In a Nutshell: If I had to use one word to describe Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, it would be Actionable. Cabane presents a model of charisma that is easily understood and remembered: Charisma = Power + Warmth + Presence. More importantly, she provides a myriad of exercises that, if deliberately practiced, will help a person develop and hone the skill of charisma.
Recommended Reading For: Everyone
Where to Buy: Here
Just Another Motivational Self-Help Book?
Cabane takes charisma—seemingly nebulous and unattainable—and unpacks it, showing it to be a highly attainable skill. All you need to do to become charismatic is follow a handful of simple steps.
This was my understanding of The Charisma Myth when I first read about it. And it sounded too good to be true. I tend to be wary of self-help or self-improvement books. Very few offer much in terms of practical, actionable exercises/advice. Most of these types of books present what I think of as mindset templates or motivational mantras that are really glorified (and extremely long) pep talks. They lack scientific rigor, practical application, or are just plain unmemorable. You just can’t be sure if they work or not.
I read the introduction and my fears disappeared. I kept reading. I couldn’t stop.
Instead of resorting to motivational platitudes, Cabane introduces her own paradigm of what charisma is composed of: Power, Warmth, and Presence. The equation works because it’s so simple. Not only does it make sense, but it pins charisma down to be easily conceptualized and developed.
And it has mental staying power. Once I grasped this paradigm, I’ve been hard pressed to let it go. Since reading the Introduction, I have been unconsciously developing an internal “Power/Warmth/Presence Gauge” in my interactions with friends, colleagues, and clients. Very few simple concepts have had such an immediate practical impact in my life. I won’t waste our time speculating why this might be. Simply put, Cabane’s equation just plain makes sense.
Exercises for Deliberate Practice
According to K. Anders Ericsson, to master a skill one must engage in deliberate practice. Apart from practicing regularly, this involves pushing one’s limits of ability and receiving immediate feedback. Cabane’s charisma exercises have both of these aspects. Even better, the exercises are scalable and will be useful even for experts.
For example, let’s examine Cabane’s “Destigmatizing Discomfort” exercise. The purpose of this sequence is to lessen the impact of whatever negative emotion you might be experiencing at the time. The process involves three steps: acknowledging the emotion is normal, accepting that people you admire have gone through the same emotion, and remembering that others are going through the same emotion at the very moment you are. This is quite a simple exercise. I urge you to try it before reading on.
Now let’s break it down. The exercise will push one’s ability to tolerate negative emotions. If you’ve done the exercise, you will have found that the sense of relief is real and immediate. The process is deceptively simple but effective. More importantly, it is easily internalized. Someone who just learned this exercise might take a minute or more to feel its effects. However, you can easily imagine someone practiced in the process to take less than space of a breath to destigmatize an emotion. In fact, watch a speech made by someone you admire. You may find that this exercise (or some variation of it) is used more often that you might imagine.
Importance of Conscious Practice
It might strike you that many of the exercises in the book are obvious. Of course this exercise works, you might think. You may even have been using many of the techniques unconsciously. But how many of them have you been practicing consciously?
Remember that you must practice deliberately to truly master a skill. The Charisma Myth presents a series of exercises that will help you be conscious of how exactly to train your charisma muscles. So even if you are more self-aware than most, this book may give you an even more solid framework than you had before.
Application and Conclusion
Personally, I have found immediate positive effects from the information Cabane presents. I note a marked improvement in the attention span of my students when I focus on my warmth and voice intonation (Chapter 8). My clients seem more open as I practice more effective body language (Chapter 9).
These might seem minor things at first, but the more attentive and open my students and clients are, the better I can help them. My students and clients get more benefit and my services gain more attention as a result.
I give this book a 10 out of 10. I can’t recommend this book any higher. The information presented in The Charisma Myth has immediate benefits. Even the most experienced and self-aware of professionals will be able to find something useful in Cabane’s book. At the very least, it will serve as a conscious reminder for those who have mastered the skills of charisma.