The 3 pillars of creating a charismatic voice and tone

Pieterjan Benoit
Jun 24, 2019 · 6 min read

A few months ago I read ‘The Charisma Myth’ by Olivia Fox Cabane. The book discusses the concept of charisma and how you can become a more charismatic person by acquiring a set of skills.

It sparked the idea to try and have a look if and how these concepts can be applied in UX writing. After all, we want to create great user journeys. So if we can empower our users by letting the interface being a charismatic guide towards their goals, why wouldn’t we, right?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Charisma: the basics

In my understanding, charisma is connected to many different aspects of a person’s behaviour, such as the use of body language and facial expressions, the use of voice, and many other aspects. I always thought it was an innate ability that people just have, after winning the genetic lottery, but it is actually a skill that can be learnt.

The book mentions many techniques to take away the mental obstacles that can hold you back from coming across as charismatic. But at the very core there are three main ingredients that result in charisma: presence, power and warmth.

1. Presence

A prerequisite for charisma is being in the moment and giving the person you are talking to your full attention. Make sure to have several moments during a conversation that you are 100% focused on the other person. He or she will feel respected and listened to. As Fox Cabane puts it in her book:

“When you’re fully present, even a five-minute conversation can create a ‘wow’ effect, as well as an emotional connection.”

During conversation our mind can easily drift off due to random thoughts popping up in our head. Try to stay focused, avoid being absentminded or spending a lot of time on your phone. You want to give your interlocutor the feeling that he/she is the most important person in the world for you at that particular moment.

But how does this translate to UX writing? The interface should look after its users at every moment of the user journey. We want the users to feel understood and cared for. They want to have the feeling they are not on their own in the process of reaching their goals. Avoid dead ends in your interface and always help your users out.

So write for context. Zoom out to see the full picture of where your user is in the journey. Then zoom in again and talk to the users as if you were having a personal conversation with them right now. Show that you are aware of the mindset the user is in at this particular step in the user journey. Be fully in that moment.

In the example of Mailchimp below, the user receives full attention of the interface and is kindly invited for a guided tour through the basics of using the platform. Mailchimp assures the user to be there at every step of the process so that everything is crystal clear.

Nice user-focused, ‘present’ UX writing example of Mailchimp

The wording is accessible, kind and reassuring. Mailchimp shows that they understand how the user feels when reading this and offer help.

2. Power

According to Fox Cabane’s book, the human reaction to power is deeply wired within our brain. In ancient times, when power was displayed by brute force, a leader had to show physical and mental power to earn the respect of his citizens. The combination of power and warmth (the third pillar I will discuss further on) was considered rare, precious, and potentially critical for survival.

Pure physical strength is nowadays barely a necessary aspect of a powerful person. Fox Cabane mentions the Dalai Lama’s kindness or Bill Gates’ intelligence to show that power can have many aliases. These manifestations of power can also be more easily combined with a touch of warmth, but we will get to that.

Showcasing power is important to gain trust because of this instinctive reaction humans still have towards it.

That is why it is a good idea to adopt a brand voice that showcases confidence, professionalism and maybe even a hint of authority. You want to show expertise and be a trustworthy partner for your users. Give them the feeling that they will definitely reach their goals on your website or app and that they will get the proper guidance.

Let’s have a look at a few examples of Medium.

No beating around the bush here. You clearly know what you’re in for with Medium

Inspirational, powerful, and bold. This statement assures the user that this is the place to be for quality content. Another one.

Paywall message that appears when you’ve reached you’re monthly limit on Medium

Friendly and witty, but also professional and confident. Medium tells the user that they appreciate the reading activity, but also confidently points out that the user cannot continue reading without becoming a member. Powerful, to-the-point and user-focused. And still clearly showcasing the specific Medium voice. Nice job.

3. Warmth

For making a charismatic impression it’s not sufficient to have your full focus on your interlocutor, and to showcase a certain element of power in your personality. A final important aspect of good charismatic behaviour lies in eliciting warmth with the person you are interacting with. How to do this? Show kindness, good intentions, and be genuine.

A good example of warm and user-focused microcopy is the interface of the meditation app Headspace. This app wants to make meditation and mindfulness accessible for everyone. The friendly and colourful graphic elements and the soothing voice of the recordings that help you meditate ooze warmth and kindness. And this is also reflected in the UX writing.

The voice of the copy in the app is always kind, warm and helpful, as you can see in the example below.

Warm, kind and encouraging UX writing in the Headspace app

Plenty of presence and warmth here. But you might think Headspace is missing a bit of power in its interface copy, right?

Well, the element of power or (spiritual) authority is well reflected in certain pieces of their content, such as their ‘Mindful Moments’. These are push notifications you receive during the day that help you think about certain aspects of your life. Like a wise, Buddhist monk who forces you to take a break during your day and reflect. Have a look.

Headspace’s ‘Mindful Moments’ give you mindful guidance during your day.

The notifications are straightforward, educational and sometimes a little mysterious. A bit like Yoda or Mr. Miyagi. It’s hard not to think of them as charismatic characters.

Creating a charismatic brand voice

Charisma is a broad concept and can emerge in different ways. Just think of Michelle Obama, Steve Jobs, Roger Federer, Beyoncé and Gandhi, but also of dictators like Mussolini or Stalin. All these people are or were charismatic, but in very different ways.

It is our mission as UX writers to create great experiences for our users through memorable conversations. Charisma is not just about others liking you, it’s about others remembering you. So make your UX writing memorable with the three pillars of charisma.

Don’t hesitate to share insights and tell me how you are planning to spice up your product copy with an extra touch of charisma!

Many thanks to Anja Wedberg and Yuval Keshtcher.

Making Waves Poland

Making Waves Poland is your digital technology partner. Best described as a cross between a creative software house, an interactive agency, and a content writing business. Expert in design and development of content heavy enterprise systems.

Pieterjan Benoit

Written by

Belgian Content Editor at Making Waves in Poland. Passionate about language, beer and travel. Enjoying his trip down the UX writing rabbit hole

Making Waves Poland

Making Waves Poland is your digital technology partner. Best described as a cross between a creative software house, an interactive agency, and a content writing business. Expert in design and development of content heavy enterprise systems.

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