Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You Too Can Be Charismatic!


So I’m working on my charisma.  You know - that certain something you might say some of us simply exude.  Just born with it.  Enchanting.  Captivating.  

"It's from the Greek, and it generally refers to a gift, something [a person] didn't necessarily have to earn or deserve," says Mark Oppenheimer who teaches at Yale University.  "But it's this talent, or unique capability.  It comes from the gods, really." 

As I said, I’m working on it. 

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, researchers say they can use science to measure charisma, assuming you have some to measure. 

With a little device they call the “Sociometer,” the creation of Professor Alex Pentland and his team at MIT, a person’s charm can be gauged.  To do this, according to Pentland, the Sociometer measures not what you say, but how you say it.   

Really?  Doesn’t matter what I say?  I’m all over this!  On my way to personal magnetism. 

"So the first thing is energy,” says Pentland in an interview on CBS.  “You have to be energetic."  

OK, if I want to be charismatic I have to be energetic.  I can be energetic.  I am so energetic.  

"It shows up in your hands,” he goes on.  “It shows up in your voice, the way you carry yourself and do things."   

Yeah!  Yeah!  I’m getting’ it!  If you could only see me.  I’m an absolute Liberace at the keyboard. 

According to the MIT team and their Sociometer, high scorers have a real advantage.  Consider what happened when Pentland used his high-tech gadget to assess charisma's impact on corporate business decisions: Without knowing anything about the business plan, [or] the person presenting it, “We predicted how well [the] plan would be rated.  And the two things that really mattered were:  Did [the presenter] sound like they were excited?  And, were they fluid in how they produced the speech?” 

That’s it!  Any animated schmo can effect a winning sales pitch so long as she doesn’t twist her tongue!  Really.  She sells seashells by the seashore. 

And get this:  Professor Joseph Nye of the Harvard Kennedy School says, though we may not like to admit it, winning personalities win elections.  "There is an attractiveness that leads some people to be able to get others to follow them by their personality." 

Oppenheimer, who also studied the subject at Yale concurs: "Most American voters ultimately don't vote on specific policy questions.  They're responding to something else - charisma."  Yikes. 

Sure enough, in a new CBS "Sunday Morning" poll, 3 out of 4 voters say that indefinable something will play a role in their vote - one in four says a major role.  It’s a good way to save time studying candidates and their positions on the issues. 

Supposedly you can be trained to be charismatic.  So, even a bumbling oaf, not to mention any names, can take classes and come out Clooney-esque.  So says John Neffinger, an Ivy League law school graduate who now runs workshops for the charismatically challenged.  He defines charisma as a combination of strength and warmth, beginning with body language.   

Just like Grandma said:  Stand up straight and smile!  Neffinger agrees, "… that is actually the basic formula.  Standing up straight says, ‘I'm here to be taken seriously.  Don't mess with me!’ and that projects strength.  Smiling genuinely projects a lot of warmth." 

The winning combination, and this is where it gets tricky, is a smile that projects both warmth and strength.  "There are two different things going on, on the face," says Neffinger.  "On the bottom half of the face is just a little bit of a smile.  So you got warmth going on the bottom.  But what goes on in the eyes is, there's an intention to the look in the eyes.  There's a determination.  And that intensity connotes strength." 

No wonder Mitt Romney looks so stiff.  He’s trying to remember all this stuff that doesn’t come naturally while fending off Newt Gingrich and Stephen Colbert.   

But with such a simple recipe, I feel certain I can work up from my current state of shy and socially inept, through the intermediate stages of awkward but well meaning, and disarmingly pushy, all the way up to mesmerizingly irresistible.   

I’m very excited about this.  Warmly, sincerely, and with strength. 

Vote for me.