Learn How to Captivate

Captivate is definitely one of the best books I read this year. It is all about hacking human behavior in order to be more successful in our careers and relationships.


I have some friends that are hesitant with this book because it seems like manipulation. Understanding people’s behavior and their preferences could be used for evil, but we live in a world where we have to interact with other people. And if we can do that understands the rules and expectations, then it is just easier.


Vanessa Van Edwards made her career in helping people be less awkward. She calls herself a professional people watcher. She has done so much research about what makes certain TED Talks speakers viral, why certain historical figures made an impact, and how your selfies are sabotaging your dating game.


She breaks the book into three sections to optimize your impressions and impact in your interactions: The First Five Minutes, The First Five Hours, and The First Five Days. In each of the crucial time periods we can show up and act in a way that gives us the best chance at making a positive impression on another person and making the interaction really matter.


Here are my highlights from each section.


The First Five Minutes

The biggest takeaway from this section was how to be the most memorable person in the room, and it all goes back to be interested to be interesting.  


Van Edwards says that one of her biggest missions with her career is to eliminate small talk. If we follow her advice, hopefully there will never be a terrible cocktail party or networking event where the first question is “So what do you do?” Ask questions that spark excitement. Highlight someone’s best features (whether that is giving a thoughtful introduction or if it is paying someone a compliment). Instead of asking what someone does, how about asking what they are excited about? Or what was the highlight of their day? Find something that makes the person perk up


The key to mastering the first five minutes with someone is to play to your strengths and to help them play to theirs. and get them to talk about that, everyone has something if we just take the time to uncover it. Van Edwards argues that inauthenticity can be sensed by others, so if we are in a situation that we dislike we actually can’t “fake it ‘till you make it.” Instead of faking it, find the things that feel easy or make you feel excited. If you hate dinner parties, don’t force yourself to go to them. If you love meeting people at volunteering events, spend more of your time and effort there.


The First Five Hours

In five hours you can speed read someone’s true emotions and understand their personality well enough to play to their strengths. The key to learning someone’s real inner thoughts and hidden feelings is to speed read microexpressions.


Microexpressions are natural reactions in the face that we cannot control. Microexpressions flash our true feelings of happiness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt, disgust. Each has specific muscles in the face that engage in a specific way. You can get all the details here.


Beyond understanding people’s true emotions, you can also speed read personalities. Personalities can be broken into five categories: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. Each of us is high, low, or middle in each of these areas, and that affects our preferences, our work, and social interactions. If we can understand someone’s rankings in each of these areas, we can meet them where they are and give them information that they need to hear in the way they need to hear it.


Just as important is understanding someone’s Love Language. By understanding how someone likes to receive love we know how to show them appreciation.


The First Five Days

 Van Edwards stresses leadership skills in this third section. To me, this felt like information I had read in lots of other books, but I love that she combines stories and case studies of people that effectively use her tips. Which makes Van Edwards someone that walks her talk because one of the big tips from this section is to use story telling to increase holding people’s attention. She also talks about the power of revealing key vulnerabilities and the importance of leading by empowering. These ideas were things I had read in books by Brene Brown (a vulnerability expert) and John Maxwell ()a leadership expert), but I appreciate the reinforcement.


Overall, Captivate is a book that I will probably read over and over again because the principles require practice in order to master it. I could spend months and months learning to speed read microexpressions alone. If you work with people and if you want to increase your impact with others, read this book!