During the week I sat down to watch The Brits with my personal Generation Y Mentor – my 18 -year-old daughter, Rose. I enjoy The Brits, for me it represents my once a year self-assessment survey into how in touch with – and appreciative of – what young people are listening to and (most importantly) wearing. Over the years The Brits have been an absolute treat for charisma watchers. It is an event where the reputations of competent, likeable musicians have been elevated to legendary ‘Rock God’ status, and established Rock Gods careers have crashed and burned on the basis of one embarrassingly over emotional and /or egotistical acceptance speech or performance.
Last week, for the first time, I became of aware of Ben Howard. I can’t say that I thought he was any better as a singer/songwriter than say Ed Sheeran last year, but I thought he came across as a really nice, unassuming guy. I honestly don’t think he had any idea that he was going to win ‘Best British Male’ ahead of Ollie Murs or Richard Hawley, and his humble, confused, chuffed to bits’ acceptance speech was heartfelt, authentic and charismatic. Well done Ben – a star is born!
The other big winner on the night was Emeli Sandé who, in my opinion, falls into the category of ‘Contextually Charismatic’. When Emeli is on stage performing her presence is simply electrifying in it’s honesty and vulnerability – I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. When she came up to receive her award however, we realised that she wasn’t really all that vulnerable at all! Emeli is clearly a confident, well educated, and ambitious woman, but she’s not particularly sweet (like Taylor Swift), quirky (like Paloma Faith) or funny (like Adele). Last night, it seemed to me that we found out that Emeli Sandé is not quite who we thought she was based on our preconception of her stage persona. It’s not her fault of course, but I wonder if that conflict of authenticity will go on to damage her popularity somehow?
In looking to try and explain the phenonema of ‘Contextual Charisma’ I am reminded of a famous story about Marilyn Monroe, out shopping on Sunset Boulevard with a friend. After nearly an hour shopping, so the story goes, Marilyn’s friend was so amazed that they had been able to walk from store to store without being either approached for an autograph or even noticed, she asked Marilyn what was going on? The Screen Icon simply explained that she just ‘hadn’t switched Marilyn on’ this morning, and with nothing more than a deep breath and a shake of the head, engaged ‘Movie Star mode’. Within seconds, the two of them were so engulfed by people wanting autographs and photos, they had to hail a cab and beat a hasty retreat.
It would seem then that Norma Jean could ‘switch on’ Marilyn at will. Whilst we will never perhaps fully understand what strategies she employed to ramp up her energy and in so doing, her charismatic presence, we can only speculate that the effort required to draw upon a persona that was not authentically aligned with who she really was at her core , would appear to have been ultimately unsustainable.
At any given moment our individual Charismatic Presence is determined by the extent that we are feeling positively in touch with 5 key internal attributes ; Self Esteem, Sensory Awareness, Personal Vision, Driving Force and the balance of our Energy levels all naturally fluctuate depending upon all manner of influences –both external and internal.
The reason that some people appear to be able to switch their charisma on and off, almost at will, is because they have developed strategies to ramp up, or power down all, or some, of these internal triggers. For example, it may be that Robbie Williams and Emeli Sandé experience much higher levels of Self Esteem, or are more in tune with their Driving Force when they are on stage performing, and this in turn powers up the level that they are vibrating at energetically. When off stage, without feeding off of the adulation from their audience, their energy, and very possibly their self-esteem levels will take a dip, making it difficult to maintain the huge presence that they possess when they are channelling the energy from their followers and fans.
For all of us then, it can be an interesting exercise to think about the times, or contexts, when we are at our most charismatic? The chances are that when we are being totally authentic, doing things that are aligned to our own vision of what is important to us, we will be accessing far more of our true charismatic selves. When we are with the people in our lives where we have a good level of sensory awareness of each other, people that make us feel good about ourselves and build our self-esteem, we all shine just that bit more brightly. And when we are doing the stuff that engrosses us, when we are accessing our driving force and we are up on our own personal stage, in the limelight, and performing at our very best, then the levels of energy that we can generate will elevate us to a different level of charismatic status.