Charisma Questions and Answers From Olivia Fox Cabane

If you are just tuning in to our Charisma Experiment, a group of my readers and I have been on a journey exploring the concepts and techniques discussed in Olivia Fox Cabane’s book, The Charisma Myth.

After reading the original post, Olivia graciously offered to answer questions that emerged. You can learn more about the book, the concepts, and our challenge by clicking on the above links.

This wonderful group included leaders from a variety of contexts (corporate, executive coaching, and high school). We read the book, and then each picked several techniques to use in our leadership.

Our Charisma Experiment Findings

The most frequently chosen focus areas were: strategic use of head nodding, mirroring, use of silence, and eye contact.

Some found that staying more still and nodding less made others “work a little harder” in the conversation. This resulted in deeper and more meaningful conversations. Mirroring other’s body language had a similar impact. Mirroring actions reduced inhibitions and invited others to be more open.

Use of silence and sustained eye contact were more tricky for both angles. We were tempted to fill the silence with chatter to reduce discomfort (ours or the people we are talking with). Eye contact created intimacy quickly, which can be uncomfortable, particularly in talking with people of the opposite gender. One participant tried, “counting the blinks” as Olivia suggests, and found this to help a great deal. We all recognized that there is indeed value in create more space and more connection through these techniques and will continue to leverage them.

Our Charisma Questions and Olivia’s Answers

Q: How can we be more charismatic via email?

A: By email, you’re going to be going for influence, not charisma. The best book I know on the subject is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

Q; When working with your clients, what kinds of tools or techniques do you put in place to help them sustain their new behaviors over time?

A: That depends on the behavior! Many of the new behaviors are so intrinsically rewarding (you immediately see the great results they provide) that they self-reinforce. For others, each behavior has its own reinforcement.

Q: What are some ways for a leader in a position of “authority” to become more comfortable and charismatic in that “authority role” when authority charisma does not come naturally to them (they much prefer the other styles)?

A: When you’re in the situation, do the “big gorilla” exercise. You can also visualize ahead of time, pre-hearse the situation while in an assertive stance, and see it play out the way you would. You can also role-play with friends, and work on becoming comfortable with the authority stance and voice.

(a) physical: take martial arts classes. I really recommend Brazilian jiu-jitsu for this.
(b) mental: take improv classes. Learn to step into different roles.

Charisma Side Effects

A salient side effect of this work is that each of us was much more in-tune to our own actions, and were more active in seeking out feedback from others. We all agreed that staying authentic is the most vital part of any of this. Adopting techniques that do not integrate well with our true personalities will backfire and will actually diminish charisma.

One participant remarked, “I am feeling better about myself and that is making me show up stronger my team tells me they notice a difference.” Which of course is entirely the point. There is nothing more vital to charisma than coming from a confident place.


I am grateful for the open spirits and warm hearts who engaged in this journey, and took some risks by trying on new behaviors and talking about them with “strangers.” I will work to provide more opportunities for such leadership experimentation. I would appreciate your joining the conversation via comments.

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The Charisma Experiment Continues: Questions for Olivia

Last week, I was inspired to read The Charisma Myth, by Olivia Fox Cabane, and wrote a post on the subject, Got Charisma: and Invitation to Experiment. I am now stuck on the questions surfacing in my mind. I am finding others bringing great questions to the exploration. We are all learning and having a lot of fun.

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

The author of the Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane, also read the post, and responded with an inspiring offer to participate in my follow-up blog by answering the top questions from my readers trying out her techniques. Game on.

 Since I began paying more attention to charisma, everywhere I go, I notice charisma or the lack there of. It’s amazing what happens when you start focusing on something. I watch my behavior and that of others. How we show up matters– a lot. People respond to different levels of authenticity, poise, facial expressions and conversational patterns.

I first read the book because it is mid year appraisal time, and I was looking to help some team members explore a few questions.

  • Would it be useful for them to be more charismatic?
  • What would that look like?
  • And the deeper question, what is charisma anyway?

My new charisma lens was still on as I was reading, Why People Fail, by Simon Reynolds on the plane this Sunday to a leadership conference. Fantastic book overall, with great thinking and insights. He explains that presentation skills are vital. Agreed. However, I was really disappointed to see that his list of “great speakers” to study and emulate, he did not include a single woman.

I will work on a list for a later post (and please feel free to comment on suggestions).

Of course, the leadership conference was filled with inspiring women speakers and participants (turns out there are quite a few dynamic role models he could have included). Charisma was oozing from the woodwork in various shapes and forms. I was incredibly inspired by the messages and equally intrigued by the presentation and interaction dynamics. More questions.

  • Who was capturing attention? Why?
  • What worked best for speakers?
  • What worked best in small groups?
  • What worked better over coffee vs. dinner with wine?
  • What body language helped? What was distracting?
  • What was I doing? How was it being received?

And, so I re-issue the invitation to participate in the experiment from my original post.

Here’s the deal:

Step 1: Let me know you have an intention to explore (

Step 2: Read the book or take a look at her website

Step 3: Pick 1 or 2 techniques or behaviors you will try during the next month

Step 4: Take a few notes on the impact, and share them with me by commenting on this post or emailing me.

Step 5: Gather your questions for Olivia Fox Cabane, and send them to me and I will pick the top ones to share with her for her response and comments

Step 6: Enjoy the journey

In order to give everyone enough time to read and play with the concepts, I will ask for feedback and questions for Olivia by August 20th.


Here’s a few questions to guide your thinking (answer any that you like, i will share confidentially, unless you want to be quoted)

  • Why did participate in this journey?
  • What behaviors did you chose? Why?
  • What worked? What didn’t?
  • Will you continue to use the technique, Why or why not?
  • What else?

Thanks for playing! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas.




Got Charisma? An Invitation to Experiment

“Are leaders born or made?” I’ve always hated that question– way too simplistic for real life.

However, I have been intrigued with the “can charisma be taught” conversation gaining momentum. Lots of good research swirling on that one, with some potential useful application. The next question “and is that good?” is also important but a subject of a later post.

Olivia Fox Cabane goes deep into the charisma question in her recent book, The Charisma Myth.

Cabane articulates 3 underlying powers of charisma: presence, power, and warmth, as well as the inherent obstacles to effectiveness. Her main idea, charisma is not about how we act it is about how we make others feel. True charisma requires deep authenticity.

She then identifies 4 practical and accessible charismatic styles:

  • Focus: achieved through presence and good listening
  • Visionary: requiring a bold vision and conviction
  • Kindness: coming from warmth and acceptance
  • Authority: through projection of power and status

 My charisma leanings lie in the “visionary” and “focus” realms, with some opportunities in the “kindness” category and a personal disdain for charisma points based on “authority.” In terms of natural competence, I do love a microphone, but I hate continental breakfast with roaming seas of name tags. With all that said, Cabane offers insights on how to mix a beautiful charismatic cocktail to help address difficult scenes.


The best part is the totally pragmatic tips on how to develop in each of these areas. I am talking really basic here like “stop nodding” so much. So today, before I committed to finishing this post, I decided to try out just one all day. It worked ridiculously well. You see, Cabane’s main point is that charisma is all about making other people feel genuinely great about hearing them for what they need to be heard for. It’s about finding ways to ensure people feel “got.” Amen. Her techniques offer ways to draw that out.
So, in the spirit of learning, blogging and adventure, I am going to pick 3 of her specific techniques to try out for one month. I am in for co-adventurers of all ages who would like to also read her work and try out a technique or two (let’s talk, I can offer a few easy suggestions). I am wide open to disclosed or anonymous sharing (which can be decided based on how you feel later).

If you want to play, please send me a note at and we can work on this experiment together.

I will write a follow-up post in late August. Hope you will be part of the conversation.