It’s one of those terms that we throw around without really taking the time to define what it means. We know it’s an important quality for a speaker to have. And it’s easy enough to recognize when someone has charisma. In fact, a team from the University of Toronto found that “individuals on average need only 5 seconds of exposure to an individual to form a firm impression [of] the person’s charismatic presence and leadership ability.”

But that still doesn’t answer the question: what is charisma? Let’s try to put some handles on this concept which will allow us to grasp the specifics of what it looks like and will also allow us to replicate those specifics in our own presentations. In continued research, the team from the University of Toronto found that charisma boils down to two qualities: influence and affability.


Certain people just seem to have the innate ability to draw attention and followers. Influencers sway opinions, drive trends, and ignite passions. But exactly how do they do this? Research has shown that things like appearance and eye contact do matter, but so do things like the ability to make people feel seen and heard and to communicate ideas and visions with clarity. Speakers with charisma are assertive, but they aren’t intimidating or overbearing.

The research team defined influence as “leadership ability and strength of ‘presence.’’’ But it’s not just about their presence. It’s about the fact that charismatic people are fully engaged in the moment and with the people who are around them. They understand that influence is about relationship. Truly charismatic leaders and speakers are contagious communicators who make followers feel like leaders, too.


The research team defined affability as “being approachable and pleasant.” Another term for affability might be “warmth.” Audience members would feel comfortable approaching them following a presentation because their presentation “persona” seems authentic. People with charisma seem to infuse a room with extra oxygen, light, and laughter. Everyone relaxes a little more in their presence.

To display affability when you are presenting, smile, use open body language, make eye contact with as many audience members as possible, be enthusiastic about your ideas, and move and talk naturally. But remember that audience members are experts at reading inauthentic nonverbal communication. Research shows that more than half of them can tell if your smile is fake. So instead of concentrating on becoming an affable speaker, concentrate on becoming an affable person.

Do You Have Charisma?

Use the following simple self-assessment to measure how charismatic you are.

So influence and affability are the handles we’ve attached to that tricky term “charisma.” The next time you give a presentation, aim to be both influential and affable. In doing so, you’ll display charisma. And that charisma will bolster the reception both you and your ideas receive from your audience.

Ready to learn more about mastering the art of presenting? Our team at Ethos would love to help you get started.



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