Someone performing

What is charisma?

By BBC Maestro

Have you ever watched someone deliver a speech, and felt really drawn towards them? Whether it’s a best man speech at a wedding or a sales pitch at work, there’s one quality some speakers have that turn a good speech into a great one: charisma.

But what is charisma? And, more importantly, how can you become more charismatic? Here’s everything you need to know. 

What does charisma mean?

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes someone charismatic. The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines charisma as:
“a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (such as a political leader)” or “a special magnetic charm or appeal”. 

Generally speaking, charisma is thought of as a combination of charm, confidence and personal presence that makes a person extremely likeable. 

Charismatic people have an ability – whether innate or learned – to connect with others and put them at ease in social situations, they tend to radiate positive energy, and can lead others. Charismatic people make other people feel good. They’re adept at making others feel valued and understood through their words, body language and actions. 

Why is charisma important when giving a speech?

From the traits listed above, it’s clear to see that charismatic people put others at ease – and they’re skilled at influencing people, too. 
That can come in handy when giving a speech, whatever the context. Being charismatic can help to make your speech more memorable, and help to deliver your message, whether you’re trying to deliver a persuasive speech or an entertaining one. 
Charismatic speakers are also more likely to capture the audience’s attention, meaning your audience stays focused and receptive to your speech from the start. And it’ll help to build a rapport with your audience, too – something that can help them to feel more open and receptive to the ideas you’re presenting. 
Plus, when a speaker is charismatic, the audience is less likely to lose focus. How often have you sat through a speech when you’ve felt fidgety, and your mind is wandering? Chances are that at least part of the problem was that the speaker wasn’t dynamic, interesting, or charismatic enough to maintain your interest. 

Charisma alone isn’t enough to guarantee a successful speech, but it can go a long way to making your presentation more effective, memorable and relatable. 

How to become more charismatic

Some people are born with a certain charm. But, for most people, it’s not an innate trait. It is possible to learn how to be charismatic, and deliver a more engaging speech, when you keep a few tips and techniques in mind. 

Build your confidence 

Confidence is key when it comes to giving a powerful, authentic speech – and confidence plays a big role in charisma, too. When you believe in yourself and your message, it’s easier to convince others of it, too.  
Prepare thoroughly for your speech and know your topic inside out. Then, practice your speech so you’re not staring at notes throughout. That’ll immediately give you an air of confidence, and allow you to more naturally go off-script to interact with your audience. 

Build audience rapport

Audience engagement is another key aspect of charisma. Charismatic people put others at ease, and make it feel like they’re talking personally to each and every audience member – no matter how big the crowd is. 
You can weave this through your speech through audience participation and interaction. Ask questions and prompt discussions, where appropriate, to keep them engaged. 
And if that’s not suitable for the type of speech you’re giving, make sure to maintain eye contact and make audience members feel like they’re involved. 
You can also do this by addressing your audience’s concerns and needs. Rather than delivering a cookie-cutter speech, make sure that you tailor it to resonate with their experiences and perspective. This way, you’ll show you have empathy, and it can help to build a stronger connection. 

Use humour

Charismatic people aren’t necessarily joke tellers, but they do often use a little light humour to break the ice and put everyone at ease

Tell stories

Charismatic people are often natural storytellers. And one of the best ways to get your audience engaged when giving a speech is to tell them a story.  
Anecdotes and stories have power. They can make an abstract concept more relatable, they can elicit empathy, and they can be memorable. When you create a genuine emotional connection with your audience, your speech is far more likely to be successful.  
But make sure that the stories you tell are relevant and related to your topic or message. Try not to go off on a tangent or tell long, rambling stories without a clear point – do this, and you risk losing your audience’s interest. 
But tell an interesting, captivating story, and you’ll keep them focused and engaged – and they may well continue to think about it long after you’ve left the stage. 

Use your body language

Charisma is about more than the words you use and the stories you tell. Your body language speaks volumes. 
During your speech, make sure to keep good posture and use gestures to emphasise your main points. Be conscious to avoid closed body language, like crossing your arms, and use open gestures and warm facial expressions (like a genuine smile) to help build a rapport with your audience. 
But try not to overthink it – and don’t overdo it. Wildly gesticulating with every word can be distracting for your audience, but natural gestures and body language should help to emphasise your points rather than detract from them. 

Be authentic

Authenticity is attractive. Being too try-hard or overly rehearsed isn’t likely to resonate with your audience – but being true to yourself is.  
Charismatic speakers who speak authentically and from the heart are more likely to resonate with their audience – and their genuine passion and sincerity make their message more compelling. 
So, if you’re worried about giving a speech, just relax and be yourself. Share personal anecdotes, insights and emotions that are relevant to your topic. Your genuine enthusiasm will shine through, making it easier to connect with your audience. 

Charisma is hard to explain, but when you see it, you know about it. Charismatic people have the ability to command attention, influence others and inspire trust – all while staying true to themselves. Some people are naturally charismatic, but for those of us who find it a little more difficult, the good news is that it can be cultivated and used when giving speeches to leave a long-lasting impression on your audience. 
Want to find out more secrets of public speaking? Keep an eye out for our new course by Richard Greene on Public Speaking and Communication. He’ll take you through each element that goes into connecting with your audience and building your public speaking confidence so you can nail it every single time. 

Give the gift of knowledge

Surprise a special someone with a year's access to BBC Maestro or gift them a single course.

Thanks for signing up to receive your free lessons

Check your inbox - they’re on the way!

Oops! Something went wrong

Please try again later

Get a free lesson from Richard Greene

Discover how to cut through the fear and connect with your audience