When charisma trumps knowledge

August 21, 2014

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The power of the spotlight

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about how to use speaking to build their business. In fact, I recently got into a debate about whether presence and charisma were more important than knowledge. I said yes. I already knew the answer from my early days on the stage.

When I was in my mid-30s I decided being a TV news guy wasn’t enough. I also wanted to be a Rock Star.

It had been decades since I’d played an instrument, but I didn’t let that stop me. I bought an electric guitar and an amplifier and for a solid six months I practiced when I came home after work. I got to the point where I figured I was good enough to jam with some other musicians.

Some guys at work had formed a band several years earlier. Most of them were now senior managers at the TV network I worked at. I started harassing them regularly with a “hey – let’s jam!”

They finally let me in on a jam session. Of course most of them had been playing since they were teenagers and had decades of experience. I had a solid six months. As a result, I was always concerned about making mistakes. In fact, all I could think of when I was playing was trying to hit every note correctly. As the jam progressed I couldn’t understand why everyone had dissatisfied looks on their faces.

One of the guys took me aside. “Jason, you’re playing the notes but you’re not really playing music. You have to get into it, feel it, and develop charisma and presence.”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. I wanted to play in a band really bad.

I decided if charisma and presence were needed for me to be accepted, that’s what I would do – even if I had to fake it. My playing suddenly changed. I didn’t try to be perfect. I didn’t try not to make mistakes. I allowed myself the luxury of going with the flow.

While I continued to practice the music at home, I made sure that when we played together I concentrated my energy outwardly and played confidently – pushing the energy envelope and challenging my bandmates to do the same. It worked like magic – and we sounded pretty good.

My new-found charisma kept growing and had an interesting side-effect. I quickly took over the band.

I didn’t want to or plan to, but it just worked out that way. I started making most of the decisions about gigs, set-lists, practice schedules and practically everything else

I also looked the most formidable on stage. I dressed up in black shirt with a white vest and wore sunglasses. As a result I got much of the attention. Deep inside I felt like a lucky amateur playing with these talented guys, but to someone walking into the bar they’d think I was the main event and the other guys were simply my backup.

The weird part was that I was also being asked to make decisions about the music – things like key signatures and arrangements. These talented musicians were deferring to the guy with all of six months experience! It made no sense. I had by far the least amount of musical knowledge – although I did seem to know enough to make us sound okay.

I realize now that my band situation wasn’t as odd as it seemed. When people look for leadership, whether it’s in their lives, their hobbies or their businesses, they look to people who are confident and charismatic. A certain amount of knowledge is a pre-requisite to get considered, but it’s not the deciding factor.

I have a university degree as well as certificates from a couple of fancy business coaching schools. No one has ever asked to see them. The knowledge I’ve gained through my education is valuable but no one really cares about my certificates. They just want someone who can help them.

I know a lot of knowledgeable coaches with multiple certifications, MBAs and other degrees who have no clients. Rather than put themselves in the spotlight and work on their charisma, they get another certificate instead. And they’re still broke.

I took a different path. Rather than direct my energy inward, I went outward. I spent my time and money looking for ways to help my clients, build dynamic relationships and share my experiences with others in an entertaining way.

I still go on stage and do a show, but now I’ve traded the guitar for a powerpoint remote. Business has never been better.

If you’re ready to step into the spotlight, but need some help doing it drop me an email at jason@rechargemymojo.com