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Olivia Fox Cabane: mindfulness is a key to being more charismatic

Olivia Fox Cabane

By Joe Perez

In “How To Reverse Your Hard Wiring For Distraction,” Olivia Fox Cabane says that personal presence is one of the three keys to cultivating charisma. She excerpts from her book, The Charisma Myth:

Charismatic behavior can be broken down into three core elements: presence, power, and warmth. These elements depend both on our conscious behaviors and on factors we don’t consciously control. People pick up on messages we often don’t even realize we’re sending through small changes in our body language.

In order to be charismatic, we need to choose mental states that make our body language, words, and behaviors flow together and express the three core elements of charisma. And presence is the foundation for everything else.

Have you ever felt, in the middle of a conversation, as if only half of your mind were present while the other half was busy doing something else? Do you think the other person noticed? If you’re not fully present in an interaction, there’s a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or that your facial reactions will be a split-second delayed. Since the mind can read facial expressions in as little as 17 milliseconds, the person you’re speaking with will likely notice even the tiniest delays in your reactions.

We may think that we can fake presence. We may think that we can fake listening. But we’re wrong. When we’re not fully present in an interaction, people will see it. Our body language sends a clear message that other people read and react to, at least on a subconscious level.

Not only can the lack of presence be visible, it can also be perceived as inauthentic, which has even worse consequences. When you’re perceived as disingenuous, it’s virtually impossible to generate trust, rapport, or loyalty. And it’s impossible to be charismatic.

Luckily, presence is a learnable skill that can be improved with practice and patience. Being present means simply having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening. It means paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in your own thoughts.

Fox Cabane’s prescriptions for increasing moment-to-moment awareness are sound and easy to understand. For example, she advises starting with a one-minute mindfulness meditation to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness. Then, in the flow of our life, we simply bring ourselves back to presence with a moment of awareness to our breath, the sensations in our stomach, or our toes.

Olivia stresses that presence is a learnable skill. Presence, we say, is not only an option for all people, but an obligation. A world of suffering commands us to show up whole, giving everything we have with passion.

When we bring more of our presence into our everyday life, we not only cultivate charisma, we also encounter our True Self, that Ultimate Identity which is connected to the ground of Being itself. That’s why straying from our True Self creates the perception of inauthenticity, and why stepping more fully into our Unique Self may create more magnetism.

About Joe Perez

Joe Perez is Executive Editor of Spirit's Next Move, Director of Communications and Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality. He has eight years of blogging experience and has seen two of his blogs published as books including Soulfully Gay, a pioneering Integral Spirituality memoir. He is an Honors graduate of Harvard University, has studied at The Divinity School at The University of Chicago, and holds a certificate in Integral Leadership from Pacific Integral. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality.


  1. Amanda Suutari says:

    Very nice! I have met some people who were perhaps very powerful leaders or facilitators who could engage large groups of people, but in my one-on-one interactions with them felt a distinct lack of presence, as though they did not know how to calibrate with others in more intimate interactions. I believe that while it is a valuable skill to inspire, educate and engage groups of people, it is an undervalued skill to be able to be present around just one other person.

  2. Joe Perez says:

    Agreed. A number of different leadership development or spiritual enrichment programs I’ve been involved with use eye-contact processes to build this skill. It can be difficult for those of us who are shy, but truly it does open the soul to another soul, and more…

  3. You are right, many people who address thousands at a time after a big speech can almost still be caught up in the glory of the experience. They can be just as scattered mentally as the seating in the venue in which they were speaking. It definitely takes skill for one to address the multitudes with just as much sincerity as one addresses the needs and concerns of one.

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