Teaching Charisma

One thing I particularly enjoy about teaching business presentations is the opportunity to investigate the more unusual aspects of language. My students are typically advanced speakers, so they don’t need much in the way of vocabulary or grammar, but what they do need is to look at what they already know in a new way. To this end, I expose them to interesting speakers and a variety of presentations in order for them to watch the best (and the worst) and learn from them, even copy them.

The charismatic Ken Robinson

We do this by analysing the presentation, breaking it down and looking at how the presenter constructs the way they speak. This could be their rhythm, for example, or a particular linguistic trick they employ. In a recent lesson, we analysed pauses, and how they can be used in a variety of different ways, such as telling jokes, making rhetorical questions, and gathering your thoughts.

One aspect we recently discussed was charisma. The lesson had two objectives, the first was to highlight the vocabulary used to describe exceptional people. This was secondary, however to the main objective of making the students aware of how they can make themselves sound more charismatic when presenting in English.

The lesson proceeded as follows:

  1. Ask the students to define charisma.
  2. What do they think of these definitions? (click on the definition for the source)
  3. Ask them to describe the most charismatic person they have ever seen, and / or met.and / or Ask them to describe their image of a charismatic person. What gender are they? How tall? How old? How do they dress? What hairstyle do they have? and so on.
  4. Make a note of some of the language they use to describe them. Discuss the words most commonly used to describe charismatic people. Add words as they are mentioned to a mind map which the students can copy into their notebooks.
  5. Discuss with sts if they think charisma is a natural quality or if they think it can be learnt.
  6. Tell the students they will be asked to give advice to someone who has no charisma and wants to improve. Students make a list of things can a speaker do to appear more charismatic
  7. Give the students this article from Psychology Today. After they have read it, ask them “so what do you think now, can charisma be taught?” Discuss.
  8. Go back to the sts list. After reading the article, would they add anything to their list?
  9. Ask them to pick out any further examples of charisma vocab from the text and add it to the mind map.
  10. Look at the list of strategies. Go through them one by one and discuss them. Get sts to give examples for how this could be done. Model and practice the kinds of things that could be said to use this strategy.
Homework: Send sts a video. Ask sts to write an email to this presenter giving him or her advice on how to become a better presenter, focusing on the techniques suggested by the article as well as their own tips.

Some videos you could use for this:


Finally, make sure that your students practice these techniques. Make it a part of the feedback they receive from now on, even when you have changed focus. With practice, their confidence will increase and they will become more engaging, and yes, charismatic.

8 thoughts on “Teaching Charisma

  1. Dear James,

    Love the lesson planning details here, James. One of these days, would need to catch with the experienced you to get a whiff of teaching Business English.

    You've just reminded me that teaching learners these nuances is indeed, crucial. I'm going to make a note of this and do when I start teaching business English soon.


  2. Hello,
    This is a lesson I would like to attend! I like the rhythm, the various sources used, the motivating speaking tasks! Everything.

  3. Great ideas and very “enthralling” topic. I too love to delve into this aspect of 'language' with students, far beyond the vocabulary and grammar points, not that there's anything wrong with that (/seinfeld/). 😉

  4. I always get confused in a question about charisma is.. there are a lot of studies of attributes in charisma but are there any way to develop these abilities in any human or these can only be natural just!

  5. Thanks for posting this lesson James!

    Speaking about charisma is often overlooked when we are training presentation skills. Sometimes we get boggled down in the typical signposting phrases, introductions, asking & answering questions… and forget to focus on a really important aspect of presenting – charisma!

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