Book notes: Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards

Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards book summary review and key ideas.

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


“Do you wish you could decode people? Do you want a formula for charisma? Do you want to know exactly what to say to your boss, your date, or your networking partner? You need to know how people work. 

As a human behavior investigator, Vanessa Van Edwards studies the hidden forces that drive our behavior patterns in her lab – and she’s cracked the code. In Captivate she shares a wealth of valuable shortcuts, systems, and behavior hacks for taking charge of interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science-backed, real-life manual on human behavior and a completely new approach to building connections. 

Just like knowing the right formulas to use in chemistry or the right programming language to write code, the hacks in this book are simple ways to solve for people.

When you understand the laws of human behavior, you can get along with anyone, and your influence, impact, and income will increase as a result. What’s more, you will improve your interpersonal intelligence, make a killer first impression, and build rapport quickly and authentically in any situation – negotiations, interviews, parties, and pitches. You will never interact in the same way again. ” -Audible

~If you enjoy my summary, please consider buying me a coffee via my Ko-Fi link (click the button below) or become a recurring donor as a YBC Scholar! 📖 🎓

I appreciate every donation as it goes directly to the maintenance costs of my blog and creation of new content. 😊

Buy Me a Coffee at

Opening thoughts:

This book was actually recommended to me by a friend so I’m pretty excited to pick this one up. As my readers on my blog know, I take book recommendations very seriously. Because the theme of this month is people skills and interacting with others, I thought this would be a great choice the month.

Key notes:

  • She calls her approach behavior hacking where she finds the new studies and test them out in the field along with her readers and students

Part 1: The First 5 Minutes

Chapter 1: Control – How to win the social game
  • Don’t try to feign extroversion
    • Trying to socially fake it until you make it burns a whole lot of extra energy and doesn’t really work
    • It also comes across as inauthentic
  • Our emotions are infectious
  • Control the situations you play in
    • Only interact in places where you don’t have to fake it
  • Hack #1: The Social Game Plan
    • Take control of your interactions and play by your social rules
    • Skill #1: play your position
      • Note all the places where you greatly enjoy spending time with other people
      • These are called your thrive locations
    • Skill #2: work a room
      • If you’re an introvert, be a grazer
        • This is when you take multiple water or food or bathroom breaks in between conversations to conserve your social energy and have multiple quality conversations in one night
    • Skill #3: know your team
      • You can accelerate your learning pace by drawing from the strength of others
      • Prompts for thinking about who is or should be on your team:
        • Who do you love spending time with?
        • Who makes you laugh?
        • Who makes you feel valued?
        • Who do you go to when you need to strategize?
        • Who do you most look forward to seeing?
        • Who do you call in a crisis?
        • Who makes you feel like your best self?
        • Who do you wish you could get to know better? 
    • A winger is a gender neutral form of a wing man
      • This person may have come up more than once in your brainstorm and may be willing to go on a behavior hacking adventure with you
    • A riser is someone you wish we’re on this list and someone you want to improve your connection with
  • Succeeding with people is about engineering what works for you
Chapter 2: Capture – How to make a killer first impression
  • We make a snap judgments in the first 2 seconds of meeting someone, and we rarely adjust it
    • We decide if we believe someone, like someone, and trust someone before we have heard him or her speak
  • The power of our first impression lies not in what we say but how we say it 
  • Hack #2: The Triple Threats
    • Make a powerful first impression by non-verbally hacking all three levels of trust
    • Skill #1: use your hands
      • Hand gestures are important because they show intention
    • A professional’s confidence is more important than their reputation, skill set, or history
    • As humans, we are constantly looking for and drawn to winners
    • When we are proud, we want people to notice us so we take up space
      • When we feel defeated, we try to deflect attention by taking up as little space as possible
    • Skill #3: engage with eye contact
      • An experiment showed that holding eye contact with another person can evoke many feelings
      • It calls on true courage to trust another being
      • Eye contact is powerful because it produces oxytocin, a chemical foundation for trust
        • We are programmed to interpret it as a nonverbal signal of goodwill
        • When you like someone you look at them more
      • Use eye contact to build trust, gaze to produce connection
Chapter 3: Spark – How to have dazzling conversations
  • Big talk starts with anticipation and rolls easily into conversation, laughing and hitting highs as it gets better and better
    • Great conversations leave you feeling both exhilarated and hoping you’ll never have to experience small talk again
  • Hack #3: Conversational Sparks
    • Use unique talking points to create pleasurable and memorable conversations
  • Dopamine greatly aides memory and information processing
  • Three ways to hack your conversation to make them both more pleasurable and more memorable
    • Step 1: conversations sparklers
      • If you want people to remember your name, spark excitement and novelty
      • Good conversation starters:
        • What was the highlight of your day?
        • Are you working on any exciting or personal passion projects?
        • Do you have any vacations coming up?
        • What do you do to unwind? 
    • Step 2: push hot buttons
      • This is a topic, hobby, or activity that lights somebody up
      • If you are a little weird, own it
        • The right people will like you for it
  • Everyone love the sound of their own name
  • 3 Tips to remembering someone’s name:
    1. Say it out loud
    2. Spell it out
    3. Anchor it to maybe another celebrity or famous person
Chapter 4: Highlight – How to be the most memorable person in the room
  • The best conversations aren’t about what you say, they are about what you hear
  • Hack #4: Highlighter
    • Bring out the best in people by highlighting their strengths
    • Skill #1: Be a highlighter
    • Pygmalion effect: self fulfilling power of expectation
      • Great expectations are met with greatness.
      • When you see someone who is proud, excited, or passionate, mirror and match it
      • This associates you with their feelings of pleasure
    • Skill #2: be a raver
      • Seize introductions as opportunities to highlight and rave about someone
    • Skill #3: don’t be a Gollum
    • Gollum effect: low expectations lead to poor performance
    • Being memorable is not about bringing up your high points, it’s about highlighting their’s
      • Don’t try to impress people, let them impress you
  • Being an amazing listener isn’t just about what you hear but how you respond to what you hear
    • In every interaction, we want to give people a reason to remember us
Chapter 5: Intrigue – How to be ridiculously likable
  • Similarity attraction effect: people like and are attracted to others who are similar to themselves
    • Search for a way to say “me too”
  • Hack #5: Thread Theory
    • Find and follow threads of similarity to be more socially attractive
      • Use the “teach me” technique to find more threads
Chapter 6: Decode – How to uncover hidden emotions
  • Our instinct to make certain expressions derives from nature not nurture
    • Case in point with blind babies knowing how to smile
    • Micro expressions are an innate universal human behavior
  • Micro expression: (noun) A brief, involuntary facial expression that humans make when they feel an intense emotion
    • We make these expression regardless of sex, culture, and race
  • Hack #6: The Decoder
    • Spot the 7 micro expressions during interactions to uncover truth
  • Decoding is all about looking for the emotional intent behind the words
    • It’s about listening by hearing and looking
    • 7 Micro expressions:
      • Anger
      • Contempt, scorn, distain, or disrespect
      • Happiness
      • Fear
      • Surprise
      • Disgust
      • Sadness
    • Responses:
      • Anger – think opportunity to explain, dispel, and get to the truth
      • Contempt – think red flag
        • When it isn’t addressed, it festers and grows into deep disrespect and hatred
        • Need to tackle it the moment you see it 
        • Find the source, reevaluate, build rapport
      • Happiness – think celebration
        • Celebrate. Capitalize and ask for details, express gratitude
      • Fear – think there must be more
        • Address the source, sooth, comfort and reassure, reevaluate, or remove threat
      • Surprise – hope you’re on the same page
        • Clarify you’re on the same page, qualify what needs to happen next, equate how to get on the same page
      • Disgust – think “we’d better get to the bottom of this”
        • Permission. Let them tel you how they really feel
        • Openness. Everyone is untitled to their opinion
        • Solve: how can you fix the dislike? 
      • Sadness – think empathy
        • Understanding. What is causing the sadness. Empathy, how can you help? Space, how much time do they need to recover?
    • Facial punctuators highlight ideas, accent words, can be one of the seven micro expressions
  • How to take the perfect selfie:
  • If you forget what a facial expression means or can’t recognize an expression, try to mimic it
    • When you copy a facial expression, you will often feel the emotion it portrays
    • This is because of something called the facial feedback hypothesis
      • Our facial expressions and our emotions are connected in a loop
      • When you feel any emotion, it is expressed on your face
      • When you express emotion on your face, you also feel it
Chapter 7: Solve – How to crack someone’s personality
  • The Five Factor Model: all humans have five basic personality traits:
    • Openness
    • Conscientiousness
    • Extroversion
    • Agreeableness
    • Neuroticism 
  • Openness is a trait that reflects how you approach new ideas
    • It also describes how curious you are, your level of creativity, and how much you appreciate variety and originality
  • Conscientiousness is the trait that describes your approach to getting things done
    • It measures your self-discipline, organization, and reliability
  • Extroversion is a trait that describes how you approach people
    • Do you get energy from social situations or do they drain you?
    • This probably affects your talkativeness and optimism
  • Agreeableness is a trait that describes how you approach cooperation and working with others
    • It also speaks to how empathetic and quick to forgive you are, and how much attention you pay to the mental states of others
  • Neuroticism is a trait that describes how you approach worry
    • It also explains how emotionally reactive you are to your environment.
  • About 35 to 50% of your personality is wired into your genetic make up
    • Your upbringing, another factor you have no say in, also shapes you considerably
  • Hack #7: Speed Read
    • Use the matrix to solve peoples Big Five personality traits
    • Speed reading is a relationship game changer
      • When used correctly, it clears up communications, prevents arguments, spices up the chat, and accelerates bonding
    • Step #1: decode your own matrix
      • Side note: feel free to take notes on two versions of your matrix depending on if you are different personally and professionally
    • Step #2: decode the other person
      • You can use a direct approach and ask them what their personality traits are. Science of
  • When your personalities are in conflict, you can choose to compromise or optimize 
  • Geography and culture can have huge impacts on personality and show interesting patterns
Chapter 8: Appreciate – How to get the best from people
  • Book reference: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
    1. Words of affirmation – expressing care through written or spoken word)
    2. Gifts – Express care through small small gifts or tokens of appreciation
    3. Physical touch – Express care through touch, hugs, cuddles, pats on back, loving embraces
    4. Acts of service – Express care by doing things for others like cooking dinner, running errands, or crafting something for them
    5. Quality time – Express care with time, and simply want to be in the presence of people they care about 
  • Most people leave a job because of job satisfaction
    • Some believe this boils down to employee recognition and engagement

“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival: to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

Stephen Covey
  • Hack #8: The Appreciation Matrix
    • The easiest way to know how someone likes to be treated and their love language is to see how they treat their favorite people
Chapter 9: Value – How to get along with anyone
  • Each of us have a hierarchy of six needs that originate in our childhood
    • If these needs are met, we are able to grow up, gain independence, and feel secure in our surroundings and relationships
  • Resources:
    1. Love – giving affection, acceptance, and likability
    2. Service – giving support, care, and warmth to provide comfort
    3. Status – giving responsibility, praise, and titles to evoke pride
    4. Money – giving coin, currency, or tokens that have been assigned value
    5. Goods – giving tangible products, objects, or materials
    6. Information – giving advice, ideas, opinions, and teaching
  • We both give each of these resources and take them during interactions
  • Power can be measured as the amount of resources you have to give to others 
  • Simple hack: when you know what drives someone, interactions become much easier
    • Each of us is oriented towards one of the six categories of resources
  • Hack #9: Primary Value
    • The underlying motivation that drives a persons decisions, actions and desires
  • Levels of the Personality Matrix:
    • Level I: Do they rank high or low in the five personality traits?
    • Level II: Which of the five appreciation languages do they speak?
    • Level III: Which primary value language drives them? 
  • Scientist argue we often try to seek from others what we had been denied earlier in life
  • You may have a different primary value for each area of your life:
    • social
    • professional
    • romantic

Reader’s note: based on her survey, my most valued resource is money, with information and status as 2nd and 3rd. This was very insightful to me as I can see how some of my past decisions were motivated by my primary values.

  • Professional primary values:
    • What gives you a sense of purpose at work?
    • What do you hope to get from the work you do?
    • During the workday, I feel most worthy when…
  • Social primary value:
    • What is your favorite thing about being with your closest friends?
    • What would you add to your social interactions to make them even better?
    • When I am with my close friends, I feel most content when…
  • Romantic primary value:
    • If you had to describe the best part of your relationship, or ideal relationship, what would it be?
    • What is the greatest gift your (dream) partner could give you, tell you, or do for you?
    • When you’re with your partner, you feel most worthy when…?

Reader’s note: After further introspection, here are my primary values: Professional – money or information. Social – money. Romantic – service

  • Appeal to someone by focusing on what they value, not what you value
  • Listen and ask about the kinds of things someone worries about or their biggest worries in their life to match it with a primary value 
    • The greatest gift we can give our fellow human beings is to meet their resource needs

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”

  • Special note: some people may have situational values
Chapter 10: Connect – How to speak so people will listen
  • We feel connected to someone or something when we hear their story
    • Stories give us a chance to say “me too”
  • Neural coupling aka connection hacking is when someone tells you a story, your brain acts as if you are present in the story
  • Hack #10: The Story Stack
    • Share, tell, and hunt for captivating stories to capture imagination and attention
  • Trigger topics are subjects that tend to come up over and over in conversations, usually safe and generic like weather, traffic, weekend plans, and latest TV shows
    • When you hear a trigger topic, you can use as a launching pad to tell your stories
  • Sparking stories are anecdotes that produce laughter, aha’s, groans, and great follow up conversations
  • Boomerang: after you are done telling a story, you always want to bring the conversation back around to the person you are speaking with
    • They can then answer and throw it back to you
    • “Throwing a boomerang”
    • Prompts:
      • At the end of your story, how can you tie the idea back to them?
      • What question can you ask to hunt for their stories?
      • How can you get them talking?
      • How can you make them laugh? 
  • Trigger topics:
    • Current events, recent news, a shocking news story
    • Jobs, first job, career choices, dream jobs
      • Boomerangs:
        • What advice would you give to a teenager entering into this field of work?
        • What surprised you most about the job you’re in?
        • Did something surprising lead you to what you do now?
    • New activities, travel, weekend adventures
      • Boomerangs:
        • What’s on your bucket list?
        • Where do you take out of town guests when they visit you?
        • Tried any new activities recently?
    • Holiday, vacations, holiday traditions
      • Boomerangs:
        • Where are you going next on vacation?
        • What’s the best vacation spot in the world?
        • What’s the best or worst vacation you’ve had
    • Parties, birthdays, gifts
      • Boomerangs:
        • Best party you’ve ever been to?
        • Best gift you’ve ever received?
        • Best childhood party you’ve ever had?
    • Weather, storm stories, extreme weather
      • Boomerangs:
        • Ever got caught in terrible or unexpected weather?
        • What’s the worst sunburn you’ve ever had?
        • What’s your favorite season? 
    • Traffic, driving, commuting, road trips
      • Boomerangs:
        • Do you listen to audiobooks when you drive?
        • Favorite driving playlist or station?
        • Favorite podcast?
        • Long commute?
    • TV shows, books, movies, films, documentaries
      • Boomerangs:
        • What are you reading or watching right now?
        • Last thing you’ve read or watched?
        • Most interesting documentary, book or article you’ve ever seen?
        • Favorite character?
    • Celebrities, role models, famous stories, fascinating people
      • Boomerangs:
        • Met a celebrity?
        • If you could meet any celebrity, who would you meet?
        • Famous role model?
  • 3 Elements that make an Awesome Story:
    1. Hook – grab attention
      • Proactive question, stimulating statement, or open ended idea to peak interest
    2. Champion a struggle
      • The best stories have a problem to be solved, question, or challenge to be overcome
    3. Utilize provocative words
      • Add expressive, interesting words
  • Keep your story short and under 3 minutes 
    • The best stories are the ones that share both failures and successes
      • Don’t be afraid to share something a little embarrassing, a little vulnerable, a little scary
      • These are the stories that build the best connection
Chapter 11: Empower – How to lead people
  • Hack #11: Own it
    • Empower people by giving them buy-in, control, and ownership
    • Leading people is about communicating a mission and letting them take part in it 
  • Humans are purpose driven creatures
    • We want to believe there are reasons behind everything we do

Reader’s note: This idea easily reminds me of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

  • When we explain the motivations behind a goal, it allows the listeners to feel partial ownership of that goal
Chapter 12: Reveal – How to build lasting relationships
  • The vulnerability effect: sharing our most vulnerable stories is a courageous act that channels intimacy with others and builds lasting relationships
  • Spotlight effect: our mistakes are not noticed nearly as much as we think
    • Mistakes humanize us
      • We all make mistakes, and we like people who are like us
    • When someone does a kindness for you, they are more likely to like you
  • Hack #12: The Franklin Effect
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, share a vulnerability, or admit a weakness
      • They bond you to people
    • The best way to use the Franklin effect authentically is to ask for advice
    • To double the power of the Franklin effect, thank them when they’ve given you advice and show them you’re taking it seriously 

Reader’s note: This concept reminds me of ones in books like Influence, The Like Switch, and a handful of other psychology and social behavior books.

  • Karaoke is not about the singing, it’s about making a song your own
    • Life is not about being perfect, it’s about living it your way
Chapter 13: Protect – How to deal with difficult people
  • Hack #13: The Nut Job
    • When dealing with difficult people, use N.U.T.
      • Name the emotion, Understand the feeling, and Tame the fear 
    • Favorite phrases for transforming:
      • How can I help?
      • What needs to happen for you to feel better?
      • What role can I play in making this better?
      • What role can you play?
Chapter 14: Engage – How to turn people on
  • Popular people are more attuned to other people’s popularity, social signals, social hierarchy, and relationships
    • They place higher values on these queues
  • Enhanced social attunement: popular people are popular because they enjoy trying to understand what people around them are thinking and feeling
    • You impress people by mentally turning on their reward systems
  • Hack #14: Attunement
    • Turn people on by making them feel wanted, liked, and known
    • We are more inclined to enjoy being with people who visibly enjoy being with us
      • This is called the reciprocity effect
    • A study shows that the most likable students tended to be optimistic and upbeat, and had higher self-reported levels of general happiness
      • They also liked the most other people, and showed this through higher levels of friendliness and smiling
    • The key to being popular: like more people
  • When you are curious about the people you’re with, is easier to come up with conversations sparkers
    • When you are curious about someone’s motivations, it is easier to decode their personality matrix
  • We are responsible for having captivating conversations, interactions, and relationships
    • We are in charge of how we want to interact and have the power to be captivating or not.
  • Challenges:
    1. Pick your top three favorite hacks in this book and set up a mini experiment to try them this week
    2. Tell one person how much you enjoy spending time with them
    3. Schedule one people skills adventure with your winger

“Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience”

Albert Einstein

Reader’s note: Check out the digital bonuses with worksheets, checklists, and cheat sheets for personality types.

Main ideas / Themes:

  1. Take control of your social interactions and play your strengths
  2. Making a powerful first impression with body language builds trust
  3. Use conversational sparks to create pleasurable and memorable conversations
  4. Bring out the best in people by highlighting their strengths
  5. Find similarities to become more socially attractive
  6. Decode micro-expressions to uncover the truth
  7. Use the Big Five personality traits to speed read people
  8. Use the Appreciation Matrix to understand their love language
  9. A person’s primary value will help you understand their underlying motivation
  10. Tell captivating stories to capture imagination and attention
  11. Empower people by giving them buy-in, control, and ownership
  12. Being vulnerable helps people like you via the Franklin Effect
  13. Empathize to deal with difficult people
  14. Make people feel wanted, liked, and known

Closing thoughts:

Despite this book feeling ridiculously long, it was very insightful. I think the reason why it felt so long was because I was constantly taking notes on everything she said. This book is pretty much a master class on all things people skills.

I referenced a handful of books that covered similar topics in the notes. It’s interesting how so many books cover the same principles of people skills and influence. However, I think connecting the dots and finding those common denominators is how we uncover the truth.

Although a lot of the material in this book felt like review for me because I’ve learned these concepts in other books, it was still very valuable to revisit. Moreover, the book did cover some new topics and approaches I’ve never head before.

One of the best things about this book is how it’s geared towards practical application and applying the hacks in real life. I say this all the time, but I think compared to a good book, a GREAT book is one that gives amazing insight along with action steps for the reader/listener. I think the author does a really good job with this.

The one critique I might have is that it constantly sounds like one big lead into going to her website and becoming a customer to her service. I’m constantly feeling like i’m about to be sold. And I have visited her website, but I was unable to find this “toolkit” or PDF. Perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough, but all I managed to do was get on her email list and now she sends me occasional emails about a signing up for a Body Language Coaching course that isn’t even open yet, haha.

But I’m most likely going to sign up for it because she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

Actually, after finishing this book last month, I’ve been putting into practice / reapplying several of these principles and tactics into my life and have been getting good results.

For example, I’ve been more aware of my body posture, I looked up my OCEAN / Big Five personality traits, discovered my primary value, have been empathizing with people and making them feel heard, finding similarities, telling captivating stories, and being vulnerable.

Like I’ve mentioned, these are things I have been putting into practice for a while, but the refresher is good and refinement is always in process. However, my one focus from this book is going to be:

  • Bring out the best in people by highlighting their strengths (Hack #4)

I actually used this in some of my professional work interactions and have seen really good results. Not something new, but something I should start applying more often in my life as it does have really good results.


Vanessa gives the A-Z on how to succeed with people and everything related to people skills.

Similar books:



Subscribe for More Summaries👇

Success! You're on the list.

Try Audible for audiobooks 📚🎧

Personal recommendation: For the last 6 years, I’ve used Audible to listen to all of my favorite books. It’s easy to use, cost-effective, and they have the best library of audiobooks.

If you use my affiliate links below, not only will you get a special offer, but it’ll help support the costs to maintain this blog! 😊👇

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Audible Gift Memberships 

Please donate! 🙂

Please consider a small donation to help support my blog ^_^ I love providing free book notes and other content. Any donations help me maintain my website and create content consistently. Thanks everyone for the continued support!


4 thoughts on “Book notes: Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: