ideas & perspectives, things i learned

writing || the Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane

I started this book on June 24, 2017 while on a 7-hour plane ride to Scotland and finished it today, June 19, 2018 while driving to my local Starbucks. (No idea why those locations are relevant but hey, the more you know, eh?) So, I suppose it’s fair to say it’s taken me a full year to audio-read this book (I listened to the audio version on Audible). It wasn’t exactly an omg-i-couldn’t-put-it-down sort of experience, but it should also count itself lucky that it was finished because I rarely finish audiobooks. It’s just really hard.

initial impression and goodreads review


I enjoyed this book, and I think it had some interesting and new concepts. However, and not surprisingly, a lot of the content was straightforward, basic information that is of course relevant and useful but would become a nightmare if we were to pay attention to employing all the minute little tidbits of advice described. As a textbook-like resource providing a formula for attaining charisma, this book is great. But I think we learn much better from stories and practice rather than lists of how to conduct ourselves. I think it could have gone into more depth in that respect and thus provided a more well-rounded guide to charisma.

key takeaways

Biggest takeaway for me was the concept of being fully present in whatever situation you may find yourself and with whomever you are communicating with. This was one of the first concepts covered in the book, and I can still vaguely remember the anecdote associated with it. It was about the common struggle of finding yourself at a conference or dinner, sitting down at a table and gradually coming to realize that other tables are having more interesting and engaging conversations than your table. However, as Cabane suggests, this mindset is unproductive and only further contributes to the staleness of your discussions – because no one is fully present in them. She also argues that the tables that have the most fun aren’t the ones that were lucky enough to have the perfect location, perfect combination of people, and perfect circumstances. On the contrary, a single charismatic individual focusing on the present moment rather than wandering off into unproductive thoughts about better alternatives can transform the atmosphere.

As someone who has experienced this train of thoughts often, I was struck by the simple solution. Having read this part of the book a whole year ago, I have been implementing this mindset as often as I can and yes, I can attest to the sea change that has transformed my interactions with people. I no longer obsess that I should move tables to get the most out of an experience. I can get the most by staying right where I am, and simply being fully present.

speaking tweaks for charisma

  • use pauses to your advantage – speak slowly and with fewer words to appear more articulate, and take pauses to capture attention and appear confident
  • nod less often
  • use a lower pitch – it’s common knowledge that we tend to associate lower pitches with power
  • 3 key features of charisma – warmth, power, presence
  • speak clearly and concisely
  • pick out your words carefully so your audience doesn’t have to do it and will instead devote all their attention to your message

social charisma

  • de-stygmatize any discomfort you feel. Instead, recognize it and accept it
    • often, awkwardness comes from feeling discomfort and trying to avoid it. However, charismatic individuals are authentic and take things as they are, flaws and all. Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
  • let go of the responsibility of the outcome of your presentation – focus instead on what you are communicating, and form your end
  • make it your goal to give love to others and to yourself
    • to really emanate warmth, you must emanate love for both others and yourself. Accept your mistakes and treat yourself just as kindly as you would someone else. This will lead to radiant confidence and higher self-worth as well.
  • put advice or arguments inside archetypal stories to make them resonate and be more effective
  • should use “you” more than “I” in a conversation. Make it about them.
  • know how to exit gracefully from a conversation
  • don’t waste time analyzing. People remember how you made them feel, not what you said
  • eye contact – keep contact for 3 seconds after you talk
  • CONFIDENCE – people won’t question your authority or appearance or insecurities if you assume it and don’t question it yourself
  • charisma can sometimes lead to openness from others – share your own stories also to help them feel comfortable having done so

types of charisma

  • Focus
  • Visionary
  • Kindness
  • Authoritative

more thinks

As you can tell from some of the takeaways I listed, some of the advice in the book is very surface-level. Maybe even manipulative if only implemented with the sole goal of selfishly wanting to influence people? That being said, I would probably temper my initial review after having read over my notes. I can now recall just how much I’ve learned this past year from slowly and quite unconsciously incorporating the tips into my social interactions. Overall, I enjoyed it and would probably benefit from revisiting this book at some point in the future to extract more hidden nuggets of advice. However, I think next time I will purchase a print copy because I think that would greatly facilitate my learning – the audio-book was more difficult to follow, given the highly organized, list-based (as opposed to story-based) structure of the book.

Have you read this book? What were your biggest takeaways?

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