Step 2. When You Get to the Brink...Keep Going

Diane Ackerman writes that "there are moments on the brink, when you can give yourself to a lover, or not; give in to self-doubt, uncertainty, and admonishment, or not; dive into a different culture, or not; set sail for the unknown, or not; walk out onto a stage, or not.... Resist then, and...there is only what might have been." Ackerman calls these moments "littoral," like the borders where dry land meets the ocean. A defining characteristic of charismatic people is that they choose to walk through littoral moments as if they had no doubt.

Now, let me take this moment to clarify what I mean: Narcissists can appear charismatic for a while, because they never doubt they're right. This conviction commands attention and respect, at least until they turn out to be hopelessly wrong. True charismatics, by contrast, acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. They release doubt simply because doubt isn't useful when they're on the brink. For instance, once Uno was onstage, he never seemed to worry that he might not be a champion (even though no beagle had ever won much of anything). His certainty eventually converted everyone, including the judges.

To follow this example, find a littoral zone in your life and step beyond it as if you had no doubt. For Melanie, this meant arranging an intervention for her mother, faking confidence (which eventually became real) as she spoke the truth and asked her mother to enter rehab. Ellyn's first charismatic adventure was attending her high school reunion, walking tall and radiating authority, dropping the fear of offending or outshining others. Lisette joined Toastmasters, where she learned to stand and deliver, performance anxiety be damned. For these women, and each of us, a dip in the sea of adventure washes away more of the layers encrusting your charisma. Find your littoral moment, drop your doubts on the shore, and walk into the waves.

Step 3. Focus Outward

The Westminster Dog Show is a multibreed festival of self-consciousness. On videos of the event you can see everyone, human and animal, thinking, "Are they watching me? Can they see my hindquarters? How's my haircut?" Everyone, that is, except Uno. His eyes are on the crowd. When they cheer, he cheers back. When he howls to the judges, "Yo! How you doin'?," the normally staid officials grin like kids. Uno is making the single most charismatic move possible: He's shining his attention upon the beings around him.

That's what Melanie did during her mother's intervention. Instead of just rehearsing and delivering an impassioned speech, she paid close, respectful attention, which her mother (for once) returned. Both Ellyn (at her high school reunion) and Lisette (in exercises with her Toastmaster cronies) learned that groups also have personalities. Focus on any person or crowd the way Uno focused on the spectators at Westminster, with friendly curiosity, and your charismatic energy will touch every individual. Why? People pay attention to people who are paying attention to them.


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