Good communication skills were something Danish Sheikh desperately wanted to learn. That is why the young boy from Indore worked as a tourist guide for free for nearly two years, “only to talk to strangers and build good communication skills”.
But those days are far behind Sheikh — who once, in his own words, used to be shy, introvert, and spent most of his time in library — as he is now touted to be the first charisma coach in India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“I used to spend most of the time in the school library where I came across the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People‘ and many more like that. I thought, if I apply these teachings in the real world, I’ll have some cool friends, and probably enhance my communication skills to become more confident,” said Sheikh, who has over the years worked for different companies and gone to different places “but what remained constant was my habit of going out and talking to strangers” — not only to enhance his communication skills but also to understand meaningful connections.
But being an introvert to breaking stereotypes about charisma by making people understand what wonders it can do, the journey has not exactly been a bed of roses for him. In an interview with IndianExpress.com, he demystified the myths about charisma, shared his journey, and also some techniques that one can use to “learn, practice and master” being charismatic.
What is charisma and why is it important for any individual?
Charisma is an ability to trigger strong positive emotions in people, which in turn, allows you to connect, inspire and lead. It covers a set of ‘people skills’ such as building instant rapport, telling great stories, forming great first impressions and so on. It is more a necessity than an add-on trait in these modern, competitive times. There are two core components of charisma — power and warmth. So, anybody who can exude power and warmth appears to be intensely charismatic. If you can figure out a way to communicate power and warmth on the go in your day-to-day life, you will be appearing instantly, extremely charismatic to people around you. You will be able to attract them, influence them, and form meaningful connections with them on the go.
Charisma is seen as something innate; how can it be taught?
It used to be a belief that charisma is an innate quality. Research from MIT and Harvard has proven that charisma is a set of behaviours that anybody can learn, practice and master. In one of the research projects done at MIT, researchers were able to turn the charisma levels of the subjects, up and down almost like how we use a dial to increase and decrease the volume.
What inspired you to become a charisma coach?
I was trying to figure out the easiest and shortest way to form a meaningful connection with strangers, come across as charismatic — a people magnet, and transform our personalities. Around 2015, I came across various studies at MIT and Harvard which were around how charisma is a learnable skill and that is when I realised that in the last 15 years, I was unknowingly doing the same thing.
My understanding and the research mixed, and I decided to come up with my curriculum called Charismatic Leadership Curriculum in North Point Centre of Learning, Pune. Nielsen and Microsoft were my first clients and then the word spread around.
I ventured out when I realised that people have this problem of being super shy and introverted. They want to know a step-by-step program which is rooted in science which will help them in raising their charisma quotient. So that is how I became a charisma coach.
What were the challenges you faced in making people understand the concept of charisma?
The challenge that I used to face was that there is this myth in society that charisma is an intrinsic trait. Either you have it or not. For six months to one year, it was an uphill task to make people understand that charisma can be learnt, practised and mastered.
The reason why people think that it is an inborn trait is that most charismatic people in society picked up these behaviours very early on in their life and career so by the time they hit the limelight they appeared to be charismatic always.
It is a slow process, but most people don’t see that whole journey. I had to spend time dispelling this myth and make them understand that all of this is rooted in evolutionary psychology.
Part of the criticism – and concerns – I hear is that coaching someone to be more charismatic might mean they’re being taught to put on a “fake” front. However, they are going to be the same person, and retain their core personality and values, but their body language and responses to people around them are going to be honed. Eventually, it becomes part of a person’s innate behaviour.
Can you share some of the techniques you use to teach charisma?
When I work one on one with my clients, I first spend some time with them. I follow them around to their important meetings. I make my notes and observe their interactions with people. I try to look at things they are doing right which is enhancing their charisma level or the little habits they have that are negatively affecting their charisma level. I make a customized program, give very specific personalised advice, and suggest exercises for every client.
What are some of the techniques that a person can practice daily to become more charismatic?
Can you tell us about your charisma school and how do you plan to take this further?
I have co-founded an Ed-tech start-up called Charisma School along with my friend, Aquib Khan. We are building a community-first platform for people who want to enhance their charisma quotient and social skills by providing them with personalised video mentorship. Our start-up is based in Mumbai, but our target audience is largely based in the United Kingdom, the United States and other western countries. Once we are able to scale the international operations only then we’ll come to India and launch it in a big way. We aim to become the default global platform for ‘social skills enhancement’, across age groups and geographies.