I had a cup of coffee at Il Fornaio earlier this week with Olivia Fox Cabane. The short story is this: she is a consultant, speaker and leadership coach who has worked with a number of large corporations such as Deloitte, Citigroup, or Veracity Worldwide. She has given lectures at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT and the United Nations. In short, at 30, she is a well-established expert in helping people to improve their charisma, their self-confidence as well as their influence and persuasion skills. She started her practice in 2003 in New York City and is successfully expanding it in the Silicon Valley.
It’s one thing to read interesting books such as Influence : Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini, Persuasion: Social Influence and Compliance Gaining by Robert Gass, or peruse through dozens of essays and articles that tell you how to gain confidence, keep or increase your credibility; it’s a whole different story to be able to enact what gurus tell you to do, even when they give you common sense advice. Between what we understand and what we actually can do, there is a big gap – the reality of what we are able to do by ourselves – just like reading the best psychology studies has never spared anyone from actually going through the therapy process.
What many people do need is someone to guide them as they work on making a “fantastic first impression,” or delivering the killer pitch that will make the sale. You need a competent practitioner to take you to that stage. That’s what Olivia has been doing for years. “Charisma may be partly innate,” she said, “no doubt about this. But our potential to impress, influence and persuade is often hampered by all sorts of reasons.” She gives a simple example: “Have you ever felt only half-present in a conversation because part of your mind was thinking about something else? You may think this is all happening inside your head, but it’s also playing out across your face. If you’re not fully present, your facial reactions may be a split-second delayed. And people will read that, because people read your facial expressions in a flash—as fast as 17 milliseconds. And the effect of delayed facial expressions is that you may come across as inauthentic. If that happens, you can imagine the consequences: there’s no way you can generate trust, rapport or loyalty. Have you ever talked with someone you felt was being inauthentic? You know how that feels.”
So, can anyone improve? “Yes, absolutely!” she exclaimed. “Our basic capabilities only account for a very small part of who we become. There are countless techniques to turbo-charge your level of charisma, make you more persuasive and influential. My job is to find the right tools for each person; since everyone is different.”
Olivia loves what she does.Yes, at only 30, she has been in business for quite a while. Long enough to know both her strengths, and her limitations. “I can’t help people find their meaning or their purpose. I don’t do assessments; or 360-reviews. But once they learn from the reviews what they need to improve, and they start asking themselves “So how do I make these changes happen?” That, I can help with. For instance, if they need more “executive presence,” I can tell them exactly the body language they need; and how to get it.”
So how quickly can change happen? “So fast, that I used to worry about it! Seriously– I used to worry about the fact that within just two or three sessions, people were “all done” and no longer needed me. Then I realized– wait a minute. You can actually “fix” the issue in three or five sessions– that’s a good thing! Instant gratification, in a way…” Since then, “impressive results, impressively fast” has become her motto.
The reasons for Olivia’s success are simple: her honesty, her hard work, her professionalism, her will, her … charisma as well as her charm. Two additional big pluses: her personal culture and the fact that she is fluent in four languages (English, Spanish, German, and French).