CHARISMA is often a matter of perception. A person can appear charismatic to some people and loathsome to others. Think of some current political and religious leaders around the world who fit this description, and think about how they measure up on your charisma scale.

Generally speaking, there are three ways to build charisma and influence:




Analysing your listener or audience before you try to influence them is essential. If you cannot see the world from their position — in other words, empathise with them — you cannot hope to influence them. In fact, the effect is likely to be the opposite. You will turn them off completely.

We see monumental failures in this area every day — by people who should know better.

Recently, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella had to apologise for comments he made about pay gaps between men and women. He was a guest at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

In answering a question on pay raises, Mr Nadella said women should trust “karma” instead of asking for a salary increase. He claimed that the “system” would reward their work.

There were over 7,500 female engineers from around the world in attendance, and their reaction was swift and very negative. Mr Nadella was forced to apologise on Twitter, admitting he was “completely wrong.”

All he needed to do was stop and think for a moment about the reaction of those female engineers who, on average, are paid just 78 per cent of the wage of their male counterparts.



 Ask, don’t tell

Making assumptions about what will be attractive to your listeners is fraught with danger. Some time ago, I was involved with a large charitable organisation based in the centre of a major city.

It had become aware that as the city grew, its clients — who had low incomes and tended to live on the outskirts — were moving further and further away. So, it decided to de-centralise and re-establish its offices closer to where their clients lived.

The organisation announced its intention to these local communities, expecting to be welcomed like a liberating army. Instead, it was rebuffed. The local communities didn’t want the organisation.

Instead of appreciating the expertise, experience and resources it was bringing to the area, the local charities saw the organisation as a threat. It was seen as a potential competitor for donations, and a big brand that was going to wipe out the locally based organisations.

This organisation was smart enough to realise the mistake it had made. It shelved its plans for big announcements to the community, telling them what it was going to do.

Instead, the organisation set up meetings with the locals and asked them what they wanted. The relationships were built and the organisation was later welcomed into those communities with open arms.

Salesmen make the same mistake every day. Recently, I was looking to buy a new mobile phone. The salesman spent five minutes — almost without drawing breath — reciting the features of the product. Not once did he ask if any of the features was of interest to me. Needless to say, he lost a sale that day.



 It’s not what you say, but how you say it

You have to put across the message on your audience’s wavelength.  When former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was making his radio broadcasts in 1961, he said much of the stress and effort came from having to speak in Mandarin, Malay and English. Yet, he knew that if he wanted to connect with the people, he needed to speak to them in their language.

When trying to influence others, we need to communicate not just concepts, but also images and emotions. Great leaders don’t just define the future, they tell us what it will look like and make us feel excited about the prospect.

Several researchers, including Cynthia G. Emrich and Jack Feldman, found that the more words you use that put images in people’s minds, the more you are perceived as charismatic.

Great communicators don’t talk about “expanding”, they talk about “growing”; they don’t say, “Just think about…” they say, “Just imagine”. This is why Martin Luther King didn’t say: “I have a plan.” Instead, he said: “I have a dream.”


Learn to be charismatic

Charisma and the ability to influence others are qualities that a few rare individuals are born with. But that does not mean that they are unavailable to the rest of us.

These are qualities that can be learnt — attributes that can become your life skills. Remember to empathise, ask before you tell and put your message on the other person’s wavelength and you are well on the way to becoming truly charismatic.


Article by Ying Chanunpak, senior consultant of Training Edge International. She has trained professionals in various industries including retail and oil and gas. For more information, e-mail or visit