The Secrets to Nurturing Charisma

Ron Riggio
3 min readSep 8, 2022


Key points

  • Personal charisma is a combination of skills in nonverbal and verbal communication, and an understanding of people.
  • Charisma is related to both emotional and social intelligence.
  • Developing personal charisma is hard work, but it can be done through developing your social skills.

Charisma translates to a “divine gift of grace.” However, rather than being solely an inborn trait, charisma is something that can be learned and developed.

Having researched charisma for more than 45 years, we know the elements that can make a person more charismatic. Some of these relate to “style” and some parts of charisma involve “substance” (knowing how to be).

Emotional Expressiveness. If there is an inborn element to charisma, this is it (although it can be developed). You can often spot a charismatic person when they walk in the door — they seem to light up the room. Our early research found that charismatic persons were very high on emotional expressiveness. They were very good at conveying emotions through their body language — tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. They smiled easily and exuded a “passion” for life. They willingly engaged others. But they also had a sense of control over their behavior. They smiled, laughed, and sometimes cried, but never “overdid it.” There was appropriateness to their behavior that fit the emotional tone of the situation and of the other people in the room.

In many ways, this is what psychologists are referring to as “ emotional intelligence,” which is the ability to convey emotions easily and accurately, but also in a controlled way. Of course, emotional intelligence, and charisma, also involves reading and understanding the emotions of others, which brings us to our second element of charisma.

Empathic Concern. Empathic concern is the ability to read others’ emotions, feelings, and attitudes, and the ability to demonstrate that you are sympathetic. Charismatic people are able to “connect” with others. People who have met well-known charismatic individuals — Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, JFK — noted that they made you feel “like you were the only person in the room.” Charismatic people work to try to understand others, their feelings, and their concerns.

Savoir-faire. This translates loosely to “knowing how to be.” Charismatic people are able to fit into almost any social group or social situation. They are good at “working the room,” engaging others in social interaction and thinking on their feet. They appear cool and collected. Think of 007, James Bond, who is in control of any situation. Whereas expressiveness and empathy are parts of emotional intelligence, savoir-faire has more to do with “social intelligence.” [Read more about savoir-faire here].

The Verbal Elements. More recently, scholars have focused on charismatic leaders and their charismatic appeal. Much of this research centers on the verbal elements. Charismatic leaders speak in “picturesque” language, make good use of metaphors, use vivid storytelling to convey images and meaning, and use carefully chosen words and phrases to motivate others. At the more personal charisma level, charismatic persons are good conversationalists.

Although there are other elements to charisma, these are the main ones.

How to Become More Charismatic

Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to increase your “charisma quotient.” Like all good things, it takes hard work and dedication, but our research shows that people can become more charismatic.

your own behavior. Become more aware of your verbal and nonverbal behavior. “Analyze” how you behave in different settings and with different people. Work on becoming more expressive. How do you do this?

“Active Listening” is critical for developing empathy and connecting with others. [Here is a quick guide].

“Get Feedback” by asking trusted others to provide it, and or video yourself. You can even work on emotional expressiveness with a mirror.

“Practice” Put yourself in social situations. Take a public speaking course, or join Toastmasters or another group. You can take classes in improvisation, acting, or stand-up comedy. This will help you both become more aware of how you come across to others and also how to express yourself.

Here is a link to a book that explains charisma in detail and offers exercises for developing charisma.

Originally published at



Ron Riggio

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College; Author; Consultant