In the book, The Charisma Myth, by Olivia Fox Cabane, she presents an overabundance of great advice, some of which may sound odd at first, but it always proves worthwhile. One thing that has stuck with me was her advice to think of 10 charismatic people or characters. Then, I should imagine these 10 people sitting on a board of directors inside my head, and whenever I face a challenge, I can refer to my 10 board members for guidance. I can ask them questions, and imagine what they would say.
You can have board members for every situation, but I wanted to share my 10 charismatic board members. Draw strength from these people whenever you’re feeling a little insignificant.
10. The Dude (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski)
All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back, and that’s what makes his character so appealing. In a world of extreme stress, fierce competition, and anxiety, the Dude abides. The Dude’s appeal is that, apart from his rug being stolen, the Dude is completely content with his life. The lesson here is to never take life too seriously, just relax, just take it easy, man!
I put The Dude on the list because the most potent quality of any charismatic is appearing relaxed, and simply taking it easy. The Dude understands that there’s really very little in this life that he can actually control, and he doesn’t bother himself with the vast problems throughout the world; what good does it do to worry?
The best way I’ve found to achieve more contentedness from life is from studying the Stoic philosophies. Check out some of my other posts on Stoicism here.
“It’s good knowing he’s out there, The Dude, taking her easy for all the rest of us.”
9. Jim Halpert (John Krazinski in The Office)
I had to throw Jim Halpert in here; he’s a special character. He’s supposed to portray the average guy and all of his faults. However, I had to include Jim Halpert, because he embodies fun. He’s always looking for a good laugh, and, like the Dude, doesn’t take life too seriously. At the same time, he generally takes the high road, and never boasts, never complains, and he often times will go out of his way to do the right thing.
You have to be careful when it comes to not taking life too seriously; you can easily hurt the feelings of others and cause real mischief. Sure, you can be the amoral charismatic; a bastard can still have followers, but the one who will receive the most praise, at least in the long run, is the one who acts with the most good-will.
“Bears, Beats, Battlestar Galactica”
8. Christopher Walken (Every Movie He’s Ever Played In)
We all know that Christopher Walken is the same character in every movie, and we still never get tired of him. In every single movie, he is always the funny, crazy man with the awesome voice.
Speech is so critical when it comes to charisma, and Christopher Walken has mastered speech. We know Christopher Walken is not the greatest actor, we like him because he is entertaining. And we love him because his speech is so captivating. The fluctuations in his voice, the random pauses, and his unique sound- although goofy- keep you listening.
Pay attention to the speed of his voice; this is critical. The one who speaks quickly, loses your attention quickly. Take notes from Walken. Learn to pause, even if it’s in the middle of sentence. The laws of grammar aren’t necessarily critical for good conversation. Remember that pausing makes others view you as more confident. They’ll think, he’s so confident, he knows you won’t interrupt him when he pauses.
The way Walken carries himself: his slow, calculated movements, combined with his slow, dramatic speech, is why Walken is almost always playing a powerful character. Although I wouldn’t recommend going full-Walken, (as his character is always designed to be slightly over-the-top), subtly mimicking his speech and movements will make you seem more powerful.
And, of course, the best thing about Walken is how unpredictable he is. Being a little impulsive is always respectable. People get bored easily, they’re like cats playing with a string. After a few minutes, the cat gets bored. Do something different, pull away the string, and the cat’s attention becomes more intense than it was before. A little cowbell never hurts either.
“Do you even understand, the concept, of the tooth fairy?!”
7. Jeremy Clarkson (Top Gear UK)
Alright, so he’s not a fictional character, but I would argue that his television persona makes him just as much of a character as anyone else on the list.
Jeremy Clarkson proves that you don’t have to be the good-looking, well-built, or have a good-looking tooth in your head to be extremely charismatic. Jeremy Clarkson is simply a captivating person. The way he walks is confident, the way he talks is captivating, and his cockiness is just perfect.
Jeremy Clarkson defines what it means to be cocky/funny, a skill that pickup artists say to be one of the most important when trying to win people’s affection. Jeremy is the guy that always wants to be the leader, even if he has no idea what he’s doing. Because he’s so confident, people follow. True charismatics appear to believe their own lies and show zero self-doubt. Jeremy Clarkson is the perfect embodiment of this quality.
Although you may never be able to master cocky/funny like Jeremy Clarkson can, impersonating him will no doubt make you the center of everyone’s attention. And don’t forget your hammer.
“Speed has never killed anyone -suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what get’s you.”
6. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny in The X Files)
Fox Mulder’s character is rarely seen on lists of charismatic people, and I find this puzzling. I believe that Mulder’s character is a great example of a calm, passionate, introverted leader.
Mulder’s appeal comes from his excellent body language and his calmness. Not all leaders have to be outgoing and extroverted.
One thing that separates his character from most others is his passionate quality. Although most people aren’t too fond about his headstrong belief in aliens, his ever-enduring passion for the truth makes people look up to him. It only goes to show that as long as you’re very passionate about something, people will look at you as the visionary leader. Just, want to believe, in something.
“Dear Diary, today my heart lept when Agent Scully suggested spontaneous human combustion.”
5. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation Series)
Jean-Luc Picard is one of the most iconic characters of all time and his character was written and designed to be the perfect leader. Although Picard’s body language is sometimes lacking, he makes up for it in the way he holds conversations.
Picard portrays one of those rare people who knows how to completely listen to others. Picard never interrupts people, not even his enemies. He completely listens to what they have to say, waits a second or two, and then proceeds to speak. This quality is so rare, especially in leaders, and anyone who can master this quality can become the master of any conversation. Picard’s voice also carries weight. The way he fluctuates his voice, its deepness, its clarity, and its calmness, makes his voice hypnotizing and therefore, charismatic.
And, of course, if you are ever in a moral dilemma, asking “what would Picard do,” will never fail you. “Make it so.”
4. Richard Roma (Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross)
Glengarry Glen Ross is a weird movie, no doubt. It was a play adapted into a movie, which is ultimately why it’s a little awkward. Even though most of the movie takes place inside of a sales office, the charismatic cast, including Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, and Jack Lemmon, take hold of you, and make you forget the setting.
The most charismatic of the cast, however, is Al Pacino, playing the character Richard Roma. When Roma speaks, the entire room listens. Roma’s body language is what’s most impressive. Roma is literally always seen posing in the most charismatic way, always taking up the most space possible.
Pay attention to the way he tries to sell to his client, the sale that Spacey’s character ruins. Then pay attention to the way he belittles Kevin Spacey’s character. Even though Spacey’s character is Roma’s boss, Roma appears so powerful that Spacey’s character allows Roma to belittle him for over 2 minutes without saying a single word.
Richard Roma, like most Al Pacino characters, is an authority figure. He’s the guy you apologize to after he’s done wrong by you. In one of the last scenes, one of Roma’s clients realizes that Roma was not being fully honest with him, causing him to reject Roma’s sales offer. Even so, his client says, “I’m sorry, I’ve let you down haven’t I?”
“Who ever told you that you could work with men?!” -Roma, to his boss.
3. Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer in Tombstone)
Doc Holliday is found on every list of charismatic characters, and he will be found on this one too. Val Kilmer’s performance is just too perfect; I doubt there will ever be a character as loveable as Doc ever again.
Doc’s calmness is his most appealing feature. The character’s persona is similar to Fox Mulder’s, but performed in such a perfect way that David Duchovny could never match. He has an aura of constant warmth, constantly grinning as of life couldn’t get any better.
Even in the worst of situations, Doc’s demeanor is still calm, patient, and witty. The ability to keep calm in all situations is extremely charismatic. If someone jumps up from the table in front of you, looking for a fight, and you calmly reply, “Why Ed, what an ugly thing to say, does this mean we’re not friends anymore?” you’ve immediately won the respect of everyone in the room.
The way Doc carries his voice is also charismatic, and that’s ignoring the absolutely perfect southern accent. Pay close attention to the way he pauses. He purposely pauses in certain places to dramatize what he has to say, making him appear more powerful.
“Johnny, I apologize, I forgot you were there. You may go now.”
2. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street)
Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely an incredible actor. The man just knows how to be anybody. I think his best role was as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Although Belfort’s character was specifically written to portray a flawed person, they surely glamorized Belfort when it comes to his ability to be charismatic, which makes sense, seeing as Belfort is supposed to be the perfect salesman.
The best example of his charisma is the very-memorable sales-pitch scene to “John.” This speech has several subliminal persuasion techniques;
“Hello John, how are you doing today? You mailed in my company a postcard a few weeks back asking about penny stocks that had huge upside potential with very little downside risk, does that ring a bell? Okay great, the reason for the call today John is, something just came across my desk John, it is perhaps the best thing I’ve seen in the last 6 months; if you have 60 seconds I’d like to share the idea with you, you got a minute? Name of the company, Aerotyne International, it is a cutting edge, high tech firm out of the Midwest, awaiting imminent patent approval on a next generation of radar detectors that have both huge military and civilian applications. Now, right now John, the stock trades over the counter at ten cents a share and by the way John, our analysts indicate it could go a heck of a lot higher than that. Your profit, on a mere $6000 investment would be upwards of $60,000… Exactly, you could pay off your mortgage… John, one thing I can promise you, even in this market, is that I never ask my clients to judge me on my winners; I ask them to judge me on my losers because I have so few, and in the case of Aerotyne, based on every technical factor out there, John, we are looking at a grand-slam homerun… $4000 that’d be 40,000 shares John. Let me lock in that trade and get you back with my secretary, sound good John?…”
I put John in bold to illustrate the use of other people’s names. This conversation took place over the period of two minutes, and in two minutes, Jordan Belfort says John’s name eight times. There’s a reason for this; people love hearing their own names. Although I don’t recommend saying someone’s name every other word, it’s very hard to overuse someone’s name.
Other interesting points about this sales pitch, and you’d really have to watch the video to see this, but Belfort first comes off with low intensity, and then builds his intensity as he speaks. You can imagine a teacher reading a children’s book to a class in the same way. As the plot of the children’s story approaches, the teacher puts more energy into her voice, raising the intensity, building drama, and then may even yell when the plot unfolds. Then, in conclusion, the teacher will lower her voice, bringing an end to the story. This is why you never hear, “And they lived happily ever after,” in a loud, intense voice.
If you were to graph the level of intensity in Belfort’s voice as he’s making the sales pitch, it would look like a mountain, rising near the middle, and falling near the end. This is advanced psychology in action, and is very hard to perform, but listening to Leonardo DiCaprio is a good place to start. (Mmmhm, mmmhm, mmmhm).
1. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey in House of Cards)
Kevin Spacey is a freak of nature in the world of acting. Spacey, as Frank Underwood, is the literal embodiment of charisma. Spacey has mastered every charismatic trait known to man and placed them in Underwood’s character.
Study Frank, specifically when he’s around others and not when he’s expressing his psychopathic nature. Study the way he carries himself, his relaxed walk, how he sits in his chair. Observe the way he fluctuates his voice, how his voice rises mid-sentence and falls towards the end- like a judge delivering a verdict. Notice how he talks to people, never breaking eye contact, rarely nodding, and pay close attention to when he chooses to interrupt people, which is rare, but it has purpose.
If you truly want to be charismatic, then you want to be Frank Underwood, just, without the psychopathic tendencies and weird fetishes.
“Freddy believes that if a fridge falls off a mini van, you better swerve out of its way. I believe it’s the fridge’s job to swerve out of mine.”
So there you have it, my 10 board members.
- The Dude, the one who takes it easy for me.
- Jim Halpert, good will.
- Christopher Walken, the wordsmith.
- Jeremy Clarkson, the cocky/funny one.
- Fox Mulder, the passionate visionary.
- Jean-Luc Picard, the good listener
- Richard Roma, the authority.
- Doc Holliday, the calm leader.
- Jordan Belfort, the perfect salesman.
- Frank Underwood, the all-around, perfect charismatic.