If you want to never feel awkward in social situations again, Captivate will change how you interact with people. Vanessa Van Edwards’ bestselling book combines scientific research, personal anecdotes, and social experiments to deliver relevant and actionable tips that you can apply to your daily social interactions.
After reading this book, you’ll have a much better understanding of
- How people work
- How to use your social superpowers to forge better relationships in your personal and professional life
- How to make a memorable impression on everyone in your life
Complete with self-quizzes, personal reflection questions, and mini-challenges, you can consider this book a step-by-step manual and interactive workbook to improve your people skills immediately!
Here is the quick guidebook summary of the national bestselling book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People.
If you love the tips from this summary, the book offers tenfold more! Think of it as an interactive workbook that doesn’t just teach you information but challenges you to use it IRL.
Succeed with People
Master the laws of human behavior and get along with anyone, increasing your influence, impact, and income as a result.
Quick Summary: Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards
As a self-proclaimed “recovering awkward person,” author Vanessa Van Edwards shares her groundbreaking approach to observing and learning people skills. She believes that social charisma is something you can learn and practice, not something you have to be born with.
This book is an actionable guide to understanding how people work. It includes loads of science-backed explanations and actionable resources that will teach you:
- How to make a killer first impression
- How to build rapport quickly
- How to make your social superpowers work for you (even as an introvert)
- How to decode microexpressions
- Where to stand at social events
- How to tell authentic, memorable stories
- How to have more confidence, control, and charisma in social interactions
Part I. The First Five Minutes
Do you worry about your first impression? Do you wonder who you should talk to or what you should say at social events? Part I is the ultimate guide to how you can hack the first five minutes of interaction and be the most memorable person in the room.
Chapter 1. Control: How to win the social game
If you have struggled with being authentic in social situations, this first chapter delivers confidence with a unique twist. Instead of trying to play by someone else’s social rules, hack social scenarios to your advantage.
Hack #1: To take control of your interactions, develop your own Social Game Plan
Instead of forcing yourself into the stereotypical mold of a social butterfly, this chapter explains why you:
- Shouldn’t force yourself to socialize in ways that drain you
- Don’t have to be a bubbly extrovert to be socially skilled
- Should go where you thrive and avoid where you survive
- Learn the power of no so that you have the energy to say yes
Key Message: There are many flavors of social charisma. There is no “one size fits all.”
In a Science of People survey of over 1,000 readers, the majority agree that the most annoying social habit by far is…
This is why pushing through social events you hate can do more harm than good. In fact, you can make everyone else miserable around you.
Instead, Vanessa emphasizes that you need to take control of your interactions by going to places where you genuinely enjoy spending time with other people.
Key Message: To be authentic in social interactions, you can’t just “fake it till you make it.” You have to stay true to yourself and play to your strengths.
Learn the top three most important skills to create your own Social Game Plan, including:
Skill #1: Play your position by finding where you truly enjoy spending time with people and defining your…
- Thrive locations: Where you feel the most authentically you
- Neutral locations: Where you can get by but don’t fully enjoy yourself
- Survive locations: Where you feel uncomfortable, anxious, or unhappy
Skill #2: Work a room using the three main zones of every event:
- The Start Zone: Where people enter an event
- The Social Zone: The center of an event where everyone is eating, drinking, and talking
- The Side Zone: The margins and bathroom area
Skill #3: Know your team by using writing prompts to identify your
- Winger (wingman or wingwoman): Your best hype person who would go on a behavior-hacking social adventure with you
- Your riser: Someone you wish was on the list that you’d like to improve your connection with
Action Step: Like every chapter in the book, Control ends with specific challenges to help you apply these concepts in real life. For example, you can practice saying no to social events and people that drain you this week.
Chapter 2. Capture: How to make a killer first impression
Like it or not, your first impression sets the stage for every social interaction. In less than 2 seconds, someone has already judged whether they:
- Believe you
- Like you
- Trust you
Your first impression is not about what you say but how you present yourself.
Hack #2. The Triple Threats: Make a powerful first impression by hacking all three levels of trust
You can’t say much in the first few seconds of an interaction, but your body can communicate everything you want to show about your character.
Skill #1: Use your hands to reveal your intentions
- Palms show “friend.”
- Closed or hidden hands show “foe.”
- NEVER put your hands in your pockets
- NEVER skip a solid handshake
- Give a firm (but not overly tight) handshake to release oxytocin (the bonding hormone)
Skill #2: Take up space to display confidence
- People are drawn to winners
- When you’re proud, your body is bigger and more expansive
- When you’re defeated, you try to hide and take up as little space as possible
- Use your Launch Stance: shoulders down and back, chin and chest, forehead and slightly up, space between your arms and torso, and visible hands
Skill #3: Engage with eye contact to build trust and use gaze to make a connection
- Eye contact is non-threatening, so their brain wants you on their team
- Eye contact produces more oxytocin, the foundation for trust
- When you like someone, you look at them more
Action Step: Next time you’re in a conversation, take a minute to evaluate your eye contact:
- Notice their eye color
- Don’t look over their head at your surroundings
- Hold eye contact for 60-70% of the time while listening
Key Message: When you meet someone you want to connect with, remember your nonverbal Triple Threat:
- Confirm trust by showing your hands
- Be a winner with your Launch Stance
- Use the right amount of eye contact
Action Step: Practice your Triple Threat body language in the mirror or on video. See if you can time yourself and display all three cues in less than a 3-second window.
Chapter 3. Spark: How to have dazzling conversations
Once you’ve mastered the nonverbal impression, it’s time to talk. If you’re tired of having mundane conversations, this chapter teaches you how to create Big Talk, the exciting roller coaster of a conversation with several “sparks” or peaks.
These high points of humor, shared interest, or excitement can make the conversation more memorable and give both conversation partners a mega dopamine release.
Hack #3: Conversation Sparks are unique talking points that make conversations memorable.
Boring conversations lack dopamine because they are almost the same thing over and over again. It’s almost like repeating a worn-out social script. Avoid this with three simple steps:
Step #1: Use conversation sparkers (unique conversation starters) to inspire novelty and excitement that make you more memorable
- What was the highlight of your day?
- Are you working on any exciting or personal passion projects?
- Have anything exciting coming up in your life?
- What’s your story?
- What brings you here?
Step #2: Push hot buttons that light somebody up
- Hot buttons are hobbies, topics, or activities that make someone excited
- Notice if they start nodding, agreeing, or leaning in to hear more
- Point out the hot button and ask them about it to dig deeper
- If you are weird, own it, and the right people will like you
Step #3: Wake people up with an unusual or surprising action
- Make a unique request or do something out of the ordinary
- Spice up your job title
- Post something unique on social media
- Put a quote in your email signature
- Don’t serve coffee; serve tea, lemonade, or cake pops.
Key Message: The best conversations insight excitement and novelty. Spice it up to make yourself more memorable and likable.
For a bonus, repeat someone’s name in the conversation. Everyone loves the sound of their name.
How to remember people’s names:
- Say it out loud
- Spell it out in your head
- Anchor it (link to a famous person, celebrity, or someone you already know with the same name. Vanessa imagines every Matt she knows playing poker at the same table.)
Key Message: Remember people’s names to be more likable and use memorable conversation sparkers.
Chapter 4. Highlight: How to be the most memorable person in the room
Has someone ever told you that you talk too much or interrupt them when they speak? This chapter starts with Vanessa’s transformative experience of taking a Vow of Silence. She learned that many people lack listening skills and spend most conversations talking about themselves.
Captivate explains why the best conversations aren’t about what you say but what you hear.
Hack #4: Highlighter: Bring out the best in people by highlighting their strengths
Key Message: Being a highlighter of the good helps you be the highlight of an event.
Skill #1: Be a highlighter
- Pygmalion effect: The self-fulfilling power of expectation
- When you see someone excited or passionate, mirror and match them
- “I’m so thrilled for you!”
- “How wonderful!”
- “That is the best news! Congrats!”
- Use positive labels to compliment someone, such as:
- “You know everyone—you must be a great networker!”
- “I’m amazed by your dedication to this organization—they are so lucky to have you.”
- “You are so knowledgeable in this subject—thank goodness you are here.”
Skill #2: Be a raver that lights somebody up
- When you introduce someone to others, use the opportunity to highlight and rave about them.
- Hype them up in front of others, and they will love you
Skill #3: Don’t be a Gollum
- Gollum effect: Low expectations create a poor performance (opposite of the Pygmalion effect)
- Don’t expect the worst. Instead, look for the best
- Avoid hallway chit-chat and basic conversations
Key Message: Don’t try to impress people—let them impress you! Being memorable isn’t about selling your high points but about highlighting theirs.
Action Step: Introduce one of your colleagues or friends to someone you think they would like. Practice making two raving introductions that “toot their horn” and highlight their best attributes.
Chapter 5. Intrigue: How to be ridiculously likable
People are naturally attracted to those who are similar to themselves. This is called the Similarity Attraction Effect. People are always searching for something relatable to which they can respond, “Me too!”
Hack #5: Thread Theory
To be more socially attractive, you can find threads of similarity and carry them through the conversation.
Step #1: Search for threads to forge a link between you and a new person
- Mutual contacts
- Context of your meeting (are you both at the same conference?)
- Common interests
Step #2: Follow the thread that lights somebody up
- Deepen the conversation by asking, “Why?”
- Ask “why?” five times in different ways (Why did you get into that? Why are you so excited about that?)
- Explore dreams, motivations, history, and interests to find more threads
Step #3: Create ties if you want to take your connection to the next level
- Only for conversations that you want to deepen
- Tie the threads together
- Offer help, support, or advice
- Create a permanent similarity
Key Message: Instead of pointing out your differences, find ways to say, “Me too!”
Use Vanessa’s “Teach Me” trick to create a conversation thread when you can’t find anything in common with someone. Ask:
- “I have never heard of that book/movie. What’s it about?”
- “What an interesting career—I’ve never met anyone in that line of work. Tell me about it!”
- “I’ve never been there before. Have any insider travel tips for a beginner?”
Action Step: Next time you talk to someone, find three common threads within the first three minutes. Ask “Why?” and demonstrate your interest.
Part II. The First Five Hours
Once you’ve mastered the first five minutes, it’s time to tackle the rapport-building phase of a relationship. Whether on a date, in a job interview, or finding new friends, Part II is about solving puzzles like:
- How to speed-read someone
- How to predict their behavior
- How to prevent miscommunications
Chapter 6. Decode: How to uncover hidden emotions
To understand people, you must look beneath their deceiving behaviors or words. Microexpressions are people’s brief, involuntary expressions when they feel intense emotion. They are the ultimate truth-revealers.
Hack #6: Spot the seven microexpressions to uncover the truth
Decoding helps you find the emotional intent behind people’s words. You can listen to what people mean by hearing and looking for these universal flashes of honesty.
The Seven Microexpressions:
- Anger: People flash signs of anger when they are displeased or annoyed.
- Eyebrows down and together
- Eyes glare
- Narrowing lips
- Contempt: Also known as scorn, disdain, or disrespect, these are red flag expressions.
- One-sided cheek lift
- Pulling up one corner of the mouth
- Happiness: Decipher genuine pleasure from the fake kind by looking for these cues of a real smile:
- Corners of the lips equally pulled up
- Possible lip parting with visible teeth
- Engaged upper cheeks
- Wrinkling at the corner of the eyes
- Fear: Something has triggered a fight-or-flight response.
- Widened eyes
- Lifting upper eyelids
- Elevated eyebrows
- Horizontal lines on the forehead
- Slightly open mouth
- Surprise: The longest of the microexpressions reveals that someone is taken aback.
- Raised, rounded eyebrows
- Widened eyes
- Dropped-open jaw
- Deep inhale (gasp)
- Disgust: The face someone makes when they experience something unpleasant or revolting, like smelling a bad fume.
- Wrinkling nose
- Lifting upper lip
- Tightening lower eyelid
- Sadness: This is the hardest microexpression to fake. It indicates a deep feeling.
- Corners of eyebrows pinched together
- Drooping eyelids
- Puffing or pouting lower lip
- Frowning mouth corners
While these microexpressions are universal across human cultures, they still rely on special attention and your instincts.
Step #1: Spotting microexpressions
- Pay attention to spotting flashed microexpressions that can be less than a second long
Step #2: Responding to the insight you gained about their emotional state
- If you spot anger, you may stay calm and try to explain, so they feel less threatened.
- If you spot happiness, celebrate and smile with them.
- If you spot a surprise, clarify that you’re on the same page.
Step #3: Understand outliers that may not fit the mold
- Some microexpressions are unique to certain personalities
- Learn the different potential meanings of eyebrow raise, facial punctuators, and squelching (trying to hide a microexpression)
- Don’t mistake these outliers for universal emotions
Key Message: Always look for the seven microexpressions as you listen.
Action Step: In the back of the book, Vanessa Van Edwards provides tear-out flashcards of the microexpressions so you can practice facial reading on the go. Run through them with a friend or family member and see how many you can recognize in a flash. You can also take our Decode training to master facial expression reading.
Dive Deeper with Hidden Microexpressions
Microexpressions are facial expressions that happen in a fraction of a second. In Decode, we dive deep into these microexpressions to teach you how to instantly pick up on them and understand the meaning behind what is said to you.
Chapter 7. Solve: How to crack someone’s personality
People are like puzzles—they all have unique personalities, life experiences, and perspectives you must piece together to understand. This hack helps you solve the people puzzle so you can “get” someone quicker.
All humans have a combination of these five basic personality traits.
The Five Personality Traits (OCEAN):
Openness: This trait is about how people approach new ideas.
- High: Enjoys change, novelty, and adventure
- Low: Savors routines, traditions, and habits
Conscientiousness: This trait is about a person’s approach to getting things done.
- High: Loves to-do lists, organizations, and schedules.
- Low: Typically prefers big ideas and strategy. May find lists and schedules overwhelming.
Extroversion: This trait is about how you approach people in social situations.
- High: People give them energy. They cheerfully seek out social interactions.
- Low: Craves alone time and finds people to be draining.
Agreeableness: This trait is about cooperation, empathy, and emotional awareness of others.
- High: Easy to get along with, very empathetic, and enjoys caring for others.
- Low: Analytical, practical, skeptical—prefers to keep emotions out of decisions.
Neuroticism: This explains how someone approaches worry and reactivity.
- High: Tends to be a worrier and may have frequent mood swings.
- Low: Calm, stable, and very little mood fluctuation.
Hack #7: Speed Read: Use the matrix to solve people’s Big Five Personality Traits
Step #1: You
- Understand your scores and traits
Step #2: Them
- Practice guessing the traits of people you meet
- Use the quiz as a game in the workplace
Step #3: Us
- Think about which traits are complimentary—optimize these
- Use compromise to deal with conflicting traits
Key Message: Notice the five personality traits in others and endeavor to combine your personalities, so they work symbiotically.
Chapter 8. Appreciate: How to get the best from people
Winning people over in your personal or professional life requires fulfilling their innate human need to feel appreciated.
You may have heard of Gary Chapman’s groundbreaking book The Five Love Languages. This chapter helps you discover the best way to express appreciation to different people. The five primary love languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Quality time
Dr. Chapman has since collaborated with psychologist Dr. Paul White to adapt this concept to the workplace. They call these the five “appreciation languages.”
Hack #8: The Appreciation Matrix: Uncover more layers of how someone expresses and feels appreciation.
Step #1: You
- Discover your own primary and secondary appreciation language
Step #2: Them
- Decode the appreciation languages of others
- Ask as a conversation starter: “Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages?”
- Notice their microexpressions and appreciation style around the office
Step #3: Us
- Aim for “we-ness” over “me-ness.”
- More “we, our, us” statements.
Action Step: Take the love language quiz and ask those close to you to take it, too. Challenge yourself to show appreciation to three important people in your life with their preferred love language.
Key Message: Appreciation is the key to life and job satisfaction. Saying thanks isn’t enough. Understand how people want to receive affection so that you can show your appreciation in a way that is meaningful to them.
Chapter 9. Value: How to get along with anyone
Social psychologist Dr. Uriel G. Foa says that all interactions are transactions. This doesn’t mean cold and businesslike; rather, it implies that human relationships are about exchanging value.
For example, a relationship with a mentor may give you the resources of information and status and provide them with the resource of service and warmth.
Hack #9: Primary Value is the underlying motivation that drives a person’s actions, decisions, and desires
Captivate provides a matrix that acts as a snapshot of your interactions with different people.
Level One: How do they rank on the five personality traits?
Level Two: Which of the five languages of appreciation do they speak?
Level Three: Which primary value language drives them?
Ask yourself: Which is your primary value?
Key Message: Value is in the eye of the beholder. Find what someone values and fill those missing needs.
Action Step: Think of the most important people in your life. What are the primary values that drive their decisions? What resources do you give and take with each other in your interactions?
Part III. The First Five Days
Once you’ve mastered making a great impression and capturing people’s attention, it’s time to create a lasting connection. But transitioning from acquaintance to lifelong friend or from casual date to romantic partner can be challenging. This section is about leveling up your relationships and increasing your influence.
Chapter 10. Connect: How to speak, so people listen
Notice how the most popular and successful people in your social or business circles share one thing: they are storytellers. Stories capture people’s attention and make them listen. Stories also sell ideas, products, and services.
Hack #10. The Story Stack: Share, tell, and hunt for captivating stories to capture imagination and attention.
Form your Story Stack with these three components:
- Trigger Topic: These are the safe, generic areas that come up repeatedly in conversations—like traffic, current events, childhood experiences, or travel.
- Sparking Stories: Most trigger topics can lead to a sparking story. These anecdotes make people laugh, groan, or have a great follow-up conversation.
- Boomerang: Once you finish telling a story, the boomerang trick helps you bring the conversation back around to other person or people. Tie it back to them with a question or inquiry about their stories.
Key Message: Keep a “stack” of stories in your pocket to share in social scenarios when specific topics come up in conversation.
An awesome story has these three elements:
- Start with a Hook: An intriguing question, stimulating statement, or open-ended idea piques someone’s interest to listen.
- Champion a Struggle: People love hearing about someone overcoming a challenge.
- Utilize Provocative Words: The brain lights up when you hear descriptive words like “perfume” or “coffee” because they trigger a sensory response.
Action Step: Think of three stories that you regularly enjoy telling. See if they have a hook, struggle, and expressive words. Practice them with a friend to make the stories more exciting and relevant to your interactions.
Chapter 11. Empower: How to lead people
Leadership is the art of empowering people toward a common mission. This chapter gives you some unique tools for getting people to buy into your mission so you can inspire action emotionally.
Hack #11: Own It! Empower people by giving them buy-in, control, and ownership.
Micromanaging kills leadership. When you let go of control, your leadership skills can prosper. Captivate suggests that you:
- Share your mission and tie it to mutual interests.
- Figure out how to use each person’s unique skill set.
- Step back and let others take control of the process.
Key Message: Give your team an emotional connection to your mission and step back so they can use their skills and passions to make it happen.
Action Step: If you are an aspiring or current leader, manager, or business owner, learn about how you can cultivate your Executive Presence: 10 Ways to Become a Charismatic Leader, including:
- How should you stand to portray that you are a leader
- How to improve your self-confidence
- The secrets to speaking with power
Chapter 12. Reveal: How to build lasting relationships
If you think being vulnerable is a weakness, you will be surprised to know that all the science says otherwise. Vulnerability and secret-sharing are attractive. They are necessary for lasting personal relationships.
Hack #12. The Franklin Effect: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, share vulnerability, or admit a weakness—they bond you to people.
The Franklin Effect: When someone does something kind for you, they are likelier to like you.
Key Message: People enjoy helping others, but you have to give them a chance by:
- Asking for advice (when you honestly need it)
- Accepting casual favors
- Show you’re anti-perfect because people like imperfection
- Make mistakes
- Admit when you’re wrong
- Say, “I don’t know.”
Action Step: Ask a friend or coworker for honest advice about something you’ve been struggling with. Notice how your bond deepens, and they may come to you in the future with a request.
Chapter 13. Protect: How to deal with difficult people
All of the social hacks shared in this book work on most people, but there are always those “Debby Downers” or “Show-offs.” This chapter teaches you how to crack the code of dealing with people who are rude, awkward, dull, or otherwise difficult to deal with.
Key Message: Most difficult personality traits come from the root cause of social fear.
Hack #13. The Nut Job: When dealing with difficult people, try to understand them and transform the fear.
Use this hack to prevent difficult or uncomfortable interactions:
Step #1: Name
- What is this person afraid of?
- Listen for emotional words like “dislike,” “hate,” “anxious,” or “excited.”
Step #2: Understand
- What is this person seeking?
- Make them feel heard.
Step #3: Transform
- What does this person need?
- Become their ally
Bonus: How to say no to toxic people
- Eat humble pie (set boundaries without being offensive)
- No hemming and hawing (don’t beat around the bush)
- No excuses (don’t give a reason, just set your boundary)
Action Step: Next time you encounter someone that irks you, use the tips in this guide on How to Talk to People You Don’t Like. Our favorite tricks are:
- Light conversation starters that avoid controversial topics
- Let them do the talking and ask questions about them
- If they won’t budge, ask them a magical question that can help you avoid future awkward conversations
Chapter 14. Engage: How to turn people on
These final tips can help you master the art of popularity. Research shows that popularity does not link to everything we usually think of (appearance, money, athleticism, or humor). Instead, it comes from specific brain patterns and social skills.
Key Message: Popular people make us feel good because they keenly attune to social signals.
Hack #14. Attunement: Make people feel wanted, liked, and known.
This is the only hack in the book that should be used selectively with people you want to build a deep connection with. Attunement works with these three key elements:
- Reciprocity: We like people who like us.
- Belonging: Make people feel accepted and heard.
- Curiosity: Show them you care about them by being curious.
Key Message: Don’t impress people. Engage them! Let curiosity drive your interactions.
In summary, Captivate includes 14 social hacks:
Hack #1: The Social Game Plan
Hack #2: The Triple Threat
Hack #3: Conversational Sparks
Hack #4: Highlighter
Hack #5: Thread Theory
Hack #6: The Decoder
Hack #7: Speed-Read
Hack #8: The Appreciation Matrix
Hack #9: Primary Value
Hack #10: The Story Stack
Hack #11: Own It!
Hack #12: The Franklin Effect
Hack #13: The NUT Job
Hack #14: Attunement
Key Takeaways: Captivate People With Trust-Building, Body Language, and Curiosity
Captivate’s core promise in this book is that learning people skills will change your life. While traditional education focuses on IQ (intellectual intelligence) and psychologists focus on EQ (emotional intelligence), Captivate helps raise and develop your PQ or interpersonal intelligence.
- High PQ= People with a high PQ excel at navigating social situations. They may be natural leaders who intuitively understand and interpret people’s feelings and verbal and nonverbal cues. These high achievers make, on average, $29,000 more per year than people with an average PQ.
- Low PQ= People with a low PQ haven’t yet developed important social skills like effective communication, empathy, or listening skills.
The three parts of this book teach you how to uplevel your PQ in the first five minutes, the first five hours, and the first five days of an interpersonal relationship.
But the best part is this book is more than just information. It’s a guide. Get your copy to use all the bonus workbook resources, journal prompts, exercises, and more.
And don’t forget Vanessa reads the Audible book if you prefer to listen!
Succeed with People
Master the laws of human behavior and get along with anyone, increasing your influence, impact, and income as a result.