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The art (and business) of charisma

Kai Ryssdal Apr 13, 2012

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.

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