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Summary: Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication by Vanessa Van Edwards

  • Do you want to learn how to be more charismatic, confident, and influential in your communication? If so, you might be interested in reading Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication by Vanessa Van Edwards. In this book, you will discover how to use the four types of cues – body language, vocal, verbal, and visual – to improve your professional and personal relationships.
  • If you are curious about how cues can help you achieve your goals and connect with others, you should definitely check out this book. Don’t miss this opportunity to master the secret language of charismatic communication!

Cues (2022) is about the signals we send unconsciously and how they affect the way others perceive us. The book is geared toward improving your professional life by managing the cues you send and responding appropriately to the ones you receive.

Introduction: Change the trajectory of your career simply by being in tune with charismatic cues.

If you’ve ever struggled to receive recognition at work or meet your goals, you may have a communication problem. And that problem might not necessarily be with what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. That’s because over half of the communication that occurs in any given interaction is nonverbal. And so sometimes it’s your facial expressions, tone of voice, word choice, visual information, or other types of cues that can make or break your career.

So how do you know what you’re saying when you’re not saying anything?

That’s what we’ll be covering today. In this summary to Cues by Vanessa Van Edwards, we’re going to discuss how to cultivate charisma using several types of cues. In each section, we’ll define the cue category, give an example, and then share how to use the cue yourself and how to respond to it when you see it in others.

Book Summary: Cues - Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication


In 2013, Jamie Siminoff went onto the show Shark Tank to see if he could win over investors for his product. His company had, in fact, already done over a million dollars in sales. It was well on its way forward and just needed investment to turn it into a multi-million dollar business. Chances are, you’ve at least heard of his company— Ring, best known for doorbell cameras.

In 2018, Jamie Siminoff sold Ring to Amazon for over $1 billion. But five years earlier, each of the investors on Shark Tank turned him down. While there are many reasons you might get a rejection when you clearly deserve an acceptance, the culprit most likely lies in your unconscious behaviors.

So, let’s break down Jamie’s cues to start. During a demonstration of his product, he knocked on the door and one of the Shark Tank hosts asked who was there. Jamie said his name, but he said it with a rise in voice at the end, making it sound almost like a question. This was a signal of uncertainty and lack of confidence. Furthermore, Jamie failed to recognize and respond to cues given to him by the panel. For example, when he mentioned his million dollars in sales, Marc Cuban’s mouth turned down in an upside-down smile, or mouth shrug. It’s an unconscious signal that the listener either doesn’t connect with what you’re saying, doesn’t care about it, or doesn’t believe it.

Jamie was missing a crucial component for success: charisma.

Charismatic communication comes down to two things: warmth and competence. The most successful people have the right blend of both, which leads them to be likable and respected, the two of which add up to trust. If you find yourself in this position, you’re probably doing well and have a good grasp of how to achieve your goals confidently.

The rest of us fall into one of several categories. We may have warmth and no competence, making us well-liked around the office but meaning we get passed over for promotions or left out of important meetings. We may be all competence and no warmth, resulting in high achievement but few invitations to networking events or social gatherings, possibly to the detriment of our own advancement. Or we may be floundering altogether, lacking in either warmth or competence.

Cues are the physical or verbal signals that tell others whether we can be trusted. Learning cues consists of two parts. The first is being aware of your own cues; the second is being aware of cues from others. This awareness in your professional conversations can help you get more wins whether you’re seeking a promotion, pitching an idea, or just networking.

Body Language

In most interactions, people are looking for some sort of connection. If your boss is giving you a task, they want some sort of acknowledgment that they’ve been heard. If a spouse is telling you about their day, they want to feel understood.

So let’s tie that to a physical action. Think about what you do if you want to see, hear, smell, or touch something more closely. You lean in.

Leaning increases your warmth factor, making you seem more reliable and trustworthy to the person you’re engaging with. It conveys interest and engagement. It builds a sense of closeness and partnership.

So, naturally, the opposite of this gesture is to lean back. Leaning back puts literal distance between you and the person you’re speaking with. It also puts emotional distance there. You can lean back or simply not lean in whenever you disagree with what someone is saying. You may also lean back or stand your ground if you need to maintain boundaries with someone.

If you notice someone you’re speaking to leaning away, try to determine what triggered the lean-back. Did you say something that suddenly had them rethinking their agreement with you? Did you cross a physical boundary? Or did you perhaps forget to pop a breath mint before going into this conversation?

Whatever the reason, respond appropriately either by respecting the boundary they set or circling back to what you think you said and getting their feedback.

Next, let’s get into how body language cues are used to affect how people experience a situation.

No one does details like Disney. If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, your memories are likely filled with incredible rides, magical castles, or breakfast with Mickey and Minnie. But there is another reason why your experience there felt so welcoming and wonderful.

Every Disney employee goes through training on how to behave and respond when communicating with customers – everything from what they say to how they say it. Visual cues are used to make people feel at home. So when you get that fond feeling of being welcomed, it’s not an accident. It’s precisely on cue.

Now, let’s talk about the head tilt. This is an example of a cue you can begin using to help increase your warmth factor.

Head tilts show that you’re interested in or curious about what the other person is saying. You can use a head tilt when you want to convey curiosity, sympathy, or interest. This will help the other person feel more comfortable with you.

Don’t use a head tilt, however, if you need to hold on to power in the conversation. When you tilt your head, you’re exposing your vulnerable neck, and this gesture can sometimes be seen as submissive in nature.

If you notice a head tilt in someone else, this is probably good for you, as it means the person is likely interested in what you’re saying. But be careful in your relationship with such people. If they are people pleasers, they may be nice to hang out with, but they won’t likely help you advance toward your goals.

Throwing Up Walls

In section two we talked about the importance of connection. Leaning in increases your warmth factor and helps the person you’re speaking with feel comfortable and heard.

The opposite of leaning in would be leaning away. But there are other cues that also signal disconnection, and these cues can be used to help you identify a person who is perhaps not being truthful with you or may be experiencing anxiety.

So in addition to leaning away, you also want to look out for blocking. This can come in a few different forms, including covering some part of your body, like your mouth or eyes. Fidgeting with your necklace or anything near the notch in your collarbone is also a form of blocking.

You need to be very aware of your unintentional fidgets as they could be signaling fear, anxiety, or a lack of confidence.

People will perform blocking gestures if they’re hiding something, feeling anxious, or perhaps if they’ve received some surprising or overwhelming information. If you see someone exhibit this behavior while you’re speaking, try to find out what triggered it.

It may be that you intended to have an uncomfortable conversation – for instance, in the event of confronting an employee about poor performance. Or it may be that the trigger was unintentional, in which case you can offer solace or space to help smooth things over.

A Powerful Voice

You may be familiar with the reality dating show called Love is Blind. In it, pairs of single people are invited to speak to each other with a wall between them, getting to know and sometimes falling in love with one another without ever seeing each other’s face. In one season, a couple named Lauren and Cameron got engaged after only five days. Two years later, they were still happily married.

The power of your voice makes a big difference to your success. One study found that doctors whose voice quality received low ratings were sued more than those with higher ratings.

There are several important vocal cues to be aware of, including pitch and vocal fry. But the one we’re going to talk about in this section is question tone.

If you remember Ring founder Jamie Siminoff’s story, you’ll know that he started his interview off on the wrong foot by asking his name rather than stating it. If you raise the pitch of your voice at the ends of your statements, you’re signaling lack of confidence. You’re essentially asking your listeners to affirm you and your words.

This is easy enough to change, but it helps if you can hear yourself. If you have any recordings of past presentations, listen to make sure there’s no question tone at the ends of your statements.

If you encounter this in others, it may mean that they are doubtful or lack confidence. You may even want to consider turning them down if they’re making a request or seeking further information.

It’s Never Just Semantics

Word choice matters when communicating in a professional setting. Remember, charisma is the right combination of warmth and competence. This applies to all communication, whether it’s talking with a coworker in the breakroom or sending out a formal email.

Warm language might sound like, “I really loved the company retreat yesterday. It was so great getting to know you.”

Competent language might sound like, “Yesterday we pitched a project to the client. I’m going to brief you on the specifics so we can implement it as quickly as possible.”

Some of it has to do with the content of the conversation, but some of it comes down to word choice. You could easily turn the second example into a warmer example by saying, “The client loved our pitch yesterday. I’m excited to work with you on this project, so let’s get started.”

Words like “loved” and “excited” are warmer and more emotion-based. Words like “brief” and “implement” are a little colder.

But word choice is directly related to intent. So let’s talk about one important pitfall to avoid: being boring.

Boring is the antithesis of charisma. It’s an absence of warmth or personality – and if you come across as boring, no matter how competent you are, you’re likely to remain invisible and unheard. To avoid being boring, put more intention into your communications. Decide what your goal is for the communication and infuse it with the right sort of warmth or competence in language.

Seeing is Believing

Before his career as a comedian, David Nihill was a regular job-hunter like anyone else. On his first day at a new job, he realized he’d shrunk all his shirts in the dryer. He decided to roll with it by rolling up his sleeves so no one would notice how short they were.

This visual cue inadvertently altered his image around the office. The sight of sleeves rolled up puts people in mind of someone getting ready to dig in and get to work. He was viewed as a problem-solver rather than a guy whose shirt sleeves were too short for him.

Nihill had created a brand for himself. Visual cues like this can be used in many places, and are often associated with branding and marketing. You’re essentially branding yourself when you subscribe to a certain look or visual.

When using visuals for yourself, the key is to be authentic and intentional. Make sure the visuals you choose are things you can be consistent with. And remember the warmth and competence factors.

Do you want to increase your warmth factor? Consider playful visuals like pins or new hair accessories. For increasing your competence factor, use a color like blue to convey calmness.

With visual cues, do watch out for unconscious bias. Be aware of your own visual cues and notice whether, by changing them, you’ve experienced any changes in your relationships. Pay attention to your own reactions to other people’s visual cues and question your own bias.

Common biases include the idea that male job applicants are more competent and female applicants are warmer. Studies have been done that show that resumés with “white” names get more calls for interviews than resumés with black names. They also show that how attractive you are affects your salary.

Keep all this in mind as you dress, decorate your desk, choose letterhead, and any other way that you represent yourself visually.


How we hold ourselves, how we speak, what we say, and how we look are all factors in our ability to succeed at work. Charisma is often a deciding factor in whether we get the promotion we want or manage to sway investors. When thinking about charisma, we’re looking at two factors: warmth and competence.

Cues come in many forms, but they’re all directly related to our warmth and competence factors. When you lean in while someone is speaking, you’re performing a warm gesture designed to increase loyalty and trust. When you stand tall and take up space, you’re conveying power and competence.

It’s important to be conscious of cues in all your professional interactions. Controlling your own cues can help you succeed. And recognizing cues in others can help you respond appropriately.

About the author

Vanessa Van Edwards is a speaker, researcher, and nationally bestselling author. More than 36 million people have seen her on YouTube and in her viral TEDxLondon talk. Her behavior research lab, Science of People, has been featured in Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, Entrepreneur magazine, and many more places, including on CNN and CBS. Her book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than sixteen languages. For more than a decade, she has been leading corporate trainings and workshops to audiences around the world, including at SXSW and MIT, and at companies including Google, Dove, Microsoft, and Comcast. She lives with her husband and daughter in Austin, Texas.


Psychology, Communication Skills, Career Success, Nonfiction, Self Help, Business, Personal Development, Relationships, Leadership, Science, Counseling, Popular Social Psychology and Interactions, Communication and Social Skills, Personal Finance

Table of Contents

Introduction The Signals That Are Secretly Shaping You 1
Chapter 1 Cue for Charisma 9
Chapter 2 How Cues Work 22
Part 1 Nonverbal Cues
Chapter 3 The Body Language of Leaders 35
Chapter 4 The Wow Factor 73
Chapter 5 How co Look Powerful 97
Chapter 6 How to Spot a Bad Guy … and Not Be One Yourself 131
Part 2 Vocal, Verbal, and Imagery Cues
Vocal Cues
Chapter 7 Sound Powerful 165
Chapter 8 Vocal Likability 184
Verbal Cues
Chapter 9 How to Communicate with Charisma 209
Imagery Cues
Chapter 10 Creating a Powerful Visual Presence 235
Conclusion Cues Best Practices 261
Corporate Workshops 273
Digital Bonuses 275
Acknowledgments 277
Notes 279
Index 299


Cues is a book that teaches you how to use the subtle signals that you send and receive in every interaction to improve your professional and personal relationships. The author, Vanessa Van Edwards, is a behavioral investigator and a bestselling author of Captivate.

She draws on her extensive research and experience to explain the four types of cues: body language, vocal, verbal, and visual. She shows you how to use each type of cue to convey power, trust, leadership, likeability, and charisma in any situation. She also gives you practical tips and exercises to help you master the secret language of cues and become more influential.

I found this book to be very insightful and useful. Van Edwards has a clear and engaging writing style that makes the book easy to read and understand. She uses real-life examples, anecdotes, and scientific studies to illustrate her points and make them memorable.

She also provides quizzes, assessments, and challenges throughout the book to help you apply what you learn and measure your progress. I learned a lot of new things about how cues affect our communication and perception, such as how to use power poses, vocal variety, storytelling techniques, and personal branding strategies.

I also liked how she balanced the warm cues (that make us more likeable) and the competent cues (that make us more capable) to create a charismatic impression. I think this book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to improve their communication skills, enhance their professional image, and build better relationships.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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