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The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism – Book Review

Sometimes you see one of your idols on TV and it just makes you feel bad. ‘cause man they are great. Just looking at them speak for a minute makes you want to tell them your entire life story along with all of your intimate, embarrassing struggles. You can’t help but smile and think they’re absolutely perfect. Robert Downey Jr, Barack Obama, Emma Watson. Just…wow. There’s something to be said for not taking everyone at face value. Never meet your heroes is a famous phrase for a reason. But still, they manage to pull it off, at least for the time they’re on screen.

Jealous? No need! Olivia Fox Cabane, regular speaker to many Fortune 500 companies and Charisma coach, lays it all out in her book The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. An interesting read with plenty of practical tips. Let’s get into it.

The importance of mental state

As much tricks as we can apply – and they can improve our charisma – Cabane states that our internal state must first be aligned with what we are trying to convey. If we’re not being authentic others will notice and our charisma will take a deep dive. To get into this state, she dives into the power of our mind and the relationship it has with our body. For example, vividly imagine:

  • Your favorite piece of music
  • Nails going over a chalkboard
  • Eating a really, really sour lime

Taking the time to imagine these things creates a bodily sensation. The music relaxes us, the nails aren’t too pleasant and the lime can make us salivate. All this even though it’s not real. We just create it with our mind. Following this, Cabane notes that charisma isn’t just there, but it needs to be created. We need to warm up and get ourselves going. And we can use visualization to do it.

Visualization is a big theme throughout the book and is even called “a miracle method”. Cabane advocates using this technique regularly, amongst other things to tap into a better mental state. An example of an exercise is visualizing a time where you felt absolutely triumphant and fully engaging in that moment – intensely bringing back all that you sensed at that time (think vision, scent, feelings, taste, sounds). This allows us to get back into that same mindstate in the present.

Sometimes, we just get into a bad situation and feel uncomfortable. Sometimes bad things happen. Cabane advices a psychological trick to ease this pain: a responsibility transfer. Whenever you’re in a bad state, visualize a benevolent entity to which you attribute what is happening. This could be God, the Universe or Life energy. Imagine they either have a plan in the longterm, or it’s simply something that’s beyond your control.

Different charisma styles

In the book, Cabane covers 4 charisma styles that anyone can tap into at any time: focus, visionary, kindness and authority. Her message is to use the right charisma style for the right context, but she also mentions some charisma types may be a better fit for your personality. One thing I would like to add to this is to pay close attention how the people you’re interacting with are responding to your charisma style. A person that isn’t feeling well mentally may feel more comfortable with kindness or focus charisma (i feel heard and accepted), rather than authority charisma (I must follow and obey).

Throughout the book Cabane also offers additional tips on charisma which are not directly related to one of the 4 styles in the book, but I grouped most of them under one of the styles anyway as this seemed to fit quite well. Sue me.

Focus charisma
This charisma is centered around presence and confidence. It’s about making people feel fully heard, like there is nothing else in the world but them.

How to get it: work on your listening skills and presence to make people feel valued and heard. To improve your listening:

  • Give people your full attention
  • Refrain from interrupting and let people finish
  • Pause before you react so the other party knows you are not just waiting to talk

To increase presence, Cabane offers some exercises:

  • Scan your environment for sound. Act like your ears are satellite dishes and take in everything as intense as you can
  • Focus on your breath and experience how the air goes in and out of your nostrils and mouth. Give every single breath your full attention
  • Fully focus on your toes. This forces your mind to sweep through your entire body, helping you to get into your current feelings

When to use it: when you want people to open up, but not when you need to appear authoritative as “power” is lacking.

Visionary charisma
This charisma is centered around belief and confidence. It makes others feel inspired.

How to get it: have a bold and outspoken vision and share it with conviction. Do not show any doubt in your speech and get graphic: illustrate your points with metaphors to give them more power. Get into a confident mental state using the visualisation exercise discussed before and use responsibility transfer where necessary to gain confidence.

When to use it: when you need to inspire people or promote creativity.

Kindness charisma
This charisma is centered around warmth and confidence. It makes others feel fully accepted as they are.

How to get it: radiate grattitude, compassion and love through speech (such as compliments, reassurance and a warm vocal tone; avoid criticism) and body language (open body posture, smiling and no tension).

When to use it: when you want an emotional bond with someone or want to make people feel safe. Similar to focus charisma, do not use when you need or want to appear authoritative.

Authority charisma
This charisma is centered around status and confidence. It makes people believe that you have the power to change things. Confidence is important in all types of charisma, but the most important here as extreme confidence radiates power.

How to get it: wear authoritative clothing, get into a confident mindstate by using visualisation, take up space with your body to indicate status, speak less, more slowly and with more pauses. Lower your intonation at the end of your sentences (i.e. make statements rather than questions).

When to use: when you want to be looked up to and obeyed. Do not use it when you want to promote critical thinking in others or are looking for (constructive) feedback, as people will be less critical towards authoritative figures.

General Charisma?
These tips did not fit in any one specific category and seemed relevant for all:

  • People like people that are like them. Subtly mimic body language and interests.
  • Fluctuate your intonation and voice power. While low intonation communicates power, a monotone voice isn’t desired either. Make sure your speech is versatile.
  • You overall posture is important: stand up straight.
  • Deliver value to others: give entertainment, information or good feelings (e.g. compliments).
  • Respect personal space. Seriously. Don’t be creepy.
  • Dont fidget.
  • Keep eye contact, but keep your eyes relaxed (don’t intensely stare someone down. Please.)


Lots of practical and simple tips on how to improve charisma. Nothing too shocking, as I think most of us know that keeping eye contact and a good posture will improve the way people experience you as a person. Nevertheless, some interesting insights. This book is a good kick in the ass to all of us as we should become more conscious of a lot of small things in our body language, mindstate and speech can influence how we’re perceived by others. Experiment with some of the charisma styles and tips in here. I’d recommend picking a few to implement in a given week in order to keep it simple and then seeing which tips hit your spot. You’ll be like Robert Downey Jr. before you know it.