trial version of something, to help you in designing and reaching 'better', if not 'perfect'.  Use this process to prototype your way to perfect!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No... we need to learn to say Yes!

Ít's amazing to consider that a small, two-letter word has such control over the way in which we view ourselves and the world, but the word 'NO' is a significant contributor to our failure to achieve as much in our lives as we are capable of and desire.  Research shows us that the average child has heard the word 'no' over 40,000 times by the time they reach the age of 5.  Now... multiply this by the number of times that a child would likely have said no to themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, and we are looking at one of the strongest and most heavily reinforced messages...period.

I recognise that we use the word no with children in an effort to protect them.  'No, don't touch that, it's hot' is not designed to undermine their self-esteem but rather, to prevent them from a potentially nasty burn.  It's a direction given out of love and caring.  However, those no's add up creating, very early in our lives, an over-developed 'protective's ubconscious self.

No... don't take that job, you might fail
No... don't do that, people might laugh
No... don't try that, you might get hurt

95% of our waking hours are spent on autopilot - allowing our subconscious mind to direct us.  Our autopilot does serve a useful purpose for us, preventing us from having to consciously think about everything that we are doing.  We don't have to think about breathing, our subconscious mind takes care of ensuring that we continue to do so.  We don't have to think about 'how' to make our muscles work together to allow us to run, we just decide to run and our subconscious takes care of the rest.  Our subconscious mind then is constantly working and is never at rest.

There are elements of the programming our autopilot has received though, that do not work for us as effectively as others.  Certainly, the impact of all of those No's adds up and has our subconscious mind making choices for us that prove limiting in the long-run, often preventing us from achieving and doing everything that we might.  Instead, we need to reprogram some of our autopilot's scripts, shift our patterns of thinking, to open up new choices and paths.

To start that reprogramming process... refuse to say 'No' for an entire day.  This does not mean that you need to agree to everything anyone else suggests, but it does mean you must find an alternative to 'No'.  For example...

  • ... I would prefer something else... instead of No, I don't want it
  • ... Please do 'X' ... instead of No, that's wrong
  • ... 'X' is more preferable... instead of No, I don't like that
  • ... I am unable to... instead of No, not gonna
Keep a list of how many times you slip up over the day (if indeed you do!).  A simple little checkmark on a piece of paper will do, using one side of the page to record the number of  'No's' used and the other side to record each 'Yes'.  You might be surprised by the final number of each, especially since you were trying to avoid saying No.  The one-day experiment goes well?  Try it for a week, then try it for a month!

Think you can?  (hope you said... YES!)