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The Charisma Coach: Olivia Fox Cabane

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No matter what realm of business you are in, charisma and communication are key components. Business-communication specialist Olivia Fox Cabane specializes in coaching and teaching business professionals the elements of style and communication that will maximize their professional relationships. Using her background in law as a launching pad, Fox Cabane has taken her extensive business experiences and combined them with powerful scientific research to formulate tips and tactics for having a successful business and sales career.

Strangely enough, Fox Cabane originally set out to become a lawyer before she went on to specialize in business communication. As a native of France, Fox Cabane grew up and attended school in Europe. At the age of 18, she set out to earn a law degree and then proceeded to get "more law degrees than she knows what to do with."

Because European law school starts at the beginning of one's college career, Fox Cabane attended law school for seven years rather than completing a three-year graduate program as students in America do. Once she graduated with degrees in French business law, German business law, and European business law, Fox Cabane explored almost every sector that the legal profession has to offer. She worked at an Am Law 50 firm as an attorney, at a Fortune 500 company as general counsel, and as a solo practitioner.

But ironically, after all of her study in the legal field, Fox Cabane realized that the strenuous and draining schedule and work of law had become major turn-offs. "Once I started the actual work, being locked in a data room for stretches of 24 hours at a time quickly killed any passion I had had for the subject," she said.

As she considered pursuing a new career after practicing law for years, Fox Cabane began to notice that many lawyers lacked some crucial communication and business-development skills. Once she dove into the topic, Fox Cabane began to do some research. Since her mother was a psychotherapist and her father was a research scientist, Fox Cabane was inclined to combine those influences with her business and law background to create her own business-development program.

Fox Cabane focuses on the scientific reasoning behind human behavior and how professionals can use it to boost their communication skills and tactics in the world of business. For example, charisma is a characteristic of likeable people that is actually attributed to a chemical within the human body.

"Though likeability seems intangible, it is actually measurable, quantifiable, predictable, and it can also be manipulated," she said. Much of her early study was based on how people's likes, dislikes, and levels of trust and mistrust can be predicted and adjusted based on physical and chemical makeup.

Combining her own business-communication strategies with her scientific findings, Fox Cabane developed her program and started her own company, Spitfire Communications. A regular speaker at companies all around the world, Fox Cabane has also lectured at Harvard, Yale, MIT, and the United Nations. She also frequently provides commentary to media outlets such as BusinessWeek, Crain's New York, Bloomberg, and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. Additionally, Fox Cabane has incorporated her teachings into a book called The Pocket Guide to Becoming a Superstar in Your Field.

Fox Cabane bases many of her techniques on the premise that "people like people who are like them." Suggesting that this theory is inescapable, she advises that when networking, meeting, or interviewing with someone, the more you dress like the other person, talk like the other person, and show how much you two have in common, the more he or she will like you.

The handshake is a huge first-impression factor that many professionals still have not conquered. Her advice is to "make sure it's perfect." This means you should avoid holding a drink before shaking hands, especially if it is a cold drink. "The condensation will make your hand feel cold and clammy, thus producing the dreaded dead-fish," she said. "If you tend to have clammy hands, just give them a spray of antiperspirant before you leave the house."

Fox Cabane has a number of tips and tactics to remember in meetings and other business situations. Her "10 Tips to Excel in Conversation" are below:

1. Put yourself in their shoes. There are few things more gratifying than feeling completely understood by the person with whom you're talking, and the best way to have them feel that way about you is to try to see everything from their perspective.

2. Be really, truly interested in them. To quote Dale Carnegie, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming truly interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

3. Listen far more than you talk. The longer you keep the spotlight on them, the more delightful they will find you.

4. Smile!

5. Increase your level of eye contact. This will send a drug-like hormone called phenylethylamine gushing through your veins, which will improve communication and liking.

6. Synchronize your body language with theirs: subtly adopt the same postures, head tilts, facial expressions, and voice tone as they do. They will feel that you are "exactly like them."

7. Adopt a "What can I do for you?" mindset. You want to be felt like a giver, not a taker.

8. Be positive and enthusiastic.

9. Make them feel good about themselves. Admire and praise what you are truly impressed by. To be believable, be specific in your compliments.

10. Quit worrying about what you've just said, wish you hadn't said, or are going to say next. In the end, what people remember is not what was said but, rather, the emotional imprint of the conversation — how it felt to be talking to you.

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I cook. I'm French; if I don't cook for two weeks, I get cold-turkey syndrome. Also candle-making, traveling, and hiking.

Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. Nothing. I use an iPod, but it would be Los Bacilos (a South American band).

Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. Entrepreneur magazine because I was quoted in it.

Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. I don't own a television, but Amélie and Three Seasons are my favorite movies.

Q. Who is your role model?
A. Alan Weiss, the great god of consulting.

Fox Cabane also puts a unique emphasis on the importance of choosing colors that will have a positive effect on the human psyche. Based on scientific research, these colors have the following effects on people when they see them:

Red: Ambition or passion. Wear red to wake up an audience.
Black: Seriousness. It also gives the message that you will not take no for an answer.
White: Innocence and honesty. Wear white on the witness stand!
Blue: Trust. The darker the shade of blue, the deeper the level of trust it elicits.
Gray: The quintessential color of business.
Orange and Yellow: The quickest to attract the eye. They are also the first to tire it. Avoid these colors.

Many high-profile businesspeople and politicians hire color consultants to choose the most appropriate colors for their wardrobes, maximizing their outfits' "likeability," if you will. Fox Cabane referred to presidential debates specifically. In the last presidential debate, both candidates, with highly paid political consultants behind them, chose navy blue suits (deep trust), white shirts (honesty), and red ties (passion).
On the net:Spitfire Communications

The Pocket Guide to Becoming a Superstar in Your Field

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