A recent David Pogue column in the New York Times, on viral internet memes, gave me a bit of a jolt and made me rethink the fundamental meaning of the word “Charisma”
The post, “Internet Memes 101: A Guide to Online Wackiness” is a list of some of the classic viral videos from YouTube, as well as some recent hits, that have taken on a life of their own and become a part of the culture.
One of the videos Pogue mentions is “Numa Numa”, an early webcam video of a chunky, young man, named Gary Brolsma, lip syncing to an obscure Romanian pop song.
What struck me, in addition to the abysmal technical quality of the early webcam videos, was Pogue’s comment that, “There’s such earnestness and charisma in his performance that you can’t tear your eyes away.”
When I think of the word, I picture people like Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt and Nelson Mandela, not Gary Brolsma, but it is true. He is mesmerizing.
Realizing that made me think again about the meaning of the word. If charisma is the ability to draw and hold the attention of others, the way a celebrity does when he or she walks into a room, then Mr. Brolsma certainly demonstrates charisma. Why else would millions of people have watched the video, some of them dozens of times?
That charisma is born of two qualities that we would all be wise to cultivate and emulate in our own speaking.
First of all, Brolsma is completely unselfconscious. The virtue, I’m sure, of making a video from the privacy of his own room is that he couldn’t even imagine the possibility that someday millions of people would be watching his performance.
There’s an expression that we should always, “Dance as if nobody is watching”, and that’s what Brolsma is doing. In his endearing goofiness, his focus is not on himself, but on the song and the camera. He is so relaxed, so clearly not conscious of how he looks, that it gives him a supremely confident air.
Confidence signifies authority and power. We can’t really will ourselves to be confident, but we can control how relaxed we are. We can consciously learn to stay relaxed when we speak and our audience will interpret that as confidence, power and authority.
The second element of Brolsma’s performance is that it is extremely dynamic. Change is what grabs and holds our attention. In the video, there is a major change every few seconds. Brolsma changes his posture, position, expression or gesture. The music changes tone, voice, energy or volume. The rhythm of the words changes. There’s not a static moment in the entire clip and that’s that keeps our attention riveted.
Dynamic energy is interesting. We can’t really be interesting on purpose, but we can learn to be more dynamic and continually change how we present ourselves and our material to our audience. That will grab and keep the interest of our audience.
The combination of the relaxed appearance of confidence and frequent and unpredictable change is what makes the Numa Numa video so fascinating.
It is also what makes a speaker fascinating. Displaying a relaxed confidence and being dynamically interesting will give you the charisma you need to mesmerize your audience. It will make you as charismatic as Gary Brolsma.