Charismatic Leadership Tactics: 12 Ways to Speak with Charisma

Ed Darling
12 min read

What you’ll learn:

  • Why charisma isn’t just for extroverts.
  • Ken Rea’s 7 charisma qualities.
  • The 12 “Charismatic Leadership Tactics”.
  • Practical examples of each tactic.
obama charismatic leadership speaking

Can you learn charisma?

The ancient Greeks didn’t think so – and they invented the word.

Charisma comes from the word Charis, meaning “divine gift”.

They believed certain people were blessed with charisma – if you could sway a crowd or command a room, you had a gift from the gods.

Nowadays we’re less likely to view charisma as a divine gift, but people still think of it as something you’re born with – or not

We see musicians strutting the stage, celebrities looking effortlessly cool, and feel like we could never match their magnetism.

But is that right?

As a public speaking coach, I’ve come to view charisma differently – and it’s not just me, there’s been serious academic study into this question.

So, can charisma be learned? 

Yes – let’s see how.

Introverted vs Extroverted Charisma.

People who are naturally shy can sometimes feel they’re inherently uncharismatic.

But it’s not just larger than life extroverts that can exude charisma. A quiet charisma can be equally powerful. 

Think of a figure like Ghandi, leading vast movements of people for peaceful change, with a quiet inner confidence.

Infact, I believe everyone has their own version of charisma, that’s unique to them. 

There’s no one size fits all. It’s not about trying to embody Freddie Mercury or Marilyn Monroe. It’s about tapping into your authentic personality, and letting it shine.

So where to start?

For that, let’s turn to acting coach, Ken Rea.

Ready to feel confident while speaking in public?

Join our next 1-Day Public Speaking Masterclass

Ken Rea’s six qualities of Charisma

Everyone might have their own flavour of charisma, but there are definitely some set-ingredients.

These are the key qualities universally seen in anyone who oozes charisma.

The acting coach Ken Rea describes these 6 ingredients for charisma as follows:

  • Warmth
  • Enthusiasm
  • Passion
  • Animation
  • Forward energy
  • Strong listening 
 

By thinking in terms of a mixture of qualities, rather than a “mysterious gift”, we’re one step closer to understanding – and finding – your charisma.

Do you come off as cold or harsh when speaking?
Work on communicating more warmly.

Do you struggle to speak with enthusiasm?
Practise speaking with more energy.

Listening skills let you down?
Try to be more present when others speak.

With each of these “building blocks” you add, your level of trust, likeability, and charisma will increase. 

When you’ve mastered the full set, people will believe you were “born with a gift” for charm and persuasion. 

But what about some practical tips?
Let’s dig a little deeper.

Charismatic Leadership Tactics

Professor John Antonakis at Lauselle University pioneered a study into answering the question: 

“Can charisma be learned”?

He took a group of MBA students and mid-level managers, none of whom had experience with public speaking.

They were each instructed to deliver a speech, with the audience rating their perceived level of trust, likeability and charisma.

The speakers were then taught 12 “Charismatic Leadership Tactics”. These were 12 specific tactics that the researchers believed would give someone more charisma.

The speakers delivered their speech again, this time applying the 12 CLT’s.

The results were impressive – some speakers scored up to 60% higher on their audience score, simply by applying some of the 12 tactics.

So can charisma be learned? 

According to Antonakis, absolutely: 

“Anyone trained in what we call ‘charismatic leadership tactics’ (CLTs) can become more influential, trustworthy, and “leaderlike”.

Buckle-up, because we’re about to dive into the 12 Charismatic Leadership Tactics that Antonakis discovered. For each one, I’ll give you an example of how to apply it in the context of public speaking and leadership.

Let’s get started!

charismatic speaker scorecard

Discover Your Charisma Score!

The Charismatic Speaker Scorecard benchmarks your ability to speak in an engaging way, and identifies opportunities to improve based on three key areas:
  1. Confident Mindset
  2. Compelling Content
  3. Engaging Delivery
Take the scorecard to find out how ready you are to speak in public – and receive a report that’ll tell you exactly what to work on.

Free!

(1) Use Metaphors, Similes and Analogies.

If you want to get an idea across to your audience, it’s useful to explain it in terms they already understand.

A good metaphor, simile or analogy makes the complicated simple, and the unknown feel familiar – making them powerful tools in your communication arsenal. 

A client of mine was tasked with delivering a presentation about the 100+ year history of the company.

We decided to use an analogy around the evolution of man, as a way of describing the evolution of the company. Starting in their early “hunter gatherer” days, developing a culture, and finally progressing to their modern evolved state. It took what could have been a dull and predictable topic, and transformed it into something novel and engaging

Another client of mine used a simile to describe his work in Cybersecurity. He explained the layers of cyber-security security (passwords, encryption, etc) in relation to the security of a physical building – a guard outside, doors to get in, reception check-in, CCTV cameras, etc.

Whatever you’re trying to explain in a speech or presentation – and especially if it’s something new, or complex – finding a metaphor, analogy or simile can be a powerful way to get across your point – and boost your charisma in the process.

(2) Use Stories and Anecdotes.

Humans are storytelling machines. It’s how our language evolved, and is still – by far – the most powerful way to communicate with people. 

But many business leaders don’t take advantage of storytelling. They speak in facts, figures, data and decisions – but miss out on making the emotional connection of a story.

Whenever I begin a team training course, I make a point of starting with my own story. I explain to the group how I developed social anxiety, how it threw my life into chaos, but ultimately, led me to speaking, acting and founding Project Charisma to help others.

It only takes a few minutes, but sharing my story immediately helps people to feel understood, to lower their guard, and to connect with me before we’ve even got started. 

Personal stories can be some of the most powerful – challenges overcome, setbacks faced, critical moments along your journey. 

But a brief anecdote can be equally useful – a humorous encounter, a short parable, a client story.

If you’re lacking ideas, keeping a story-diary can be a helpful habit. What interesting, unusual or insightful experiences have you been through? Big or small? 

Make a list, then make a point of sharing them.

(3) Deploying Contrast.

While working as an actor, I used to hear a common phrase in rehearsals:

“Light and shade”

It describes the contrast of emotions in an actor’s performance that make it engaging to watch. One minute they’re distraught – then a new thought occurs – and a different emotion comes through. 

Contrast is a powerful tool in speaking, too. 

To get across your point more powerfully, communicate it alongside its opposite – use the light to highlight the shade. 

Here’s an example from JFKs famous quote:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

The second line here is so memorable, because of the contrast created by the first. 

Here’s another from JFK:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

Again – the impact of the last line comes from the contrast with the first.

In describing it this way, he galvanised the American public behind a shared ideal that they, as a people, “do hard things”.

Contrast isn’t just for high-stakes political messaging though, It can be used for everyday influence

When I’m explaining to people that my public speaking training has a focus on practical experience, I use contrast to make this point more powerful – saying: 

“Our training isn’t about sitting down, taking notes, and watching others – it’s about getting on your feet, facing your fears, and learning through practice”.

If you want to harness contrast in your communications, think about the positive sentiments you’re trying to get across, then outline the opposite first.

The more light and shade you find, the more charisma you’ll have. 

(4) Asking rhetorical questions.

What is a rhetorical question?

The version familiar to most of us is simply a question that doesn’t require an answer – your audience is supposed to simply think about it.

But the most powerful rhetorical questions are those that make the point themselves

Your audience doesn’t need to think of the answer, because it’s implied by the question itself. Hearing it alone gives them a silent “a-ha” moment.

Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice:

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

The answer to these questions needs no explaining, it’s implicit

Done right, a well-timed rhetorical question can enthuse your message with charisma. 

The mistake I see most speakers making is rushing the delivery.

For a rhetorical question to land, it has to be followed by a pause – giving the audience time to process, understand, and feel the emotion. If you speak too quickly to your next sentence, the impact gets lost.

Rhetorical questions can be a key part of your communication arsenal, but make sure your pause gives time for the magic to happen.

Next up, using the power of three.

(5) Speaking in Triads.

“Education, education, education!”

If you’re from the UK, you might remember this soundbite from former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He repeated it through his election campaign, helping the Labour party to win.

It’s a great example of speaking in triads – using the power of three to make your message stick.

As humans, we’re inclined to remember information that comes in threes. The theory is that this suits our evolved skill of pattern recognition – three being the minimum number of anything needed to make a pattern. 

When you speak in triads, and deliver information in threes, people tend to understand and remember more easily. 

This can be done in a number of ways.

You can repeat one word three times like the example above. 

You can also use different words, but with a rhythm that includes three distinct beats, such as: “I came, I saw, I conquered” – or in its original form, “Veni, vidi vici”. 

Here, the rhythm itself is making the information more memorable.  

You can also use the power of thee within the structure of your communications. A beginning, middle and end when storytelling. Talking about the past, present and future, splitting your argument into three key points.

However you implement the rule of three, it’ll help your ideas to stick, and your message to resonate.

I even used it on my website homepage, where the “hero title” reads: “Speak up, stand out, find your voice”. 

But what about connecting with your audience? That’s next.

(6) Reflect group sentiments

If you want people to listen, start by making them feel heard.

This is the power of reflecting group sentiments – showing understanding and empathy with your audience.

In a sales setting, this can mean acknowledging obstacles the person may have: “I understand this is a big investment for your business, and why you want to think this through – I would feel exactly the same”. 

Notice how this doesn’t involve trying to win them round, or persuade them to think differently?

That might come later, but first – it’s purely about acknowledging the current situation. 

This reflection tactic can also be used to rouse a team, or motivate your staff: “Look, I know the past 6 months have been difficult. We’ve all felt the pressure. I know that some of you have been asked to go above and beyond. But we’re on the right track, and better times are ahead.”

Great leaders are great listeners. If you want to be viewed as charismatic, demonstrate to people you’ve listened by reflecting sentiments back to them. 

Another thing great leaders need is conviction.

(7) Express Moral Convictions

Conviction is a powerful force. It has launched armies, started religions, and inspired movements.

When someone has true conviction in what they say, we can’t help but be drawn in. 

The researchers found that demonstrating such convictions was a key tactic of charismatic communicators. By linking their message with “doing the right thing”, it resonated with more people. 

This doesn’t mean paying lip-service to the latest cause. Years of “virtue signalling” by companies and politicians have made most people highly aware (and turned off) by this.

Instead, it’s about having an authentic desire to follow your principles, and “walk the walk”.

If your business, work, or services align to a “higher good” or support a meaningful cause, make sure it’s something you share. And if you’re persuading people to adopt a new change, or take a new direction – make sure you communicate the deeper meaning and moral reasons for this. 

We’re all driven by certain morals – to help others, to improve the world, to support our family, to achieve excellence. 

To be more charismatic, speak more about your convictions.

(8-9) Set High Expectations & Communicate Confidence

Charismatic speakers set high expectations for themselves – and crucially, for others too.

It’s a powerful thing to have someone believe in you. To hold you to a higher standard. To see that you’re capable of more than you realised. This is why people pay thousands to attend a Tony Robbins event – to be held to a higher standard. 

We all crave encouragement, and charismatic speakers who set daring goals, help us to see further. 

They push the bounds of what’s possible, allowing us to imagine bigger and bolder futures.

Take this quote from Elon Musk:

“30 years from now, there will be a base on the Moon, and on Mars, and people will be going back and forth on SpaceX rockets”

Certainly a high expectation – but one that we dare to believe, might just happen. 

But what about communicating confidence?

There’s no point telling everyone your dizzying goals if they don’t believe you. It requires a certain level of confidence – and conviction – for this to actually land. You must believe in what you say, and be able to back up your big goals. 

The first 1-9 tactics have all been about “what you say”. 

Next up, let’s take a look at the final 3 – which cover “how to say it”.

(10-11-12) Use Facial Expressions, Gestures, and Varied Voice.

When I’m training people to speak in public, we always start with these fundamentals:

Body language and voice.

Or, verbal + non-verbal communication. 

Body Language because it’s the first thing people see – the first impression you make. And voice, because it’s the first thing people hear. Both can make-or-break your crediblity

The researchers found the following to be crucial:

  • Using varied facial expressions.
  • Using gestures when speaking.
  • Using vocal variety in your voice.

These are all things that humanise and energise your delivery.

They give you the qualities of “warmth, passion, enthusiasm and forward movement” that we mentioned earlier.

Without facial expressions, gestures, or variety in your voice – you come across as an emotionless robot, the very opposite of charismatic!

These are topics which I’ve covered in-depth in other articles. 

So for now let’s just say: what you say is crucial, but so is how you say it. 

Developing your Charismatic Leadership skills.

So what have we learned? Let’s recap: 

  • Charisma is not an elusive gift bestowed upon a select few; it’s a set of skills and qualities that can be learned and cultivated.
  • Charisma is personal, adaptable, and within reach for everyone.
  • By focusing on warmth, enthusiasm, passion, animation, forward energy, and strong listening, you can build your charisma brick by brick.
  • Incorporating tactics such as metaphors, stories, rhetorical questions, and the power of three enhances your communication prowess.
  • Finally, the importance of non-verbal communication—facial expressions, gestures, and vocal variety—cannot be overstated.

Now you have the tactics for charisma, what next?

First, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Start by incorporating a few tactics into each interaction, making them an integral part of your speaking style. 

Embrace your uniqueness, learn from those around you, and watch as your charisma evolves into a powerful force in your personal and professional life.

So, go ahead, apply these tactics, embrace the journey, and let your charisma shine. Your speaking success awaits.

To your charismatic endeavours,

Ed

charismatic speaker scorecard

Discover Your Charisma Score!

The Charismatic Speaker Scorecard benchmarks your ability to speak in an engaging way, and identifies opportunities to improve based on three key areas:
  1. Confident Mindset
  2. Compelling Content
  3. Engaging Delivery
Take the scorecard to find out how ready you are to speak in public – and receive a report that’ll tell you exactly what to work on.

Free!