Can you learn charisma? A masterclass in personal charm

Rebecca Pearson
Richard Reid

Can one ‘learn’ charisma? I’m sceptical, but TV and celebrity therapist Richard Reid thinks you can, so I’ve come to a one-on-one session with him to learn more.

What it consists of:

The "Charisma Masterclass" takes place in either a group of 10-12 or a one-on-one session. These cover body language, tone of voice, approachability, messaging, self-belief and personal empowerment to help become more authentic and ‘show the real you’.

The class:

I’m ushered up to Richard’s office in a swish building near Bond Street Station, feeling self-conscious of my every move, which I (quite rightly) assume will be analysed. While I gaze at the books surrounding me (Eckhart Tolle, Plato, Confucius, definitely no Eat Pray Love), we discuss what charisma actually is. I had visions of celebrities walking into instantly hushed rooms and religious leaders eliciting awe. Indeed, the very notion of charisma is subjective to each person.

For the purpose of these Charisma masterclasses, the focus is on seeming in control and making others feel at ease. According to Reid, much of this can be extrapolated down to a scientific level: the fact that we have a ‘reptilian brain’, which controls our ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. These reflexes are triggered when we’re with someone who, for example, barks orders at us, fails to make eye contact or rushes through interactions, so trust is difficult to establish.

These classes are all about coming into the ‘human’ brain: being slower, more authentic, more interested and more present in interactions. They help people who have a poor track record with dates: many get so nervous, they resort to a trusty list of questions to rely on, making it hard to listen properly or allow conversation to meander naturally. Or for those in a leadership role at work: by learning to interact on a more sympathetic and authentic level to get the best out of their team.

We then move onto exercises, starting with an ‘open question’ test. I have to listen to Reid talk about his holiday and ask only open questions. I start out feeling pretty confident but rapidly learn that the concept of an ‘open question’ is so foreign to me that I’m not even sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, but I can’t help but zone in on the parts where Reid shows more emotion or enthusiasm and where I feel that there’s some juicy gossip.

Reid repeatedly stops me in my tracks, making me feel somewhat defensive. I also often make assumptions: about the weather, (“But you said you were swimming outside in the pool so it must have been warm”) and even that he has kids (“I do, but I never actually said I do”). Lastly, I’ll often put words in his mouth with questions like, “Oh it’s very emotionally stirring at The Somme, isn’t it.”

Filling in the gaps, making assumptions, honing in on the parts that I find intriguing: these are fine with friends or confident people, but if I’m with a shy person I might offend or overpower them. I can certainly think of scenarios where I’ve done this.

Next, we look at initial greetings. I’m always getting nervous and fumbling my words, like saying, “fine thanks,” before someone’s even asked me. This happens whether it’s a big client or a checkout worker. For this exercise, I walk in the door, shake Reid’s hand and introduce myself, and then go over what I did wrong. I know right away. I rushed it, and this triggers that ‘reptilian’ brain for both of us: I don’t feel or seem like a safe pair of hands.

It’s the ‘pleaser’ in me: I assume I’m taking up this person’s time, boring them, but if I were a boss or a leader, I wouldn’t come across as very powerful. It’s all about a firm handshake, a slow and steady greeting and eye contact, the latter being something that Richard is unflinchingly steady with and which I realise I’m very uncomfortable maintaining.

Lastly, an exercise called ‘Monkey Mind.’ I have to shut my eyes, breathe, and count to 21 without thinking. If a single thought crosses my mind, I have to start counting all over again. I don’t make it past one! This shows me how overactive my mind is, and so much of taming that reptilian brain will be achieved through mindfulness: the art of being in the moment.

The verdict

These exercises have stayed with me. I didn’t walk out of that office with oodles more charisma, and no one ever could. However, I’m so much more aware of what I do wrong and when: I need to calm down and I need to let others lead interactions more. For those who seem to have no luck with dating or interviews, or who want to feel more confident in the workplace, this would be incredibly constructive.

Can you learn charisma? I don’t think you can ever learn to have that inexplicable, magnetic quality that some people just seem to be born with. But you can learn to have the effect they have on others: to make people feel secure in your presence, have faith in your abilities and to learn to simply relax into the moment.

Rebecca Pearson is a model and freelancer wellbeing, fitness and beauty model. Find out more about the Charisma Masterclasses at

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