Monday, 6 August 2012


What is it? Who has it? Can we learn to develop it or do we have to be born with it? Why does this intangible attribute have such immense effect on us? Either way it is an essential tool in the Showman's arsenal, the Illuminated Showman explores.

The term charisma (pronounced /kəˈrɪzmə/; pl. charismata, adj. charismatic) has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent.  {Wiki}
Here at this blog we have previously mined the interconnectedness and shared origins of the Shaman and the Showman, so for us these two different definitions are not as separate as one might first think.

The man who defined the secular use of the word was Max Weber he applies the term to
[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader [...] How the quality in question would be ultimately judged from an ethical, aesthetic, or other such point of view is naturally indifferent for the purpose of definition."
As a general attitude I would say charismatic Showmen are passionate explorers who view their work as play and has a playful and easy attitude to life tinged with some deep seriousness like a brush with death or hard won knowledge.

What is it?

Strange attractors.
In many ways charisma is like life. We know what it is but when someone asks for you to describe it in more detail the understanding seems to evaporate like petrol on hot tarmac. Since there is no one characteristic which defines life we describe it rather than define it. We say something is alive if it has all or most of certain criteria such it seems to be with charisma as well. One man which have been researching the slippery notion of charisma for the last thirty years is the psychologist Ronald Reggio. "Charismatic people are essentially brilliant communicators," he says. Through his research Reggio has has distilled six traits which he thinks are essential characteristics of charisma.

Emotional expressiveness. Charismatic individuals express their feelings spontaneously and genuinely. This allows them to affect the moods and emotions of others. We all know charismatic people who seem to "light up the room" when they enter. They typically express positive affect, but they can also stir us up when they are angry or irritated.
Emotional sensitivity. This is the ability to read others' emotions, and allows the charismatic person to make an emotional connection by responding to their feelings. Just yesterday someone commented (for about the hundredth time) that Bill Clinton has a special ability to emotionally connect with people - to "make the person feel like he or she is the only person in the room."
Emotional control. Truly charismatic individuals have the ability to control and regulate their emotional displays. They don't "fly off the handle" (unless they purposely want to in order to make a point). They are good emotional actors, who can turn on the charm when they need to.
Social expressiveness. This is verbal communication skill and the ability to engage others in social interaction. Charismatic people are skilled and entertaining conversationalists. They certainly affect us with their emotional expressiveness, but there is also power in their words. Nearly all charismatic leaders are effective public speakers.
Social sensitivity. This is skill in reading and interpreting social situations, being able to listen to others, and be "in tune" with them. It helps charismatic persons to be tactful and sensitive to their surroundings.
Social control. Is a sophisticated social role-playing skill that is particularly important for charismatic leaders. It can be seen in the way that charismatic leaders (or everyday "charismatics") carry themselves with poise and grace. It allows them to fit in with all sorts of people and make those emotional and social connections that distinguish charismatic individuals from those of us who possess less personal charisma.
While these are the 6 "building blocks" of personal charisma, and possessing more of each is generally better, it is also critical that people have balance among the various skills. {psychologytoday}


Carlin Flora says in her x-factors of success article:
"A charismatic leader acts as a bonding agent, allowing you to give in to the giddy togetherness of a peace rally or a line dance. You forget yourself in his company and climb into the palm of his hand. This intricate pas de deux is known as synchrony and may be the key to charisma. Synchrony is a marker of rapport; if two people click, they unconsciously adjust their posture and speech rate to each other. Bernieri strongly suspects that charismatic people are natural "attractors" who get others to synchronize to them."
Professor Richard Wiseman found this synchrony to infact be one of the defining characteristics of charisma.
Mark Ryden's Pink Abe Lincoln
"When you see someone else who has charisma, without realising it, you're mimicking their posture and their facial expressions," says Professor Wiseman, a psychologist. "An obvious example is when someone smiles at you and you smile back. And how you hold yourself influences your emotions."
You're unaware you're mimicking this person, although you know they make you feel happy, he says.
"A charismatic person has three attributes, says the professor:
they feel emotions themselves quite strongly;
they induce them in others;
and they are impervious to the influences of other charismatic people."

This synchronization can go so far as to render the person under a charismatic leader spellbound to the point of giving themselves over to the will of the leader. Willingly giving up their free will and loosing their ability for rational thinking. Such is the case in members of cults and in populations under the influence of charismatic dictators such as Hitler and Stalin.

Studies have strongly indicated that the right temporal lobes of our brains, the part associated with religiousness, have evolved to make humans and chimpanzees hard wired to render a bit or our will and our selves to higher authority wether that is just the leader of the pack or the leader of the tribe. Even to the extent of sacrificing ourselves for the greater good, something bigger than us such as our family, our tribe or our people. It is this system which is hijacked by charismatic leaders and personalities, (and organized religion.) 

Can Charisma be learnt?

Carling Flora thinks perhaps not.
"Zeal paired with emotional responsiveness can be identified in babies as young as four months old, says University of Maryland psychologist Nathan Fox. While researching temperament in infants, he noticed that about 10 percent of his tiny subjects became unusually excited by novel toys or people. He dubbed this group "exuberant" and tracked them through their seventh birthdays. Exuberance proved remarkably stable, unlike traits such as shyness that can wane with age. Fox strongly suspects these children's underlying reward systems function differently: "Positive rewards like social interaction do more for them than they do for others." As a result, they are motivated not only to meet new people but to connect well with them.
Children with an ecstatic spirit can flounder in less supportive settings, though. "When you are exuberant, you have your emotions out there on the line. Parents can make these children feel ridiculous," laments psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, the author of Exuberance. She believes that girls are particularly vulnerable to having their natural vitality suppressed. "It's OK to be an enthusiastic tomboy as a little girl, but then at age 11 or 12 girls are taught to reel it in."
Whilst Professor Wiseman estimates that charisma is 50% innate and 50% trained and he has created a list of tips to help you on your charisma building way.

General: Open body posture, hands away from face when talking, stand up straight, relax, hands apart with palms forwards or upwards
To an individual: Let people know they matter and you enjoy being around them, develop a genuine smile, nod when they talk, briefly touch them on the upper arm, and maintain eye contact
To a group: Be comfortable as leader, move around to appear enthusiastic, lean slightly forward and look at all parts of the group
Message: Move beyond status quo and make a difference, be controversial, new, simple to understand, counter-intuitive
Speech: Be clear, fluent, forceful and articulate, evoke imagery, use an upbeat tempo, occasionally slow for tension or emphasis


In Emma Young's New Scientist article we find an interview with Joseph Roach a theater historian and author of It, a book on charisma in actors and performers. Roach says:
"The Key is an enigmatic attractiveness that persuades others to subject themselves to the enigmatic person." And he believes contradictions are vital.
Behavior that crosses social convention, not merely to get away with something, but which purposefully challenge what's considered normal  has a very special magic to it which is particularly valuable to the Showman's Craft.
The emphasis on contradictions is something which I have frequently used to great effect in my work. By combining something which people find challenging to watch such as a dislocation or a sword swallow I find you get their attention in a very visceral and direct way. It knowcks the wind out of them and in this moment of ambivalence there is great potential. But if you only leave it there you trigger only the superficial emotion of revulsion or the kind of fascination exhibited when someone watches a car crash. Whilst if I proceed from the initial moment of deep connection and then add something beautiful or something funny and manage to fuse the two the Crowd has a quite different and altogether more powerful experience.


Charis means "grace" or "gift" in Greek and in here we find a clue to an attitude that should be in the back of the mind of the Showman. Display and attractive and polite manner and consider your Act a gift to the Crowd. Do not let it be a cheap something picked up from a petrol station on the way, but rather a well thought out present specially tailored and suited to the Crowd who have at this very moment graciously given you their attention.
Grace is the quietest of the X-factors, perhaps the only one in which star power never threatens to overshadow substance. Graceful types are just as passionate and driven as their X-factored peers but rarely stir up the annoyance or suspicion we may feel toward bold or highly excitable people.
While grace is too elusive to pin down in a lab, we catch glimpses of it in studies of characteristics like wisdom and benevolence. Wisdom is associated with "meaning making," a trait ascribed to people who are introspective and cut to the heart of problems. Wisdom is also associated with benevolence, and it is in warm, compassionate individuals that we often see "grace." It is the X-factor presumed to spring from hard-won life experience. {Flora}

A showman cries for attention and has something to show when he gets it. {Manifesto}

It is not enough to be able to get the attention of a Crowd. If you get attention but have nothing to show the Crowd will quickly turn on you and punish you by ignoring your future attempts at getting their attention. You will be branded as a show off. There are different types of material that can be presented which all will please a crowd. All are fundamentally using the same principles of getting attention, presenting something, and by this presentation the attention is rewarded with pleasure, happiness or intellectual stimulation. To reach the upper echelons of impact a performance a Showman needs to have an element of the visionary about him. He needs to present himself as someone who understands the workings of the world and preferably has a solution for how to change things - perhaps even the world.
"Leaders who can move an audience with their oratory, who are comfortable with theatrical events and who are willing to express a vision of the future can trigger our subconscious, in the way that shamans do in some traditional societies {Young}

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