Oprah Winfrey. Dwayne Johnson. Warren Buffet. You may think only powerful leaders have influence. But what I’ve found is that anyone can develop it.

  • What makes a person influential?
  • How do I develop influence?
  • What even IS influence?

I answer all these questions and more in this article.

But first…

I sat down with Noah Zandan, CEO and co-founder of Quantified Communications, the leading firm combining behavior science, AI, and experiential learning. Noah’s book, Insights into Influence, is a groundbreaking anthology of thought leadership and science-backed insights.

Check out our video on influence below:

What is Influence? (Definition)

Influence is the ability to decide what you care about, help others understand why you care about it, and have them support you on your journey. Influence is not a goal; rather, it’s an output.

Here are some examples of influence:

  • A remote worker has influence over their team if they decide the direction of a project.
  • A student has influence over their sibling if the sibling develops good habits after watching them study.
  • A CEO who implements organizational policies influences an employee’s behaviors.

To know if someone is influential, imagine someone and ask yourself the following 4 questions:

  • Am I interested in hearing more from this person?
  • Do I believe in them or want to follow them?
  • Would I do something differently after hearing them talk?
  • When this person speaks, how do I feel?

If you answered positively to all of these questions, there’s a good chance that person has influence.

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Take The Influence Quiz

How well do you know influence?

When it comes to an entire country, most people would agree the President has the most influence over others. In the short quiz below, can you identify the correct answer?

  1. Which President used the MOST emotional language in his inaugural address?
  1. Lyndon B. Johnson
  2. Richard Nixon
  3. Donald Trump
  4. George W. Bush
Tap to Reveal Answer

The answer is d) George W. Bush.

  1. Which President used the MOST negative language in his inaugural address?
  1. Donald Trump
  2. John F. Kennedy
  3. Barack Obama
  4. George H.W. Bush
Tap to Reveal Answer

The answer is b) John F. Kennedy.

  1. Which President used the MOST trustworthy language in his inaugural address?
  1. Dwight Eisenhower
  2. Jimmy Carter
  3. Harry S. Truman
  4. Ronald Reagan
Tap to Reveal Answer

The answer is b) Jimmy Carter.

How did you do? As you learn more about influence, you’ll understand how influence plays a critical role in building relationships, having power, and even feeling confident.

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The Most Influential People in The World

How to be Influential slide. Featuring 7 Masters of Influence

OK, so now we know the dictionary definition of influence.

But what REALLY makes people influential?

Sure, you can Google search “most influential people” and get something like:

But the problem is… these influential people lists are arbitrary.

Influence isn’t like math or engineering, where we can measure numbers and prove that 10 > 9.

When it comes to influence, we can’t simply rank people and say someone is more influential than the other.

Or can we? To really nail down influence, I’ve researched far and wide and dug deep into my own personal experience.

I found that influential people have these key traits:

  • They take the lead.
  • They’re not afraid to go against the grain.
  • They’ve had great mentors.

Let’s take a deeper look at these traits, with real-life case studies to back them up.

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Influential Trait #1: Taking The Lead

#1 Dwayne Johnson - "Take the lead in conversations. Don't be afraid to compliment"

Dwayne Johnson takes conversations by the reins. He doesn’t only let others take control of the flow of conversation. He asks questions, compliments people, and isn’t afraid to interrupt in a friendly manner.

Influential people take the lead. They aren’t afraid of stating their opinions, setting the mood in a conversation, or even interrupting others.

Take a look at the following clip and see how Dwayne Johnson leads the conversation. Before Dwayne interrupts, the interviewer, Jack Hamilton, doesn’t seem 100% comfortable. But right after Dwayne compliments him, he relaxes and opens up.

This is the power of taking the lead:

Learn to take the lead: How to Be a Good Leader

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Influential Trait #2: Using Emotional Words

#2 Oprah Winfrey - "Use emotional words like you and we to create an impact"

Oprah Winfrey is known for her humor and massive influence in the talk show space. And yes, she uses more emotional words in her speech than the average person.

Zandan’s experiment found that the top 10% of influential leaders use 3 times more emotional words than logical ones, including 62% more personalized language.

Influential people have the ability to sway audiences and influence emotions. They have the amazing ability to make other people feel special and important.

For example, let’s take a look at Oprah’s USC commencement speech. Notice how she uses powerful personal pronouns like “you” and “we” and “our” when she talks, like when she says, “The truth has always been and will always be our shield against corruption, our shield against grief and despair. The truth is our saving grace.” Watch her emotionally powerful words here:

Learn to influence with emotions: The Ultimate List of Emotions

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Influential Trait #3: Weathering The Storm

#3 Warren Buffett - " Weather the storm, even during tough times. Remain optimistic"

Most people hear “Warren Buffett” and think money and investing.

Sure, Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest people on Earth, but not many people know it was Warren’s undefeatable attitude during tough times that really showed his influence.

In an analysis of Buffett’s shareholder letters from 1977 to 2016, data scientist Michael Toth found that Buffett remains positive even during hard times, like the 2008 financial crisis.

Influential people remain calm and realistic. They know if something is going south, and they aren’t afraid to speak the truth. However, the key here is that influential people remain optimistic during these tough times while others are panicking.

“People respect when a leader is not only forward-thinking but is very open and honest when things are potentially not going well.”

-Michael Toth on Warren Buffet

Learn to weather the storm: 9 Stoic Practices to Help You Thrive

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Influential Trait #4: Ignoring the Naysayers

#4 Arnold Schwarzenneger - "Ignore the naysayers, go against the grain"

Arnold Schwarzenneger didn’t become a world-class bodybuilder, famous Hollywood actor, and governor of California without lots of uncertainty. People in Hollywood said it would never happen because of his accent, because his body was too muscular, and because of his odd-sounding name.

Influential people are able to see past the noise and naysayers. They carve their own path, even if it means going against the grain.

Check out Arnold’s interview here, where he says the first thing that led to his success was ignoring those who doubted him:

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Influential Trait #5: Being a Giver

#5 Michael Jackson - "Be a giver and have empathy for others"

Michael Jackson wasn’t only known for his knack for music. He was also extremely charitable: he brought awareness to climate change, donated to organizations that support AIDS and cancer research, and supported various causes, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Oh, and there’s even a Wikipedia page on Michael Jackson’s charitable donations.

Influential people maintain their followers because they care for them. They have a deep level of empathy and understanding for who they are influencing.

Michael’s influential music is a product of his love for humanity. Check out this video where Michael announces he’s donating all his profits from his tour to charity:

Learn to be a giver: 5 Proven Ways to Cultivate Your Compassion

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Influential Trait #6: Having a Success Routine

#6 Jack Dorsey - "Have a success routine to boost your confidence throughout the day"

According to Business Insider, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey gets out of bed at 5 a.m. He then meditates for 30 minutes and completes a 7-minute workout 3 times. He ends his routine with a cup of coffee and begins the rest of his day.

Influential people have success routines, or things they can do to pump themselves up and feel confident. Research shows that confidence is what makes people influential, and having a success routine is part of building up that confidence.

“I look to build a lot of consistent routines. Same thing every day.”

— Jack Dorsey

Learn to have a success routine: Perfect Your Morning Routine

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Influential Trait #7: Adding, Not Subtracting

#7 Sophie Turner - "Add on to what others aresaying; don't subtract or be negative"

Sophie Turner, the famous English actress who starred in Game of Thrones, doesn’t exactly come off as the most influential person. She even came out to say, “Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.”

But even if she has her own problems (who doesn’t?), Sophie’s got a unique ability to add to conversations. This is a crucial trait most influential people have mastered.

When influential people speak to someone, they always try to add on to what the other person is saying. They are not subtractors—these are complainers, negative Nancy’s, or judgmental people. They are in the habit of thinking “What can I add to this?” instead of “What don’t I agree with?”

Check out this video where Jimmy makes a joke about Sophia, and instead of downplaying it, she adds onto it. This is a great way to follow up and build on the conversation:

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Influential Trait #8: Tilt Your Head

Want to know an easy, quick way to win show you’re engaged?

Simply tilt your head. This is a nonverbal way of showing you are engaged and actively listening.

When speaking with someone (especially in a loud room or restaurant), occasionally encourage them by giving them a head tilt to show that you want them to keep talking.

Anne Hathaway does a great job of tilting her head when talking to Stephen Colbert:

If you learn to master your nonverbals, you can influence on a deeper level than simply speaking words.

Master Resource: Learn all about body language in our ultimate guide here.

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Influential Trait #9: Lean In

Master motivator Ed Mylett commands influence through his body. As an avid gym-goer, Ed knows that the body influences the mind.

And in this case, Ed uses his body to lean in, bridging the empty space between him and his conversation partner and increasing his influence.

When you lean in, you instantly increase the intensity of a conversation. So when you’re already engaged in conversation, a subtle lean can take your words to another level. Here’s how to use it:

If you have a really important point or you agree with what they are saying, slightly lean in and agree with them. This is like a nonverbal exclamation point and really increases connection. Or, if you have something really juicy you want to say, lean in to give your point a little extra oomph.

Watch here in an episode of Impact Theory how Ed turns his torso and uses the lean-in technique:

The end. Now go out and influence the world.

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What Are The Best Influential Books?

Looking to increase your influence?

Look no further. Here are my top 3 books to go from rusty bolt to influential wizard.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

As the title of the book suggests, this book is all about influence.

Influence is one of the best persuasive books ever written, period. A national bestseller, this book has sold over 3 million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.

Influence contains various psychological strategies that great persuaders use, and Robert even takes up jobs as a car salesman and waiter to demonstrate that these influential strategies work. Chock-full of practical advice and theory, this book is great for entrepreneurs, salespeople, marketers, or anyone who wants to influence people in any way.

I highly recommend giving this book a read.

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How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

When I read my original 1936 copy of this book (yes, this book is over 80 years old!), I was absolutely floored.

This is the book I recommend to anyone who’s looking to become a more influential person. I simply couldn’t believe all the social “mistakes” I was making that Carnegie pointed out and how much influence I was losing because of that.

After making a slight course correction, every new conversation seemed more enjoyable and fun! And most importantly… I did win friends and become more influential! Woo-woo!

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Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards

I might be a little biased, but I wrote this book to change your life, add influence, and boost your confidence. Truly, I wrote it for you, using everything I have learned about what makes people influential and with science to back it up.

This book took me years of writing and researching. When it hit the bestseller list and got translated into 16 different languages, I was blown away. This is for the modern professional looking to make a huge impact on those around them.

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Influence Mini-FAQ

How can I improve my influencing skills?

Learning how to influence others is a skill like any other. The more time and effort you put in, the better you’ll get at influence. I recommend using a combination of knowledge-based accumulation and real-life practice.

Try these quick tips to get a head start on your influence skills:

– read a life-changing book
learn to meditate so you have greater focus and attention
– speak with confidence in your voice
– learn to be funny
set your goals and conquer them
– build your own network of influence

What is the best way to influence others?

To successfully influence others, you have to be genuine. If you really care and put your energy toward a good cause, others will naturally “feel” your passion and you’ll have influence. You should also know what others are looking for.

For example, if you try to influence a customer who’s stubborn, has done their research, and is set on buying product A, but you want to influence them to go with product B instead, you might have a harder time than influencing someone with a clean slate.

What are the four types of influence?

The four types of influence are negative, neutral, positive, and life-changing.

  • Negative: This type of influence can be dangerous, especially if the influencer has bad intentions. Their influence can be driven by greed or desire for more power, which can cause harm to those they have influence over. Imagine the angry boss who is an authoritarian over the office.
  • Neutral: Neutral influence is indifferent influence. People with this type of influence don’t sway the crowd too positively or negatively. They may have an important role or title in a group, but their presence does not change the group much. Think of a lazy sales manager who takes a back seat while their subordinates lead the team.
  • Positive: Positive influence is the classic “leader” we envision influential people to be. These are your CEOs, idols, and other figures people look up to. Positive influencers seek good for others and are charismatic enough to sway others’ opinions.
  • Life-changing: People with life-changing influence are on another level. These are the few individuals who are spoken about globally and have changed most people’s lives for the better. Think of religious figures, like Jesus or Muhammad, and certain musicians, like Michael Jackson.

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Who Do You Want to Influence?

I also did an interview on influence!

As a final wrap-up, check out my video here:

Before you leave, I want to ask you one thing: Who do YOU want to influence?

We all want to be influential, but what do we really want to be influential about? Choosing who we influence is key to further developing our skills in the right direction.

The most important tip of all is to be yourself and really be influential to those who matter to you. If you truly want to influence others, they’ll feel good being around your genuine, unique self.

Now I want to know your opinion. What does influence mean to you? I’d love to hear your story below!

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

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