The art (and business) of charisma

Olivia Cabane, author of "The Charisma Myth," says Steve Jobs had "visionary charisma."

Image of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
Author: Olivia Fox Cabane
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 256 pages

Kai Ryssdal: I kinda got sandbagged by my producers the other day. Well one of 'em -- who shall remain nameless but you know who you are. There's this thing I want you to do, she said. Just trust me.

So I did. Read this book, she said, by a woman named Olivia Cabane, and how charisma and charm applies in business. And then go over to the small conference room, I'll meet you there. So I did.

Here's how it went.

Ryssdal: Usually I'm the one who says welcome to the broadcast, but clearly I'm sitting in your office now. I feel like I'm being tested.

Olivia Cabane: You are absolutely right. And actually, I have a fair idea of your charisma, just from the split seconds that you came walking in.

Ryssdal: All right, well do tell. How did I do?

Cabane: You've got a strong presence.

Ryssdal: Well good, because I consider myself fairly charismatic. Is it really something that you can tell right off the bat?

Cabane: Yeah. And again, you're great on presence. However...

Ryssdal: Oh no.

Cabane: You're a confident man, right? You can take this?

Ryssdal: Yes I can.

Cabane: Warmth.

Ryssdal: You're not going to tell me I'm not warm.

Cabane: I'm going to tell you that I think you've been coasting on your good looks for far too long.

Ryssdal: Oh man. That's a little harsh, but anyway. What's the difference between charisma and charm?

Cabane: Charm is purely to get people to like you. Charisma makes you more influential and persuasive. Think Bill Gates.

Ryssdal: See now, that's funny. Because I've talked to him in an interview, actually, a couple of times -- never in person -- but he doesn't come across, at least on an audio line, as the most charismatic guy.

Cabane: Indeed. But if you look at Bill Gates one-on-one in a room, he does get attention.

Ryssdal: Well because he's worth a bajillion dollars. I mean, come on.

Cabane: You could say that. But apparently he's had that from the beginning. Visionary charisma is what Steve Jobs had.

Ryssdal: I was just going to bring him up, yeah.

Cabane: He's not selling computers -- he's saving the world.

Ryssdal: This is funny -- they're all men that we're talking about.

Cabane: Oprah is of course your classic charismatic figure.

Ryssdal: Here's another: Hillary Clinton? What do you think?

Cabane: Yes.

Ryssdal: That was a yes, kind of.

Cabane: This is another example of lacking warmth.

Ryssdal: Oh yeah. I'm just like Hillary Clinton, oh my god.

Cabane: Well...

Ryssdal: So now that I've brought it back to me, how do I make myself warmer?

Cabane: 'Do you want to?' is the first question.

Ryssdal: Of course I do. This is kind of my job. My job is to be a warm, welcoming presence on a public radio program.

Cabane: You have kids, right?

Ryssdal: Yes I do.

Cabane: How old -- oh look at that change in your voice. How old is your youngest?

Ryssdal: She's 4 and a half.

Cabane: And her name is?

Ryssdal: Her name is Liv.

Cabane: If Liv comes to you and she has bruised her knee, and you tell her 'It's all right sweetie' -- how would you say that?

Ryssdal: Well first of all, she's the fourth child so she gets the 'Oh, it's all right. Here, you'll be fine.' But so I guess the first thing you do is you pick her up and you don't actually say anything, just 'Shh. It's going to be all right, sweetie pie, I've got ya.'

Cabane: In those last three words when you said, 'I got ya,' that is what's called tenderness. That's what you need. Show me love, Kai.

Ryssdal: That's an entirely different kind of interview. But we were talking about Steve Jobs and other corporate leaders who are charismatic or have had charisma. Can they use that to commercial benefit for their company in terms of the Apple brand and you know, Alan Mullaly at Ford -- those kinds of things?

Cabane: Charisma is the X factor as our attention spans get shorter and shorter. You have to make a big impression fast. So the good news is that now that we know that charisma can be taught, anyone can gain charisma.

Ryssdal: Well since this is your interview, I'm going to let you say goodbye.

Cabane: It was a pleasure to speak to you.

Ryssdal: Thanks for coming by. Olivia Fox Cabane is the author of the book, "The Charisma Myth." Click here to read an excerpt.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
Author: Olivia Fox Cabane
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 256 pages
Log in to post13 Comments


The most charismatic voice I have found in Marketplace is Tess Vigeland.
Her voice has warmth and she has a competent sense of humor. Not super great sense of humor, but good enough.
I feel like listening to a trusted friend in the room when she speaks on radio.

Kai is witty and funny and I like his wry sense of humor.

But I have to agree with Cabane's insights that Kai can use some work on his warmth in delivery.
Kai does come across like a getting-a-job-done-at-al-costs-friendship-be-damned guy on the radio.
He does have his charms , I have to say, with or without his good look.

Cabane lost points with me when she said Bill Gates is charismatic.

If I had a couple of billion dollars to burn , I bet she would say I am charismatic also.

Because , using her logic, I could use my billions to buy some influence and attention , and more than fifteen minutes of fame.

Kai, Marketplace is the best thing on radio today, thanks largely to your personality and engaging voice. My apologies to Ms. Cabane, but she is a complete imbecile to suggest that you change anything at all about your presentation. The fact that she would look to Bill Gates as an example of great "charisma" demonstrates how very little grasp she has on the subject of her own book.

In fact, she torqued me off so much that I came here and registered on the site just to leave you this comment! Don't change a thing, my friend.

Oh man, am I glad I'm not the only one. I listen to Marketplace but complain constantly about Kai Ryssdal's delivery. He sounds like an up-and-coming, raquet-ball-playing, new-media salesperson, in my opinion. I've read lots of comments from women in love with his voice, and I just don't get it. At all.

So... If Ms Cabane is such an expert on charisma, how come - after listening to the interview - I'm left with a negative impression of her and my impression of Kai has only gotten more positive?

"Lacking warmth..." Give me a break! Mr. Ryssdal hosts a business show, for heaven's sake. Whether he has "warmth" or not is irrelevant. His job is to deliver facts and analyze the business news, which he does quite well.
I do agree with Ms. Cabane's point that Mr. Ryssdal has charisma, but, if Mr. Ryssdal "lacks warmth" when delivering the business news, my view is, so what?

I'm not sure what to make of Ky's interview with Ms. Cabane. Is she teaching Ky (and all the type-A listeners who will do just about anything to get ahead) how to present warmth when it isn't actually felt? I realize that our modern world is now all about marketing and that lies in marketing (oh, pardon me, "alternate perspectives" in marketing) have now become utterly ubiquitous, but do we really have to cheapen this last thread of humanism too? Do you disagree with my take? Well, why else would someone document how warmth is communicated without helping with the real (and more difficult and much more important) work of actually developing the speaker's capacity for warmth? Oh, that's right, it's for the book.

I have to disagree with Jack. I listen to and love Marketplace on my way to work everyday, and its almost soley due to Kai's delivery and tone. I have never seen a picture of Kai until just now, so I guess I also disagree with the interviewer. Good looks aren't seen on the radio. So while it may be why Kai went from intern to host, but it doesn't explain his long tenure in the current position. Keep up the great work Kai!!

Hey Kai,

Just make those cooing noises, like "hmm" and "awww" before you respond to people. It creates an emotional interest that induces favorable feelings toward you, by demonstrating that you are concerned about what they are saying. It makes people think that you are 'warm.'

I'm not sure I agree with the author as I have not read her book and probably will never read it---
However I do disagree completely with the guy that commented about Kai's delivery.
The only reason I have tuned in to listen to Marketplace the last five depressing years is because of Kai's engaging intellect and
disarming wit---

Whoa! I'm elated that a bit finally gives me the opportunity to say that although i like the marketplace format, i HATE Ky's delivery. His clipped style comes across as smart-alecky. I so much more enjoy the show when he is away and ANYONE else is host. He may have a good tone, but I hate listening to him.


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