The Charisma Myth: Summary & Review

the charisma myth

The Charisma Myth (2012) teaches readers how to be more charismatic. Olivia Fox Cabane, the author, shares tons of great wisdom and insights with both good psychology and lots of practical tips.

Bullet Summary

  • Charisma is something we can all learn
  • Charisma is presence, warmth and power. Too much warmth = too nice, too much power = arrogant and distant
  • There can be some downside to charisma like jealousy and isolation: use vulnerability

Full Summary

About the Author: Olivia Fox Cabane earned two degrees in law, but then started getting into social skills and charisma because she was just too bad with people. She had to learn charisma and social skills and, eventually, turned to teach others how to learn charisma and social skills.


We can all learn charisma.
You don’t have to be naturally outgoing or handsome. Indeed charisma will make you make your more attractive.
And introverts can be very charismatic as well and it’s actually an advantage for certain forms of charisma.

3 quick tips for charisma boosts:

  1. Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of the sentences
  2. Reduce your speed and quantity of nodding
  3. Pause for two seconds before you reply

We Assess First: Friend or Foe, Intentions & Power

Olivia Cabane says that upon first meeting someone we want to assess whether they are friends or foes.
And whether they have the power to act on those intentions.

That’s true, and based on this innate human drive, we also derive one of our basic laws of power here.

Also read:

Power Strategy 101: High-Power / High-Warmth

The Three Elements of Charisma

The three elements of charisma for Cabane are:

  1. Presence
  2. Power
  3. Warmth

Power without warmth is impressive but can come across as cold, arrogant, and standoffish. Warmth without power can be likable and can come across as subservient and eager to please.

I agree with that.
Also see:


Presence being aware of what’s going on.
When we are not present in the conversation or in the environment it shows and we are not charismatic.

Here is how to acquire more presence:

  • Learn presence with meditation
  • When your mind wanders focus on your breath or toes to come back to the present


Power is the ability to affect the world around us, whether it be on influence or power over others.

You recognize power based on:

  • Appearance
  • Other people’s reaction to us
  • Body language


Warmth is the goodwill we have towards others. It says whether we want to use our power to help others or to harm them.

Obstacles to Presence, Power & Warmth

The following are common obstacles to unleashing our presence, power, and warmth:

Physical Discomfort

Physical discomfort affects our mental states which in turn affects our expressions, body language and social skills performances.
To combat physical discomfort:

  • Wear clothes that fit well
  • Eat well 
  • Get all the rest you need
  • Recognize: take a moment to notice if you’re tense
    • Fix it: fix what bothering you
    • Reframe it: see it in a different light. How is it good, how can you use it?

Mental Discomfort

Anxiety, dissatisfaction, self-criticism, or self-doubt make you uncharismatic

  • Fix uncertainty like this:
    1. Lie down, close your eyes and relax
    2. Take 2 or 3 deep breaths. Imagine the air in, then exhale all your worries
    3. Imagine a benevolent entity of your choice (God, Fate, the Universe, etc)
    4. Imagine they come to collect all your worries
    5. Feel the weight being lifted off
  • Avoid comparisons: you must stop yourself every time you compare yourself to others
  • Avoid self-criticism: we perceive imaginary attacks as real ones

Self Doubts

  • Impostor Syndrome: we don’t believe we are good enough for our tasks
  • Know that most people feel the same way can help reduce their power 
  • When you feel nervous remind yourself it’s normal being nervous

Overcoming the obstacles

Chapter four of The Charisma Myth is all about overcoming the obstacles.
Olivia presents a three-step process:

  1. Destigmatize Discomfort
    • Realize discomfort is normal
    • Realize everyone feels the same way
    • Stop trying to stop discomfort
    • With 7 billion people, know that many feel the same way: it’s a communal effort and you’re not alone
    • Think of people who have gone through it before, especially those you admire
  2. Neutralize negativity
    • We are programmed to focus on negative outcomes: combat it by focusing on positives
    • Remind yourself that you may have a more negative representation of reality
    • Thoughts are just brain electrical impulses: knowing it makes it easier to dismiss them
    • Name negative experiences and depersonalize (“there is shame” instead of “I’m ashamed”, also read Daring Greatly)
    • Imagine the whole world and slowly zoom towards you: you’re not alone
    • Consider times you’ve previously felt the same and done well
    • Neutralizing is not the same as suppressing: don’t try to suppress negative thoughts!
  3. Rewrite reality
    • Imagine what’s good about your negative situation
    • Imagine all the future positive scenarios this negative one will create

In a nutshell, when you are in uncomfortable situations:

  1. Shake and remove physical discomfort
  2. De-dramatize: the feelings are normal because that’s how the brain is wired
  3. De-stigmatize: millions have felt and are feeling the same way
  4. Neutralize: your thoughts have a negative bias and may not be accurate
  5. Re-frame: think of how what’s happening is or will be positive or how you can make it positive right now

Remember, one of the most charismatic things you can do is to get comfortable with discomfort. The best approach to do it is to lean into the discomfort instead of denying it or trying to suppress it.

Stretching your comfort zone

  • Hold eye contact for longer than it’s comfortable
  • Violate personal spaces
  • Hold the elevator for everyone, enter the last face towards the people
  • Start a conversation with a stranger

Exercises to get comfortable with the uncomfortable:

  • The best way to do this is to delve straight into it rather than try to deny or suppress it.
  • This allows you to achieve full presence (a highly charismatic trait) as well as provide sensations to focus on rather than how unbearable the situation is
  • Learn to stretch your comfort zone by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. (I.E attempt to hold eye contact longer than is comfortable, violate your personal space bubble a little bit)

Creating Charismatic Mental States

Olivia Fox Cabane proposes many techniques to control our mental state.


  • Visualize a time you were confident and crushed it
    • Imagine every detail of that situation
  • If you’re about to go through something such as a big speech:
    • Visualize yourself being highly confident and winning over the crowd
    • Imagine receiving a giant 20 seconds hug from someone you care about: it will release oxytocin which calms the flight or fight response down


Gratitude is the antidote to resentment, neediness, and desperation

  • When a minor annoyance bothers you, take a minute to appreciate your health, life, decent weather, design and texture of buildings etc.
  • Imagine yourself from a 3rd person view, and write all of the positive things you can observe


Goodwill is great to become warmer

  • Find three things to appreciate of someone
  • Visualize people as wearing angel wings

Self Compassion

  • Self-confidence is our belief in our ability to do or learn something
  • Self-esteem is how much we approve or value ourselves. It’s a comparison based evaluation.
  • Self-compassion is how much warmth we can have for ourselves. It’s based on self-acceptance

Studies show it’s healthier to focus on self-compassion rather than self-esteem because it’s not based on others.

  • Exercise: List 5 ways you already care for yourself when you’re having a hard time
  • Exercise: take several deep breaths; imagine someone who loves you; let them tell you that you are forgiven and that everything about you is perfect, everything down to your imperfections. Even as you are right now, you are perfect.

Using Your Body to Change Your Mind

Our mind affects our body language, but the opposite is also true.

  • Use propose posture, take up space with confidence poses and smile
  • Chose your music carefully: it heavily affects your mood 

Charismatic First Impressions

People like those who are similar to us. In both speech, demeanor, appearance, etc.

Break The Ice

  • Compliment something someone is wearing.
  • Ask an open-ended question, ie.:  “What’s the story behind that, where is it from, etc.”
  • Using lingo that relates to what they are interested (same as Leil Lowndes recommends)

Graceful Exits

  • Don’t linger until it’s weird: leave on a high note
  • Offer them something when you leave
  • Don’t worry about what you said, or what to say: A MIT study shows that how you make them feel matters
  • If you need to save someone from a conversation, focus your warmth and charisma on the person who’s going to lose and ask“I’m really sorry, but X is needed to do Y, would you mind if I take them?”. This gives them the impression they had a say in the matter and avoids hurting their feelings.

Speaking and Listening with Charisma

To listen with charisma be present, don’t interrupt and process what others said for two seconds before speaking.

To speak with charisma

  • Speak about positive topics
  • Make people feel good when you speak to them
  • Find positive connotations 
  • Take a compliment in full: don’t negate and don’t say “it’s nothing” or you make the person who gave you the compliment feel they were wrong to compliment you
  • “You can get more friends in two months by becoming truly interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”-Dale Carnegie.
  • Use metaphors and create images
    • But don’t use images when discussing negative things.

Deliver High Value

  • Speaking to someone means you demand time and attention. So you must deliver on it
  • Make what you’re saying entertaining
  • Give interesting or helpful information
  • Find a way to arouse good feelings

Voice Power

  • Speak lowly, and slowly
  • Pause frequently
  • Lower intonation at the end of sentences
  • Smile: it heavily affects how you sound and speak

Also check: Vocal Power by Roger Love.

Charismatic Body Language

Mirror Body 

  • Mimic the motions of those you are speaking to: it creates a sense of trust
  • Be selective: if you copy all weird body language you will arouse suspicion (and some motions may be gender-specific)
  • Use variations in amplitude. If they go big with a motion, maybe go small.
  • Only do what’s comfortable
  • Don’t mirror someone who is angry: break them from their angry pose by handing them something or something, then move into a non-angry one.

Be the Big Gorilla

Regal Posture

  • Imagine James Bond: doesn’t fidget, doesn’t look to earn approval 
  • Don’t reassure or please people you speak to. Assume that you are already bringing enough and that they have to bring the rest.

Don’t Overdo It

  • Now that you are conveying power, be careful not to overdo it, as you might intimidate some people
  • Keep soft eyes
  • Tilt your head down just a bit. This seems respectful, and makes you seem more knowledgeable

Difficult Situations

To deal with difficult people:

Divide and Conquer

  • Don’t try to win over a big group of people at once.
  • Understand which strategy you want to use with each person.

Make them Rationalize in Your Favor

  • Use the Benjamin Franklin effect: ask someone to do you a favor and it will make you seem more likable (cognitive dissonance as per Festinger, 1957).
  • Ask for their opinion, which will make them feel more valued
  • Find a way to remind them of a past time they helped out, and attempt to praise them for the warmth they had for doing that
  • Find a way to present your idea as based on their previous idea or action

Expressing Appreciation

  • Show appreciation by saying stuff like ,”You did a great job!” rather than “Great job!”
    • Appreciate specific traits and action
    • Remind people they had a choice with you, and express gratitude. That will further make them happy with their decision.
  • Show people how their involvement has helped: they will feel driven to help support it (also read Drive)

Delivering Bad News

  • Increase comfort as much as possible
  • Have distractions such as items for them to fidget with, candlelight, or background music
  • Prepare yourself to come from a place of compassion when you speak

Presenting With Charisma

  • Make the core message as simple as possible (ideally in one sentence)
  • Use stories with characters similar to the audience
  • Start on a high note and end on a high note: don’t end with a Q&A
  • Stand with a wide stance
  • Arrive early to study the stage and own it

Delivering Criticism

  • Find a comfortable and quiet environment
  • Get specific with your criticisms
  • Depersonalize: let them know it’s about their behavior, not them
    • “When you wait till the last possible minute to work on the presentation, I get nervous.” is the proper critique. “Why do you feel the need to wait till the last possible minute?” Is not
  • Start on a positive note, such as bringing up their accomplishments
  • End on a positive note.

Also read: Thanks For The Feedback

Types of Charisma

There are four types of charisma:

  1. Focus: Elon Musk, all about presence. Listening and zooming in into what people say making them feel listened and understood. The risk is little warmth and coming across submissive, don’t use when you need to be authoritative and need immediate compliance
  2. Visionary: Steve Jobs, great to make people believe you, requires you project full belief in what you say and full confidence you can achieve it. The vision should ideally include something for good
  3. Kindness: Dalai Lama, primarily focused on warmth, great to create an emotional bond and make people feel welcome; avoid when you need to be authoritative
  4. Authority: The most powerful of them all, based on status and confidence. Stalin and Mussolini leverage authority charisma. They are not necessarily likable, like Michael Jordan. The risks are that people will not tell you the truth because they’re too intimidated

Different styles better suit different personalities and different environments.

the charisma myth

The Charisma Myth Audiobook

Here is a nice video summary, but keep neither this summary nor this video captures the whole vastity of this great book.
On Youtube there is also the full audiobook at the time of writing.

Real-Life Applications

Develop Self Compassion Instead of Self Esteem
Self Esteem is focused on us in comparison to others. That’s fragile. Self-compassion is based on acceptance instead and it’s antifragile (also read: the antifragile ego).

Imagine a Giant Hug to Calm Yourself
Since I have been reading a lot on self-development books, many of the techniques and information in The Charisma Myth were not new.
Yet the giant hug was a pearl and seemed. Thinking of a big hug from someone you care about releases oxytocin which will calm you down.

Carefully Choose Your Music
The music we listen to heavily influences our mood and thoughts. Choose it carefully.

Don’t Say “don’t worry”, “don’t hesitate to call” and “no problem”
It’s likely that people will focus and remember those exact keywords you don’t want them to focus on.

Answer Phone Professionally And Get Warm When You Realize Who It Is
When you answer the phone in a neutral and distant tone and then get warm when you realize who it is, you will make them feel special


  • Harsh Yes, Effective… Not Always

The author recommends one of her clients to go with a very graphic mantra to get the people in his organization to comply.
And adds about her choice that “it’s harsh, but it works”.

However, that’s not always true. As Elliot Aronson very well explains, harsh messages can have the opposite effect unless the audience has high self-esteem, can act on the recommendation, and knows how to act on it.
For a book on so much good stuff on psychology and influencing, that was an important detail I needed to point out.

  • Imagine You’re A Big Gorilla Charging Down The Street
Somehow I found that advice on body language to be way too overbearing.
  • Clinton Asking Janitors For Foreign Policy
Clinton is a typical example of how to be charming and making people feel good. But was he really going around asking staffers and janitors of the white house for recommendations on foreign policy? Somehow that story sounded bogus to me.


In-Depth Overview on Charisma
The book is longish, but it doesn’t repeat the same thing over and over: it’s thorough.

Lots of Practical Tips
The Charisma Myth has a very practical bias: lots of exercise and super useful tips.

Good Psychology
The book has good theory, Olivia Fox Cabane does have a good grasp of psychology.


“The Charisma Myth” is all in one: theory on charisma + exercises + lots of practical tips.

If you are familiar with NLP techniques, Tony Robbins, body language, and social skills some of the content will not be new to you.
But as someone who is familiar with all of them, I can say this book is thorough and high quality.

I recommend it.
Also see:

Or get the book on Amazon

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