What charisma is, and how to get it

It's called the Sociometer, the brainchild of Professor Alex Pentland and his team at MIT. It measures NOT what you say, but how you say it.

"So the first thing is energy. You have to be energetic," said Pentland. "It shows up in your hands. It shows up in the voice, the way you sort of carry yourself and do things."

"You talk with your hands a lot. Is that a conscious -"

"If I want to be charismatic I have to be energetic," he laughed.

And, according to Spencer's Sociometer, she needs to work on it. Too bad, because high scorers have a real advantage.

Take what happened when Pentland used the Sociometer to measure charisma's impact on business decisions: "We could predict how well the business plan would be rated, without knowing anything about the business plan, without knowing anything about the person. And the two things that really mattered were, did they sound like they were excited? And, were they very consistent and fluid in how they produced this speech?"

If the world's not impressed, don't give up. Charisma can be TAUGHT! Or so says John Neffinger, an Ivy League law school grad who now runs workshops for the charisma-challenged.

Neffinger and his partners at KNP Communications define charisma as a combination of strength and warmth, beginning again with body language.

"Our older relatives probably told all of us at one point, 'Stand up straight! Smile!'" Neffinger said. "And that is actually the basic formula. Standing up straight says, 'I'm here to be taken account of. I'm here to be taken seriously. Don't mess with me,' and that projects strength. On the other hand, smiling genuinely projects a lot of warmth."

Reagan and Clinton had the most winning combination: A smile that projects both warmth AND strength.

"There are two different things going on, on the face," said Neffinger. "On the bottom half of the face is just a little bit of a smile. So you got warmth going on the bottom. That's where the warmth is coming from. But what goes on in the eyes is that there's a little bit, there's an intention to the look in the eyes. There's a determination. And that intensity connotes strength."

It's an intensity - and charisma - that President Obama's fans feel he showed in 2008, but fear he's lost in the dreary business of governing.

"One of the things that Barack Obama does that gets in his way a little bit is often when he's giving a speech or a more formal address, he'll raise his chin a little bit," said Neffinger. "And when he raises his chin, that has some authority to it. But it also distances himself from us. It makes him seem arrogant."

Neffinger's just as hard on Mitt Romney, the favorite in Tuesday's New Hampshire Republican primary: "He looks like the kind of person that a movie producer would cast as the president in a big movie, but it's not quite that easy," he said. "He tries to ham it up a little bit. He's got that big smile out there and gosh darn it, he's gonna be friendly! And it comes off as a little ingratiating which is to say he wants to be likable, but he's not necessarily actually caring about the way people are feeling. It seems fake."

Real charisma is hard to fake, and in the new "Sunday Morning" poll, 3 out of 4 voters say that indefinable something will play a role in their vote - one in four says a major role.

Not everyone finds this reassuring.

"I would not like to see in a democracy people voting simply on whether a person has a nice smile or a glad hand," said Nye.

"But in an election dominated so much by television, that seems to be a big risk," said Spencer.

"And that's one of the great dangers we have, which is, as it becomes more of a mediated phenomena what do we really have?" said Nye. "Charisma."

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