Charisma. You know it when you see it, but what is charisma and how can you become more charismatic?

In the How To Be Charismatic series, I explore different people and facets of charisma as I attempt to answer the question: just what is it that makes charismatic people charismatic?

How To Be Charismatic: Bruce Lee

Many of us would agree that Bruce Lee was one of the most intense and charismatic figures in the history of cinema. But just how was he charismatic and what can we learn from him to be more charismatic ourselves?

The following video is a 25 minute interview with the Little Dragon. It was thought lost for a couple of decades until found miraculously preserved in the 1990s. Done in December 1971, when Bruce was riding on the success of his first film, we get a rare glimpse into what it must have been like to talk with the legend face-to-face.

You can find clues to Bruce’s inner and outer game of charisma by watching the video.

Bruce Lee’s Outer Game

1) Mid-tempo speed of speaking.

A frequent characteristic of charisma that I keep reading about is a measured pace of speaking – speak too fast (a problem I have) and you appear insecure. Speak too slowly and you bore people.

2) A wide range of gestures that punctuate his speech.

Something you’d expect from a great martial artist; he’s comfortable with his hands and he uses them to emphasize what he says.

3) Use of pauses in his speech.

Bruce likes to use well-timed pauses in his speech to…add emphasis and…build anticipation. Great technique.

4) A variety of changing facial expressions.

I was once taught that charisma comes out of variety; a variety of gestures, body postures, voice tonality, tempo and facial expressions. It’s obvious that Lee has a wide variety of facial expressions; note how he changes from smiling to serious, joking to intense in a heartbeat.

5) A variety of vocal tonality.

Listen to how he slows down, and punctuates certain words in-between or just explode into a new sentence – done together with his gestures.

Bruce Lee’s Inner Game

1) Passionate

He loves the martial arts so much it comes through in everything he says.

2) Knowledgeable

Bruce gives the interviewer Pierre Burton a rich glimpse into the world of martial arts, even giving a little demo of Tai Chi Chuan when Pierre asks about it. He remembers his line from the TV show Longstreet and gives Pierre a short but intense performance.

3) Open

Bruce doesn’t pull any punches (hee hee) and gives Pierre his open and direct opinions; even on why he felt The Warrior wouldn’t be made because of racism (it was eventually made as Kung Fu, starring a Caucasian David Carradine).

Bruce Lee on Charisma
What did Bruce Lee himself have to say about being charismatic?

When I did The Green Hornet television series back in 1965, I looked around and I saw a lot of human beings. And as I looked at myself, I was the only robot there. I was not being myself. I was trying to accumulate external security, external technique – the way to move my arm and soon on – but I was never asking: ‘What would Bruce Lee have done if’ – the word if – ‘such a thing had happened to me?’ When I look around, I always learn something, and that is, to always be yourself and to express yourself. To have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate him. That seems to me to be the prevalent thing happening here in Hong Kong. They always copy a person’s mannerisms, but they never see beyond that. They never start at the very source, the very root of their own being, and ask the question: ‘How can I be me?’

Just what is an actor? Is he not the sum total of all that he is – his level of understanding, his capability to captivate the audience because he is real in the expression of his personal feelings toward what was required in the scene? You can spot such artists from ordinary ones like that. The Americans have a word for it, it’s called charisma. What you see on the screen is the sum total of his level of understanding, his taste, his educational background, his intensity, etc.

Most people only live for their image. That is why where some have a self, a starting point, most people have a void. Because they are so busy projecting themselves as ‘this’ or ‘that,’ they end up wasting and dissipating all their energy in projection and conjuring up of facade, rather than centering their energy on expanding and broadening their potential or expressing and relaying this unified energy for efficient communication. When another human being sees a self-actualizing person walk past, he cannot help but say: ‘Hey now, there is someone real!’

Bruce asserts that the secret to charisma isn’t in copying other people, but in honestly expressing oneself to one’s highest potential. He believes that a solid inner game will provide a solid outer game. This call to be authentic also echoes British Professor Richard Wiseman’s attribute of charismatic people; that they are impervious to the influences of other charismatic people.

I’d make a guess that if Bruce was asked about how to be more charismatic; he’d tell us to be ourselves as best as we can, develop our fullest potentials and express ourselves honestly.

What Did You Learn About Charisma From Bruce Lee?

See anything I missed out? And who else do you think is charismatic that we should take a good look at?