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Do You Speak with Charisma? Here are 3 Ways You Can!

This week, a speaker's ability to excite a crowd was in the news. The occasion was the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas. (To discover how to make your own speeches unforgettable, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")

Of course, the younger President Bush never was much of a public speaker, and he didn't often generate enthusiasm from his platform skills. It was Peggy Noonan's article in the Wall Street Journal concerning the opening that made me think of speakers who embody true charisma. (Peggy Noonan, "The Presidential Wheel Turns," Wall Street Journal, April 27-28, 2013.)

One sentence in particular registered in my mind with great power:

Because their hearts are engaged.

Ms. Noonan was referring to speakers who show emotion openly on stage. Doing so is one of three ways you can achieve true charisma when you speak. I discuss each of those ways below.

1. Engage Your Heart and Show That to Your Audience. We hear a lot about charisma and stage presence with regard to public speaking. Too often, it seems, we treat it as a commodity, as though it can be manufactured and produced on stage like a magic trick. It can't. True charisma always emerges from a heart that's engaged with the needs of one's audience, and not oneself. And that can only emerge from dealing with one's listeners honestly (more on that point below).

Delivering "key" information as information not only runs the risk of becoming a sterile exercise; it is never the reason you speak. Engagement, interest, and ultimately, action taken on the part of the audience constitute the purpose of your speech or presentation. To learn how to speak for true leadership in this way, download these 5 essential speaking techniques. That means telling a story the audience can relate to, whatever the specific information you inpart. And stories can only come to life if they beat with a human heart. Iago in Othello may not have liked to wear his heart on his sleeve, but you as a speaker must.

One of the essential ways to do this is to use emotional language: "love" not "like"; "exciting" rather than "interesting"; "kick our competition's ass" instead of "become the market leader." Here, for instance, is how to give your audience a greeting they'll remember.  To borrow again from Shakespeare, this time from Macbeth: "Be bloody, bold, and resolute." Notice even the emotional overtones in that phrase? The second method of reaching listeners emotionally is to:

2. Be Present in the Moment and Watch What's Going On. Anxious public speakers--and even those uncertain of themselves--often wear blinders. Self-consciousness, nervousness, and the desire to "get it all over with as quickly as possible" means that the speaker sometimes delivers a talk in spite of an audience rather than because of it.

When this happens, the speaker's presence is quite literally lacking. Whether or not the presenter really wishes he or she were someplace else, that's partly the effect. The speaker is only half trying to influence the audience, while also inhabiting the end of the presentation (where he or she really wants to be). The presentation then becomes an impossibility: an attempt to move listeners by a speaker who really isn't all that involved with them!

If you're one of those speakers, learn to focus with 100% of your attentiveness and not anything less. You must notice how audiences are responding to what you're saying if you're to remain flexible. That way, you can bring in elements or approaches to the story you're telling that will keep listeners with you. This is the true sense of "presence," and is precisely why it can't be constructed ahead of time. Interestingly, it's also the best way for anxious speakers to learn not to flee the speaking situation mentally but to embrace it and enjoy it. One thing that true charisma requires, then, is the need for speakers to:

3. Learn to be Vulnerable. Presenters who fear the speaking situation look for ways to protect themselves. So do speakers lacking confidence, if not experiencing outright speech anxiety. They don invisible armor; or carry a fearful look in their eye. They use body language that "covers" them, creates a protective barrier with hands or arms, or leaves them stiff and even statue-like. It's all a desperate attempt to not call attention to themselves. An irrational response indeed for anyone giving a public presentation! Here's how to become aware of the body language you're broadcasting. And here are the 5 key body language techniques of public speaking you need to know about.

As in interpersonal relationships, however, audiences reach out to presenters whom they feel are vulnerable. To give a speech in public is to be emotionally naked, and wishing that it weren't so won't change that fact. Such vulnerability is necessary, however, is you want to honestly achieve a beneficial influence on your listeners. Influence in this sense means to provoke change in the hearts and minds of your audience; and for all of us, change isn't easy. If you want it from listeners, you must show it yourself first.

Audiences know they can't reach a speaker who's wearing a suit of medieval armor. And of course this lack of openness and therefore influence works in the other direction as well. To speak with real charisma, combine the three approaches given above: emotional engagement, 100% presence in the moment, and vulnerability that proceeds from openness. You'll never have to worry about "achieving" charisma again.

Key takeaways from this blog:

  • True charisma can't be achieved without honesty and being fully present.
  • Stage presence isn't a magic trick. Be engaged and show it to your audience.
  • Watch what's going on so you can be flexible and adapt to your listeners.
  • Speech anxiety creates defensiveness. Be on the lookout for it!
  • Engage emotionally, be 100% present, and remain open. That's charisma!

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