Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards
One Line Summary
Nerdy Girl Decodes How To Be Human
If you’re into studying what makes people tick, chances are you’ve heard the name Vanessa Van Edwards recently.
Vanessa is a “recovering awkward person” who lacked many of the social skills we would consider essential. She struggled with reading emotions, interrupting people, generalized anxiety, hives and so much more.
So what happened?
Because of the difficulty of her situation, Vanessa dedicated her life to decoding the Science of People through meticulous research. Now she teaches others what she has learned about how to persuade, lead and get others to like you.
Captivate is the culmination of many of the best insights she has figured out. So if you’re interested in studying why people do what they do, let’s nerd out together.
Why it’s Awesome
I’m usually skeptical when I hear people talk about formal research and social dynamics. The studies are often overly academic and not grounded in personal experience. But Vanessa breaks that mold.
Vanessa has studied people not by sitting behind a desk, but actually interacting with people and using herself as a guinea pig. That gives her a sense of real world experience that cannot be matched purely by case studies.
In fact, one of the best ways to learn everything in this book is just to pay attention to how Vanessa interacts with people on her blog, her YouTube channel and in interviews.
Here she is being interviewed by Lewis Howes on The School of Greatness.
Let’s move onto some of my favorite ideas:
Normal Is Boring
Safety is in the herd. But it’s also where boring conversation are born. If you want to captivate people, you have to learn to step out of “normal” and what society has scripted for you.
That doesn’t mean you have to become some sort of cartoon character. But everyone wants to have fun, and what is boring isn’t fun.
One of the things Vanessa suggests is tweaking your conversation starters. If you’re meeting someone new, the usual What do you do? Where are you from? is something we’re all used to getting. That makes it normal, normal is boring and boring is uncharismatic.
Instead, Vanessa suggests one of these:
- Tell me about you.
2. What’s your story?
3. What personal passion project are you working on right now?
4. Working on anything exciting lately?
5. How do you know the host?
6. Have you been to an event like this before?
7. What was the highlight of your day today?
8. What was the highlight of your week?
9. What was the high-point and low-point of your day so far?
10. Is this your busy season? Is this a busy time for you?
In general, you want to be thinking novelty in your interactions with people. It’s a sense of uniqueness about the person.
You can’t hide what’s inside. Vanessa goes deep on the study of microexpressions, which are extremely subtle social ticks that clue people in on your true feelings.
This is really interesting because most people have never heard or study microexpressions in their life. Yet our minds are so powerful and trained for social connection that we often run these calculations without thinking. It’s a subconscious process.
However, if you have trouble reading people than consciously looking and practicing with microexpressions can help a lot.
It also goes to show you how true charisma is won. Often it’s the subtle of the subtle (a slight eyebrow raise, and turning of the head, raising of the cheek) that makes all the difference because it shows authenticity.
Everyone thinks their flaws are what keeps them from being charismatic and likeable. Everyone is wrong.
Flaws are a part of the human experience. When you see that people are all fucked up (in their own, lovable way), then you can let your guard down.
I was actually talking about this yesterday with a good friend of mine. I mentioned that people don’t see the full person, they see projections and their own judgments. It’s objectification on a human-wide scale.
Ironically, by getting out of protection mode and moving towards openness / oneness, you actually make yourself more charismatic.
This is one that I probably struggle with the most. I do not like vulnerability, in fact vulnerability feels closer to suicide than just being vulnerable. But that’s the personal growth process. It’s a healing.
Vanessa talks a lot about something called speedreading, which is your ability to immediately read someone’s personality off of only a few clues. She does this through The Big 5 model and walks you through how to determine where people fit in each category.
I like this for two reasons. One, the ability to read people is valuable in any area of life. Two, it gives you some empathy for people who have a personality different from you. Not better or worse, just different.
To wrap up, Vanessa’s passion for social dynamics is ineffectious. You’ll probably find yourself looking at people different just from being around her energy.
Why Does It Suck
I actually do think there are deeper levels to social dynamics than Vanessa has hit here. She’s taken a very western, rationalist perspective to things. And even though I love that, there are spiritual principles at play here that are difficult to see from the purely rational perspective.
Can’t wait to see how she evolves in the future.
The Wrap Up
I definitely recommend this for anyone looking to learn social dynamics. The research is fascinating and you’ll leave having learned a ton about true charisma.