Like many people, for a long time, I’ve considered charismatic people to be ‘gifted’ — to have some sort of inborn ‘star quality.’ I watched a documentary on Marilyn Monroe a few days ago, and something she did once stuck in my head: she rode the subway in New York. The reason this was special is that she did so not as Marilyn Monroe, but as Norma Jean Baker (which was, after all, her actual name.) She didn’t do anything to change her looks, she just acted like everyone else.
Then, on the far end, in the middle of the crowd, she reached up, foofed her hair one time, spun around, and laughed — and instantly, dozens of people in the crowd realized Marilyn was among them. It was like she turned on the star switch. That’s when I realized, charisma isn’t something you have. Charisma is something you do. It’s a skill you can learn, and then perform, just like juggling — or web design.
This is important because if a person can learn to be charismatic, it’s possible for a web designer to learn to build a charismatic website. The same principles apply to all forms of communication, so I’m going to review what I’ve learned about the skill of charisma in a week of on-the-side research and translate. So, here, writ short, are the rules for charisma:
• Show the people around you that it’s all about them, not you.
• Be confident, but not arrogant.
• Be interesting, but more importantly, be interested.
• Keep your outlook pointed upward — optimistic, or at the minimum, hopeful.
• Communicate assertively and concisely; keep your ‘turn’ short but meaningful.
• Focus on all of the details of communication, not just the words.
It’s All About Them
When you’re designing a website, being all about the visitor should be your default attitude. Your business website is technically there to accomplish your goals, but if you want your visitors to come back (and/or tell their friends to visit) it needs to accomplish their goals as well.
Confidence without Arrogance
Arrogance will destroy your perception of a person — there’s a reason that humility is a virtue. But don’t confuse humility with being unsure! Every website you design needs to be able to make strong, valid, accurate claims that actually have numbers backing them up (even if you don’t share the numbers up front.) Making unrealistic claims about how amazing your product or service is will immediately set you up as the buffoon — but lacing your claims with weasel words or passive phrasing will make them hollow and meaningless. If the product you’re designing for doesn’t have any strong claims it can make, talk to the client about building some.
Be Interesting and Interested
Interesting people (and websites) might immediately capture our attention — but if they don’t show any interest in us, that attention will ultimately be short-lived and forgotten. In the case of website that doesn’t have interest to show, you need to revisit the ‘about them’ rule, above — because the next best thing to showing interest in a person is showing them how you can and intend to help them.
Be Optimistic or Hopeful
There are two basic tactics for business sites: you can either tell people that their life is awesome and your product makes it even better, or you can tell people that their life sucks and your product can improve it. In no case should you ever make a website devoted to telling people how awful things are unless the product you’re selling is the news.
Be Assertive and Concise
For a website, being assertive means having a call to action that is clear, potent, and offers explicit directions about what to do next. If you don’t have that, your website can have the most amazing message in the world, and you won’t be able to bring it home, because even the most conversion-ready visitor won’t convert if they don’t know how. Concision, of course, simply means not saying anything you don’t need to — a critical art in all online communication.
Remember the Non-Verbal Communication
A website’s version of ‘verbal’ communication is the copy — but, just like in a conversation, that’s only 10% of what a website communicates to a visitor. People have come to associate headers, footers, breadcrumb navigation, and even hero images as expected elements of a business site — skip out on any (much less all) of them, and you’ve got a website that will look like it’s masquerading as a business site but only ‘seems legit.’ Similarly, your color scheme, logo, branding, and layout hugely affect the way that your website comes across — if you don’t carefully match the 90% with the 10%, you’ll come across as weak and uncharismatic, even if your copy is perfect.
Apply these lessons in your daily life, and you can develop the skill called ‘charisma.’ Apply them to your web design, and your websites will show off their charisma in the form of higher conversions, more visitors, and ultimately, better RoI.