Captivate: Summary & Review

captivate book cover

Captivate (2017) is a social skills book in which author Vanessa van Edwards shares strategies for learning social skills, as well as a variety of social tips and insights on how to captivate, gain power and status, and make others like you.

Bullet Summary

  • Learn the 3 layers of personality types and tailor your communication to them
  • Gesticulate as much as possible when giving a presentation
  • Listen to what people brag about and complain about to find their values


About the Author: Vanessa van Edwards defines herself as a recovering awkward person, and she’s also the author of People School and Body Language of Love.

#1. Do What You Like

Vanessa says that “always say yes” is terrible advice and that you will not be successful following the “fake it until you make it mantra”.

She says instead you should develop your own social game plan. Find out what you like socially and make those your thriving locations.

My note:
fair point, but if you’re really serious about getting good, you should push yourself.

  1. Staying at the edge of your comfort zone helps a lot in improving quickly as explained in The Talent Code,
  2.  You can “force” yourself into something and still enjoy it. Often the first few minutes are tough and then it gets fun, as rightfully spotted by Jeanne Martinet in The Art of Mingling.

The mindset is: stick through your fears long enough, they will become your addictions.

Social Spots

Vanessa says social events often will have spots highly conducive to positive interactions and other spots which should be avoided.

The entrance should be avoided, for example, while a great spot is right at the exit of the buffet or the bar.
Once people got their food or drink they are often desperate to speak to someone.

#2. Make a Great First Impression

Vanessa says we decide whether or not we like someone long before we first hear them speak.
We quickly try to answer three questions about people we meet.
Are you:
  • friend or foe (you answer it with a hands gesture);
  • winner or loser (you answer with body language and posture);
  • ally or enemy (you answer it with eye contact)?
Hand Gestures: Vanessa says pockets are “murderers of rapport” and you should use hand gestures and show your hands as much as possible.
Body Language: Winners take up space (high power poses), and Vanessa says you should always keep a good posture and open body language. Also, she reminds us that power poses give us confidence and weaker poses make us feel unconfident. So when checking our phone we should raise it up.

Eye Contact: looking at someone a lot says to that person “I like you”. Hold eye contact to produce trust and gaze to build connection. Vanessa van Edwards mentions Brene Brown’s TedTalk and how she used eye contact to build a connection with the audience (here’s Brene’s great book summary).

I think it’s a bit preposterous to say “you answer this question with the hands and that question with body language”. All parts co-exist and co-contribute. Eye contact won’t only tell us “ally or enemy”, but also if we’re “winners or losers”.

#3. Sparks

Vanessa talks a lot about “hot buttons” -what people love- and being unique.

My Note:
I’m personally not a big fan of uniqueness though, especially if it’s uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake.

#4. Be Interested

Captivate says that talking about ourselves releases dopamine and makes us feel good.

Hence, quoting Carnegie with “to be interesting be interested”, the gist is that you should talk less and listen more.

#5. Highlighting

Part of the highlighting method:
  • celebrate other people’s successes
  • introduce people with a big explanatory compliment
  • let people impress you rather than trying to impress them

#6. How to Be Likeable

Vanessa says we like people who are like us because it’s more likely we’ll get along well with each other (similarity principle of liking). We like people who are dressed like us and think like us.

Captivate righteously reminds us that one of the biggest mistakes people do is to highlight differences rather than similarities.

#7. Crack Someone’s Personality

Vaness delves into the Big Five personality traits: Openness, consciousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN).

  • Openness: how open you are to new ideas and trying new things (Variety seeker or routine person).
  • Consciousness measures your self-discipline. High tend to have to-do lists, low ones find strict schedules constrictive.
  • Extroversion: high get energy from being with people and tend to be cheerful and talkative; low drain energy from being with people and crave being alone;
  • Agreeableness: how you work with others, empathy, and forgiveness. High are empathetic and easy to get along with; low is more analytical, like to take decisions without emotions and tend to be more skeptical.
  • Neuroticisms how warrior you are

Vanessa says that when she started understanding people through the lenses of the Big Five personality traits, her conversation and human interactions started flowing much more smoothly.

#8. Appreciate

Vanessa quotes Gary Chapman 5 love languages to explain the different ways people show appreciation for one another:
  • Words of Affirmation: Show love with words
  • Gifts: Show love with gifts or with tokens
  • Physical Touch: Show love with physical touch such as hugs, caressing, cuddling
  • Service: Show love by helping someone out
  • Quality Time: Show love by spending time with the people they love

Many issues in a relationship can be explained by the couple having different ways of expressing their love. If you’re curious about your love language you can take the test here.

#9. Values

Vanessa van Edwards says all interactions are transactions (read the law of social exchange).

The major resources being traded are:

  • Love: gaining acceptance, affection and likability;
  •  Service: support and care;
  • Status: responsibility, praise and titles to evoke pride;
  • Money: currency;
  • Goods: tangible products;
  • Information: advice, ideas and teaching.

We need all 6 but we take what we need most and give what we have in abundance. For example, people with low self-esteem look for likes on their Facebook pages.

How To Find Out People’s Values

Captivate explains that a great way to find out people’s values is to look at what they complain about or what they brag about.

#10. How to Lead People

If you want to get buy-in, you have to explain your why.

And to give control and ownership, avoid micromanaging and let people own their tasks (the autonomy principle in Drive).

What I loved most about this chapter is Vanessa’s great advice on how to best give tasks: you don’t just assign them, but give them to the people with the right skill.

And then… ?

Then tell them they are the best for it because they are the most talented for it.

Also, read:

How to Be A Leader: 13 Laws From Social-Psychology

#11. How to Deal With Difficult People

Vanessa van Edwards speaks a bit about the low road and high road and “emotion hijacking” when our fears take us over.

She then goes on with a brilliant dialogue between a man and a woman to point out that when someone complains to us we should resist the urge of going into solution mode and do listen longer instead.

#12. Engage: How to Turn People On

Popular people are more attuned to other people’s popularity.

They are more attuned to social signals, social hierarchy, and relationships. Popular people also care more about these topics.

So if you want to be popular, I’m afraid that means you need to be attuned to the game of popularity.
Same for office politics: to be good at office politics, you need to learn the game of office politics.

captivate book cover


  • Mayers-Briggs Test

This test is (not so good) pop psychology.

Say the psychologist researchers authors of the Handbook of Research Methods in Social & Personality Psychology:

Without much evidence for its external, structural, or substantive validity, the MBTI nonetheless became the most popular personality questionnaire in this country.

  • Lots Upsell 

Captivate has constant invites to check Vanessa’s website.

The advertised link did not take me to any resource though but to a sign-up page.
That felt a bit wrong to me.

  • Some Counterproductive Tips

My opinion is that some tips can be counterproductive.

For example, you don’t ask a woman if she “can give you her number”.

And you won’t look socially appealing starting a convo by saying you want to “test a convo starter”.

Captivate Review

Captivate introduced me to some new great ideas.

Some other parts, I don’t fully agree with. In my opinion, Captivate is a bit too much into “standing out” and “being unique”.
But seeking uniqueness is not an inherently high-quality trait.

Further Reading
If you are reading this summary to improve your social skills, check out my Social Skills Summaries.

Get Captivate
If you enjoyed this summary Get the book on Amazon.

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