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Yes, you really CAN teach yourself to be charismatic

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Kayleigh Dray
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At Stylist Live 2017, we learn how to replace shyness with a concrete sense of confidence and self-belief.

 Are you ready for your one-stop confidence class?

Millennials will no doubt remember the words to Eminem’s Lose Yourself - and, more importantly, relate to them. After all, every single one of us has experienced that moment where we’re asked to stand up in front of a crowd and talk, only to feel our palms growing sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. However, while some of us are able to bury those nerves, maintain a calm composure and carry on, the introverts among us are more likely to wind up opening our mouths… only to find that the words we so carefully prepared won’t come out.

For years, we’ve assumed that we just weren’t born with the skills to command a room. However, Jessica Regan insists that nobody is born confident or charismatic: instead, these are habits that you have to learn and hone throughout your lifetime.

Actress Jessica Regan says she taught herself to overcome imposer syndrome in her job

“I wasn’t born confident and I wasn’t born with charisma,” Regan tells an excited crowd at Stylist Live 2017. “In fact, when I first started out in my career, I had a terrible dose of impostor syndrome.”

Glancing across the audience with a knowing expression, she asks: “How many of you have felt as if we’re going to be found out?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost every single woman in the room nervously lifts her hand up into the air, much to Regan’s amusement.

“Good,” she says. “That anxiety is telling us that we care, that we’re emotionally invested in what we do - but it is not our friend.”

As an actress, Regan has to put herself in nerve-wracking situations on a day-to-day basis. Think job interviews are hard? Try attending three auditions a week, with some of the most intimidating directors in the business. And, for a very long time, the Ill Behaviour star dreaded each and every single casting call: her career, after all, depended on her making not just a good first impression, but a lasting one.

So, eventually, she decided to change her approach.

“I started to treat auditions like dates,” she explains. “I got dressed up, and I told myself I was going out there to give those people a good time… and I only just realised how strange that sounded until I said it out loud.”

As the giggles and titters quieten down again, Regan decides to put it more simply: “I started just putting my attention on those people, rather than myself.

“People who are self-conscious are awkward to watch… but the moment we care and invest in our audience, that’s when we become charismatic.

“You need to put your attention on the person in front of you, and stop making the situation all about you.”

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Regan’s meaning is clear: when we worry or fret about speaking in public, or at a meeting, or leading a presentation, we tend to focus on what everyone around us will think of us. Whether they will notice something strange about us, or our voice, or the way we stand.

“When you’re going to do a presentation, or a meeting, remember that you’re a kind human being, a good human being, a fun human being - and the room will be better for having me in it,” says Regan.

“Putting your attention on other people takes the attention of yourself. It’s a really positive feedback cycle.”

However, that’s easier said than done - especially if you’re in a cycle of anxiety. So, Regan offers up some practical advice and activities to try at home, in a bid to shake off those negative feelings.

Five skills to build your presence

You too can teach yourself the skills for greater confidence

1) Change your body language

When you’re talking to someone, try to keep your head as still as possible (“but not stiff like a robot,” adds Regan). It may feel unnatural, but it will make you look more self-assured and confident in yourself.

When someone is speaking to you, keep your body language as open as possible: don’t cross your arms and legs, maintain eye contact and make sure, above all else, to listen to what they’re saying.

2) Prepare, prepare, prepare

“Actors always do a warm up before they do a play,” says Regan. “They stretch out, they shake out, they warm up their voice… and it really does help.”

She suggests making funny noises (the entire room is soon singing a loud chorus of ‘mi-mi-mi-mis’ in unison) to loosen up your vocal chords and get yourself ready for speaking aloud.

3) Change the words you use

“Men present opinions as fact, and women present facts as opinion,” says Regan, reminding us that one person is far more likely to get what they want if they say, “I need this…” rather than, “I think we might need this…”

“If you’re using apologetic language, the story you’re telling isn’t, ‘trust me, I’ve got this,’” she insists. “So go through your emails and take out every single ‘I thinks’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘I’m not sure’ and ‘if you could.’”

Megan adds: “Are you apologising for yourself? In your language and your body? In your thoughts? Don’t.”

Make those around you feel safe and included, says Regan

4) Acknowledge why you’re afraid in the first place

“Why are people terribly afraid of public speaking?” says Regan. “Because, thousands and thousands of years ago, if you turned a corner on the Savannah, having lots of eyes on you meant that you were lunch.

“It’s an evolutionary hangup - one which we need to shake off.”

She continues: “When you feel like a gazelle facing a pride of lions, walk towards them. Open your body out, like someone defending themselves from a predator. For example, when you face down a bear, you make yourself as big and loud as possible. While I wouldn’t advise screaming in your next presentation (that would be weird), I do advise that you access the lion in you and summon that stillness.”

5) Make everyone around you feel safe

Charisma is simply that: acknowledging people in the room (try to catch people’s eyes and hold them for three beats), smiling and making them feel like you want to be here.

“Let them know that you may be nervous, but you’re excited and it feels good,” says Regan, “and it will make them feel good, too.”

Regan, wrapping up her talk, says that there are three words which describe confidence for her - and all of them are unexpected.

Listening: listen to people, watch their body language and really take in what they have to say. Reactions are every bit as impactful as actions.

Trust: in yourself and the space around you. Regan says: “My mother used to say, ‘they can’t shoot you or make you pregnant!’”.

Joy: as Regan puts it, “having a joy and a relish: make it that thing you’re looking forward to, your fear will listen to that and recede. Let it be the thing that fires you! That feeling will carry through.”

Talk about empowering.

Images: Rex Features and iStock

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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