Some people think of charisma as a gift some people have and others don't. In this column I've tried to dispel that idea with a steady stream of research and advice showing charm is a skill you can develop. Over the years I've shared tips from everyone from FBI agents to actors to founding fathers about how to tune up your charisma and win over others.
But in all this time there's one factor that you can consciously manipulate to boost your likability that I've never considered -- time of day. A new study recently published in Leadership Quarterly and written up by its authors for the Harvard Business Review website changed that.
Apparently, this new research shows your level of charm rises and falls dramatically throughout the day, a fact you can leverage to become instantly more likable.
What's your charisma chronotype?
I'd never considered the effect of timing on charm before, but perhaps I should have. After all, studies show time of day affects just about everything else. Morning people have been shown to be up to 20 percent smarter earlier in the day, judges' rulings are far harsher in the afternoon, and even your depth perception is affected by the time of day. Maybe this latest study's findings should come as no surprise then.
The researchers first rounded up a group of college students and asked them to fill out a questionnaire to determine if they're larks or night owls (what psychologists call your 'chronotype'). Then, 131 of these participants did a role play in which they pretended to speak at a graduation ceremony. The twist was that some of these speeches were given at the eye-wateringly early (for college students) hour of 7 a.m. and others at midnight.
How did the timing of the speeches affect the students' performance? When the researchers had independent evaluators rate the charisma of the speakers, they found that "larks gave more inspirational speeches in the 7 a.m. session than the midnight session, and owls gave more inspirational speeches in the midnight session than the 7 a.m. session," the researchers report.
In a follow-on study the same team found that timing plays a role in how listeners perceived the speeches as well. Surprising exactly no one who has ever tried to deliver an early-morning lecture to college kids, the researchers showed half asleep listeners are far harder to charm.
Or as the authors put it, "The 'rah rah' speeches of leaders are less effective when followers are tired and just do not want to hear it."
Is 11 a.m. the magic hour for peak charisma?
This is a fairly common sense finding, but it's also one that leaders and speakers all too often ignore in the real world. Charisma isn't just about talent and skills. It's also about timing. The most charming among us have the wisdom to know when they and their audiences are at their best, and time their efforts accordingly.
Translating this truth into real-life action is easy if you are an early bird leading early birds. Deliver your rousing call to action when everyone is fired up in the morning. But what should you do if you and your followers' chronotypes don't match? If you're half alive at 7 a.m. and they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, whose state of mind should weigh heavier in the scheduling scales?
"Typically, a good approach is to avoid extremely early or late times, likely settling for roughly the middle of the day. A good time to aim for could be 11 a.m. -- it's not too early for owls or too late for larks, and it avoids lunchtime and the 3:30 a.m. slump," suggest the authors, though they add that "the exact time of day you select, of course, should be driven by your context."