Conversational Charisma

James Buckhouse
4 min readSep 30

Instantly increase your conversational charisma with these 5 techniques. Each only takes 10 seconds. Each works wonders. Each edges you closer to a life free of dull conversations and rich with the interesting ideas gleaned from others.

  1. Speak on the exhale. When we get nervous, we often take a sharp inhale and then hold our breath with our lungs completely full and then try to speak. This is terrible. We sound like a squeaky balloon. We sound like a pinched nerve. We sound like a bad haircut. We sound like a ruined afternoon. We sound like our least confident friend. Instead, right after you take that breath, start to let it out and then speak on the exhale. Start speaking just after the exhale begins and ride the wave of your exhale all the way down. By doing so, your “hello” drops to your chest and uses it as a reverberation chamber, instead of trying to gain its amplification through your nose or throat. By reverberating your words through your whole body, you’ll sound competent, confident, warm, strong, capable, kind, and intelligent.
  2. Open positive. Do not open a conversation with a complaint. Do not open with a sneer. Sarcasm might underline the hell in hello, but it will close the door to constructive and cooperative conversation more often than it will open it. Begin with a positive statement — but not a compliment — an unwelcome compliment hurts more than it helps. Instead, take a moment, think of something positive that is also true and is also interesting and say that. This takes some effort, which is why it’s effective. It signals you are the type of person who bothers to consider the world around you and you do so through an optimistic lens, because you believe in your own agency and your own ability to make the most of life. This gives everyone hope.
  3. Align your spine. Stand in front of a mirror. Turn to the side. Does your posture look like a question mark or an exclamation point? Adjust yourself a little, then a little more. When you have a posture that cannot be improved, take a moment to encode in your physical memory how it feels up and down your body. Close your eyes, slouch, try to return to your upright position by recalling how it felt… open your eyes. Did you do it? Adjust. Repeat until natural.
  4. Listen with your eyes. Look at the person with whom you are conversing and imagine that the only way their words get into your brain is through your eyes, not through your ears. Unless the other person talking to you suffers from a right-sided brain injury, she or he will be looking at your eyes for indications of how you are internalizing the information he or she is sharing. When you are speaking, the other person will again be looking into your eyes to gauge the veracity of your statements. (read 544 more pages here on the neuroscience of eye tracking and neuroanatomy of the brain—fascinating stuff!). Shortcuts: Don’t lie. Don’t fake it. Look at the other person in the eyes both when speaking and listening. Listen more than you speak. And when you do speak, say something interesting.
  5. Uncover what’s interesting. As you speak with someone, try to uncover the most interesting thing about the other person, instead of angling for ways to talk about yourself. You already know about you. Learn about the other person. Learn their best idea. Learn their most interesting observation. Learn their more unique experience. Go into a conversion with a genuine curiosity about what they might share with you that will be actually interesting. Don’t pry, of course, please be respectful while being curious. Don’t “dig and dig” for information. Seeking what is interesting about someone is not an interrogation or a shake down, but a gentle art of listening carefully, acknowledging what was said, and wondering aloud what that might mean. Please think of your role in conversation as the maintainer of interestingness. Don’t blame the other person if the conversation becomes dull. That just means you’ve done a bad job at uncovering what’s interesting about the other person. See it as your responsibility to make the conversation worth everyone’s time. This works for small talk. This works for business meetings. This works for conversations with your children and your parents. This works for nearly all social settings. Seek what’s interesting, and conversations are never dull.

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James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford GSB/ & Harvard GSD