Can charisma be learned? An introvert finds out

Colin Drury is not a charismatic man. So he thought he'd try to learn to become one, with the help of a "charisma coach." But can charisma even be taught? Well...yes and no.
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Colin Drury (Supplied)
Colin Drury is not a charismatic man.

Shy and reserved, he feels uncomfortable with small talk. A trip to the barber can be excruciating.

"Every time I go to the hairdresser's I'm aware that I'm blowing it," he said in an interview with Tapestry host Mary Hynes. 

That's why his interest was piqued when, on a trip to Dubai, he heard about people making hundreds of thousands of dollars by teaching other people to be charismatic.

So when Drury, a freelance journalist, returned home to England he decided to investigate. He called up a charisma coach and, in the name of journalism, engaged his services.

To assess Drury's needs, his coach first spent a few days with him to observe his habits. Afterrwards they sat down together and discussed his faults.

Charisma is two things, really. It's projecting your own value, your own importance, your own authority to other people, and it's also projecting theirs back at them.- Colin Drury

"There were quite a few things," Drury said. "He said I lacked confidence. I kind of feel that too much eye contact is an invasion of personal space, so I don't tend to do that too much — he said I appeared disinterested during small talk."

George Osborne, then-U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer, adopting what Colin Drury calls the Gorilla stance at the 2015 Conservative Party Conference. Osborne wasn't the only politician to adopt the awkward pose at the time, leading Drury to suspect they had all hired a charisma coach. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

Drury's coach gave him a few techniques to try out. One had him try to deepen his voice, while another had him changing his posture to appear more confident.

But as he soon found out, it's hard to do that without feeling — and even looking — like you're faking it. Not long after his sessions with his charisma coach, Drury started noticing similar behaviour among British politicians, including now-Prime Minister Theresa May.

Colin Drury suspects Theresa May, now Prime Minister of the U.K., was acting on the advice of a charisma coach in this 2015 picture in which she was mocked for her wide-legged stance. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

"There was a series of photos of three different politicians...all standing in this ridiculous wide-hipped, wide-legged, sort of shoulders-back pose," he said. "It screamed, 'These guys have all been to the same life coach or charisma coach.'"

He wasn't the only one:

So, can charisma be learned? Drury isn't convinced. Some people, he said, just haven't got it.

But, he said, that doesn't mean there isn't some value to be found in the kind of self-criticism that charisma coaching encourages.

"You can't necessarily become George Clooney, but I think you can become a more rounded person, more capable of connecting with others — just happier in your own skin."

Colin Drury is a freelance journalist. Read his article about his experience with a charisma coach over at The Guardian. To hear the full interview with Colin, click Listen.