Some people have the knack of grabbing other people’s attention and then keeping them spellbound. Rather a useful quality to have in PR. But what is charisma?
Keren Burney, owner of PR agency Compege, says that charisma is something in the way somebody walks, sits or presents themselves. She gives this example: “There is a young man in our village who has presence. He has something that makes people watch him, mesmerised. Among 15 individuals on stage – wherever he stands, it’s him we watch and him we want to hear. When you see him close-up, and talk to him, his face changes as he modestly accepts praise. He’s about 10. I might ask for his autograph.”
To reach the top of the PRCA takes charisma, although PRCA CEO Francis Ingham is too modest to claim that for himself. But he says that charisma is vital to succeed in PR: “Why? Because the most successful people in PR are the ones who take risks, and who convince clients and colleagues to take risks too. And because being charismatic is essential to convincing people to take those risks. All of the biggest people in our industry have charisma – people like Lord Bell, Lord Chadlington, Mark Borkowski and Colin Byrne.”
So how do you become as charismatic as these PR high fliers? Ingham believes that charisma can't be learnt, but that you can nourish what you already have: “You can't do a course in it, but as your decisions prove right and your judgement is reinforced, your self-belief and charisma can grow. But fundamentally you've either got it or you haven't.“
Martin Goodwill, UK managing director of employee assessment company Profiles International, agrees with Ingham that innate charisma can’t be learnt, but that it is possible to develop charismatic skills. Profiles International studied over 40,000 leaders worldwide* and findings suggest that charisma can be developed in the same way as other business abilities. Goodwill explains: “There are six key characteristics that are learned behaviours, and these can be improved to make you appear more charismatic and make you a better leader.”
Before you decide that your whole PR career depends on developing charisma, remember that charm can only take you so far. Elly Sample, director of communications, development and marketing at University of Lincoln, points out there are some people who are likely to be impervious to your wiles: “Personally, I'm not sure that journalists want you to be charismatic. In my experience they want you to be timely, factual, concise and newsworthy and provide a good picture.”
Ian Harris, head of content at communications agency Gatehouse Group, points out that clarity is everything: “Business folk love ‘charismatic personalities’. Look at CEOs like Jack Welch, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. All of them, adored. But charisma is a red herring. It's a red herring because while people describe charisma as glad-handing and stage presence, it's actually about plain-speaking.”
“As a communicator, you find that people will label you charismatic when they’re just able to understand what you write at the first pass. That sounds basic, but it's a big deal – because tortured writing, corp-speak and gobbledygook have become the default way to communicate inside many organisations. Charisma is being able to communicate information in a way that sinks in.”
Kevin Allen, author of The Hidden Agenda: A Proven Way to Win Business and Create a Following, gives a recipe for charisma and explains how he developed it:
“As a lanky, bespectacled and somewhat goofy account executive at the beginning of my advertising career, I can guarantee you one thing: charismatic was the last word people would have used to describe me. Several years later, I found myself standing before high-profile client audiences across the globe. Lobotomy? Stand-in? What on earth was behind this charis-makeover?
“Charisma is neither inherited nor learned – it is unleashed. While it is common to associate charisma with some sort of electrifying magnetism, I think it is rooted in genuine humanity. In fact the origins of the word ‘charisma’, derived from the Greek, are ‘grace’ and ‘kindness‘. I think that charisma is an openness, a willingness and a readiness to connect with people on a deep and profound level and to be receptive to them, allowing them to connect with you similarly. Isn't it true that whenever you've met someone who has been described as truly charismatic, that they make you feel like you're the only person on the planet? So for me, four things are the recipe for charisma:
1. Put your audience first.
2. Be your true self.
3. Tap into your audience’s deep desire.
4. Communicate emotionally.
“Keep these human truths in mind and your audience will follow you anywhere.”
Written by Daney Parker
* The research forms the basis of a book called Leadership Charisma, written by Bud Haney, Jim Sirbasku and Deiric McCann. Here’s the link that will allow any interested parties to download Chapter 1.