Clients often ask me about developing Executive Presence, Leadership Presence, or Command Presence. Why not just call it presence? What is it? How do we develop it? Can we change our own presence? I searched for a definition and, while I got over 35 million returns for Executive presence, 38 million for Leadership presence, and 28 million for Command presence – none of these terms are formally defined by either Dictionary.com or Merriam Webster’s. Presence however is.
Definition of “presence” Merriam Webster
– the bearing, carriage, or air of a person; especially: stately or distinguished bearing
– a noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness the actor’s commanding presence
So why don’t we just call it presence? There are schools that teach presence and they’ll teach you how to throw your shoulders back, pull your chin in and smile as you enter a room. This will project confidence they say. And to an extent it will. In one of the workshops I teach, we talk about shoulders back, arms at your side versus in your pocket, and an open friendly gaze. And it works, to a point. Because people in the audience (of one or many) see us as confident, they respond to that, and we in turn respond to their perception of confidence. So we have a confident presence.
There is another level to presence. That is what is happening between your ears. Your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, the situation, and your audience. I can remember I was getting ready to interview with a firm that was to become a good client of mine. I had just come back from vacation to see my family. And, as only a family can do, my head was full of trash. All of that “I’m not good enough” that happens when some of us spend time with our families and revert to the little kid or teenager we were.
I knew that this head trash was not going to serve me. I wanted to do something about it. So I remembered a technique that has worked in the past. I sat in the parking lot and took several deep breaths to calm my nervous system. And then I went through a series of questions:
- What Outcome did I desire? – I wanted to get a deal, if it was a good fit. I wanted them to know that I was not only capable but that I was well suited for the work. In fact, I wanted them to want me.
To do that, what did I need them to feel? I remember a quote from Maya Angelou
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. This meant I wanted them to feel confident in me, to trust my capabilities and experience to serve their clients well. So I remembered a few of my successful experiences from the past.
In order to achieve that outcome and that feeling, who do I need to “be”? I wrestled with this particular point of view for years. See previous post the Do BE Do Paradox. And this is where we come back to the use of the body as described above to create a confident presence. The decision to “be” a certain way is in fact a decision, it’s like a switch we turn on or off.
In this case what it meant was I had to walk through the door carrying myself as someone that was good at presenting and facilitating a room. I wanted to display confidence, credibility and allow my authentic self to show through. So, as I got out of the car, I went through the process of “Shoulders back, chin in, smile in the eyes and open posture” and then my body led my mind and I BE CAME confident, capable, and allowing of my authentic self.
I am happy to report they have been a client now for three years.
I believe there is yet another level to presence and that is your heart. What is in your heart? The market today is seeing through the marketing slogans and manipulations of the past. People, your audience (of one or many) are seeking authentic solutions and opportunities. So they want to see all of us as leaders, producers, and colleagues. They want our whole hearted self.
This is where we must become honest with ourselves and with the world about who we are, what we’ve been hiding from and we want to bring to the world. I submit, all of us, even the messy us, into the conversation. I remember delivering a workshop for a client. It taught all about how to deliver a complex sales process, including research of the account. How to identify and connect with the decision makers, how to bypass gate keepers respectfully, and then how to leverage communication skills to create trust and a sale. And the client was a retailer whose customers were walk in clients. There was a clear mismatch between what was to be delivered and what was needed or even appropriate.
I was new to my role and felt I had to stick to the “script”, even though it was clearly bombing. I was asked not to come back.
Contrast this experience to a different delivery where the technology failed for a portion of the class. They could not follow along as the others. In this case I slowed down. I reassured them I would take care of them and look for answers during the breaks. I admitted that I did NOT have the answer and we moved forward. They responded with some of the highest ratings I have received in a training. They felt I was authentic and that I cared because I was with them in the moment not trying to live into a script.
Here is the deal… we all have presence. We are contagious. The question is, “Does our presence match what we want it to? If not, what can we do”? Hopefully you now realize it’s a combination of what we think and believe. It is also a matter of what is in our hearts and finally how we can leverage our body to help us move into that state of being.
If you wonder if you or your team can benefit from better communication skills for accountability, engagement and performance, schedule a call with John to explore the possibilities. CALENDAR