The most charismatic speakers make their performance appear effortless.
They fearlessly engage and interact with the audience. They showcase their personality as they transition from one point to the next.
Their uncanny connection to the audience seems to attract the walls of a large performance venue toward them making the conversation seem intimate and individual.
They craft the flow of energy like Auguste Rodin sculpts clay.
Some people are just gifted… right?
The Secret of Charismatic Speakers
I’ll let you in on a little secret:
The world’s greatest charismatic speakers didn’t naturally come by ALL their skills.
The best of us prepare like crazy and constantly filter through dozens of potential choices to say every moment.
The “effortless” charisma you see on stage can be as spectacular as a magician’s “sorcery,” but it’s no illusion. It’s brought to you by experience and exploration.
I’m here to eliminate the smoke and mirrors of charisma and pull back the curtain on how the “trick” works.
Ready for it? Then travel back with me to the days when you were learning to drive…
Identify. Predict. Decide. Execute.
I’ll never forget a key moment in my early driving experience.
I was 15, cruising down a major highway in Tampa with a shiny new permit in my Velcro* wallet.
My mom sat in the passenger seat. In my teenage mind, she co-piloted because the state of Florida required it, not because I needed her there.
Like Marty McFly, I was driving at 88 miles per hour… even when concrete medians began consuming the left side of the road.
My mom spoke up.
“You’re driving pretty quickly. I’m not going to tell you to slow down,” she said.
“What I AM going to tell you is that if something small causes you to lose control and hit that wall, we would likely end up careening into those woods… over there.”
I slowed down.
My mom had used the very steps they taught us in driving school.
She identified the median as a potential hazard.
She predicted what might happen if she shouted at her teenager about speeding through a construction zone. Subsequently, she considered the potential outcomes of her other reactions.
Then she decided to explain the lay of the land to me so I could decide on my own.
She executed her plan flawlessly and I took the action she wanted. I immediately knew how little room for error I had to work with on that narrow road.
(*Velcro is a specific brand, like Kleenex. The generic name is hook and loop fastener. Fun fact I learned while working on this blog post.)
Unlocking the Wisdom of Experience
As an adult, I can better appreciate the wisdom of my mom’s restrained response. I can recognize how she used her decades of driving experience to identify the problem I missed.
Great charismatic speakers lean on their experience. You can’t shortchange that process.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill. Maybe that’s accurate or maybe that Gladwell rule is outdated.
Nevertheless, when you dedicate long hours to perfecting a skill, you learn your craft in different situations. You try out different methods and alternate formats. As you continue learning, experience presents you with new opportunities. You lather, rinse, and repeat until you achieve the results you want.
It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a private event with 30 people or on stage in front of 30,000 people.
When a backstage producer is talking to me in my earpiece while I’m delivering pertinent messaging, setting up jokes and punchlines in my head, and thinking about what to say next without getting canceled… the process is the same:
Identify. Predict. Decide. Execute.
You run that cycle over and over.
Unlocking an Arsenal of Purposeful Preparation
The preparation shouldn’t stop, even after accumulating those 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Preparation goes into every one of my performances. Before I host an event, I’ll walk the stage to mark the space in my subconscious. Moreover, I’ll grid out how many steps forward, back, left, and right I have to work with.
I contemplate how I’ll transition from one element to the next. I meet the speakers before I introduce them, so I’m prepared to connect the dots between the energy in the room and their vibes.
DOMO ARIGATO…SHE’S A ROBOTO
Once, during a conference, I met a not so charismatic speaker backstage, and asked (as I usually do): “Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and about the subject matter you’re sharing with the audience.”
She barely blinked.
“They gave you my bio, didn’t they?”
They did. Shockingly, her bio was two pages long… and mechanical. It reads like an instruction manual.
The more I spoke with her, the more I realized that that was her style. And I knew: She couldn’t go on stage as a robot. I had to humanize her or the energy in the room would drop like Dogecoin.
Based on my experience as a host and my understanding of the vibe of the audience so far that weekend, I predicted what her reception would be.
Therefore, I didn’t read the bio. I decided to focus on how the audience could relate to her.
I explained how the next speaker was a mother who wakes up every morning and runs around the house to get her kids fed, lunches made, keys found, homework finished, and out the door.
Additionally, within those relatable pieces of her life, I mentioned some facts about how she’s also an expert on [insert whatever her topic was here]. She had solutions to the problems the audience felt and understood.
Ultimately, I presented how she fit into the human experience, so the audience was ready to lean in and trust what she had to say, despite her robotic delivery.
When I got on stage, it seemed like I made a split-second decision to throw out her bio and give the audience her backstory.
That was the “illusion” of a charismatic speaker at work — through some homework backstage and delivering an energetic dopamine boost to the audience I created a more connected, emotional experience.
As Dr. Martha Burns says, “When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it’s absent, nothing seems to stick.”
Unlocking Charismatic Confidence
One of the final elements of the magic trick of a charismatic speaker is confidence.
Identify. Predict. Decide…
Then have the confidence to EXECUTE without hesitation!
I saw a video of a live Beyoncé concert where her mic suddenly died.
A performer without experience might have panicked and mimed to the stage manager to fix the malfunctioning equipment.
Not the Queen Bey.
She didn’t miss a single beat of the choreography as she turned and strutted off stage. She confidently collected a new mic and was back in the mix of the rhythm.
Experience gives you a fundamental, high-level view of any number of events and what can go wrong… or right. Preparation before each gig gives you the insight to understand your audience and predict how they might react.
Once you’ve identified the deck you’re working with, you can give everything to the performance!
If you’re good at what you do, a malfunction, mistake, or even fumble of your own doing won’t derail your end goal. Instead, the hiccup will become part of your connection to the audience as a charismatic speaker.
Take the time to train and fully develop your art as a charismatic speaker. And soon enough you’ll be the “magician” on stage pulling a rabbit out of a hat.