Doe Lang routinely asks her students: "What person -- living or dead -- do you think exudes the most charisma?"
Although most people name celebrities or religious leaders from Jesus to John Travolta, "At least one out of four people says 'a person I used to know in my hometown.'
"This shows that charisma isn't just a quality of rich or beautiful or powerful people," says the New York-based charisma coach. "It's a superlanguage -- the ability some people have to reach a deep level of communication with others.
"When someone has that sense of inner rightness that draws people to them -- that's charisma. And we all have it. But with most people it's got to be tapped and developed."
Through her 4-year-old company, Charismedia, Inc., Lang helps less-than-charismatic people "cultivate the charisma from within" -- at $100 to $150 an hour for private lessons, or in less-expensive group classes.
Her clients, she says, include "politicians, executives, authors going on book tours, homemakers who want to address the P-TA and just about anyone interested in really reaching other people." Although her varied classes have titles like "How to Talk to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime and Feel Good About It," they all revolve around basic charisma-building skills.
"These skills are important to everyone who wants to explore who they are," she says, "how they can reach other people and contribute their best resources to the world."
An actress, musician and former soap-opera star (her longest-running part was Karen Adams in "As the World Turns"), Lang's career in charisma began seven years ago.
"I was asked to teach a course in 'Public Speaking for Private People' at the New School for Social Research," recalls Lang, a charismatic if somewhat overly-exuberant redhead, who prefers not to reveal her age. ("It's such an ageist society.")
"I'd never taught a class like that before, and I wanted to be able to give people whatever keys they needed to become more comfortable presenting themselves. So I studied everything I could lay my hands on about psychology and Eastern disciplines."
Combined with her background in theater exercises, vocal techniques and improvisation, Lang's class became what one reporter termed "a course in charisma."
"I was horrified when I read that," she says. "I thought how presumptuous to claim to teach charisma. But when I looked in the dictionary I found that the word comes from Charis, one of the three graces in Greek mythology, and means 'the devine gifts or attributes each person has within.'
"And that's exactly what I believed. I'd been trying to help people reach the very deep places where we all share our humanness, and learn to open that up to other people to create a bridge between them. When you can literally tune someone into your wave-length, that's charisma."
Most people hide the charisma inside, she claims, "because they do not think well of themselves. Even those who are egocentric or overbearing are just exhibiting feelings of inadequacy."
To build feelings of self-worth, Lang asks people to "think of the most negatively critical person in their childhood, and uncover what those messsages were.
"For example, one woman came to me wanting to be the company president, but 'People seem to look right through me.' She was a very big woman and had been told by her mother all her life to try not to stand out. As a result, her posture was crunched and gave off the message 'I'm trying to be invisible.' Correcting her carriage made a world of difference."
Although self-confidence is vital, notes Lang, "It's just part of charisma." Another major element, she says, "is the ability to think the way you want to feel.
"People walk through the door of their expectations. So if they expect to be nervous, they will be nervous." She prescribes a variety of exercises to promote relaxation, imagination and assertiveness to help people "think confidence."
So far one's speaking voice, Lang says, "Brilliant words spoken in a flat, lifeless voice are wasted because people often pay more attention to the way something sounds than to what it means."
To improve vocal quality, she recommends yawning, "to relieve throat tension," and deep breathing. Among other charisma-enhancing exercises she presents in "The Charisma Book" (Wyden Books, $10.95):
The Basic Buddah Belly for Stress -- Sit on the edge of a chair, with back straight and feet on the floor. Clasp hands around your lower abdomen and slowly exhale a big, audible sigh. Stay empty a few seconds, release tightness in your face and upper body.
Begin to inhale very slowly, with your mouth closed and feel your lower abdomen swell in your hands. Visualize a colorful balloon inflating slowly, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Hold, then exhale slowly, watching the balloon collapse. Repeat several times.
The Quick Energy Wow -- Breathe deeply and start softly saying "Wow!" Repeat 10 times, getting louder and louder, and more and more animated each time, until you're leaping, jumping and flinging your arms toward the ceiling each time you shout.
The Depressurizer -- Stand in a doorway and press your palms against the doorframe on both sides. Hold your breath and keep increasing the pressure -- you will feel warmth rushing to your face, head and neck. Hold as long as you can.
The Infallible Butterflies Chaser -- Stand with your feet apart, knees slightly bent, back straight and arms relaxed. Without taking any additional breath, do 10 short energetic bounces, saying "vuh" on each.
Relax, inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale in a steady stream, saying "sh-h-h-h," with mouth slightly open, letting the body sink to the knees.
For those who find the exercises "silly" or think they don't need a charisma check-up, Lang counters.
"Just remember that there are three kinds of people in the world -- those who make things happen, those to whom things happen, and those who say 'What Happened?'"