What Is Presence?
13 June 2017
Let me start off by posing a fairly difficult question: What does ‘presence’ mean to you? I am not seeking the dictionary definition of the word, but the essence of it. How would you measure someone’s presence when they walked in to a room? Does it differ from person to person?
It’s a bit of a challenge to quantify what makes a person unique; what makes a speaker interesting or a leader motivating. Certainly, there will always be flesh-and-blood examples (such as “They told a couple of great jokes” or “They helped me get through a difficult month in work”) but it’s a rather difficult notion to define.
For me, presence can mean a number of things – confidence; charisma; impact; personality; body language; a good handshake. But that’s not a full list, nor would I think someone lacked presence should they not be able to tick off every element. It really does depend on the person.
Leadership is very much about having a tangible presence. It’s about being able to confidently address a room of your employees; hold your own at a networking event; conduct a good job interview. If you look at some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, they all have a certain je ne sais quoi that has got them where they are today (as well as business brains and a good work ethic).
Since presence isn’t exactly quantifiable, how can it be possible that someone could not have it? Think of any time you have been to a meeting or an event where the speaker has stuttered and stumbled over their words or seemed uninterested or offered a limp handshake. It doesn’t really inspire you, does it?
This is something that can also apply to candidates who are going to a job interview. On the day, you try so hard to be all things to all people that you lose your own sense of presence. You try to be too nice or to laugh at bad jokes. In striving so hard to appear almost ‘neutral’ and focused, we wipe out any elements of our personality that would make us stand out.
Studies have shown that women, in particular, tend to ‘dial themselves’ up to seem likeable. In actual fact, it is most likely to have the opposite effect. Nerves also have a part to play in this – making us forget our words or offer a sweaty palm to shake.
We also undermine our presence on a daily basis by using an apologetic vocabulary. We start sentences with “Sorry to bother you” or “I might be wrong but …” or “I’m just wondering”. We don’t commit ourselves to our opinions or believe that we are entitled to anyone else’s time.
Certainly, you should always have manners when addressing colleagues and peers, but there are still ways to be polite and assertive at the same time. People will respect your directness and confidence – meaning they are more likely to work with you or help you out if they don’t think they can walk all over you.
Being a leader is not about being bullish and rude, it’s about presence. However you choose to define it, combining charm with manners; confidence with the ability to listen will ensure that you are a memorable colleague, speaker or manager.
If you would like to speak to me about leadership skills and creating an impactful presence, I would be delighted to speak to you confidentially. Click here to see my details.
Written By Barry Lee