We Don’t Define Presence, but We Do Know How to Live It

“We convince by our presence”
— Walt Whitman

Great leaders need to be powerful influencers — Making connections with people, encouraging everyone to move in the same direction, sharing a vision, and persuading your employees, customers, and shareholders.

Centered in your areas of influence and circles of conversation is one key concept — Presence. Even if we can’t define it, we know it when we see it. Presence is an intangible essence, a quiet confidence, a way to fill a room.

Some think that presence is innate — You either have it or you don’t, but that’s just not true. While it doesn’t come as easily to everyone, it’s a learned skill. As a leader, it’s one of the most powerful areas you can develop. Having presence isn’t a step-by-step process, it’s a combination of internal and external factors that creates an aura of leadership.

Here are the basics.

Build self-confidence

Self-confidence is one of the areas that drives presence the most.

  • Know your values — Stay close to the things that matter to you, the reasons why you’re a leader in the work you do. Your values will naturally lift your mood and confidence levels.
  • Confidence is a part of you — Confidence is quiet. It comes from who you are, your experiences and your approach to work and life. It’s your inner strength. Remember the great things you and your business have achieved already.
  • Act with integrity — Presence is genuine. Speak with honesty, truth, and authenticity, and you’ll naturally cultivate more self-confidence.

Preparing for presence

Poise and presence don’t “just happen,” they need preparation to make them work.

  • Stay well informed — Know your subject, backwards and forwards. Learn the facts so you can speak with more authority.
  • Become centered — Take a deep breath and calm your mind. Gather together your feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Be in control so you can act as a leader.
  • Dress the part — Dress well and ensure you’re properly groomed. Appearance is what others notice first.

When you’re “In the Room”

Presence is about interaction, whether you’re presenting or talking one-on-one.

  • Relax into things — There’s no need for anxiety or quick decisions. Stay open-minded and flexible, take time to consider what you’re going to say and speak in a calm, clear, considered way. Breathe out any tension and put yourself across in the best possible way.
  • Don’t worry about how you come across — Don’t get into a negative feedback loop of embarrassment. When you get out of your own way, your confidence and presence will show through.
  • Don’t allow facial reactions or behavior to distract you – Don’t get caught up in how people are responding to what you’re saying. This can distract you and cause you to wonder if you said something wrong or to imagine that they are not interested.
  • Listen to others, be truly present — Turn off your phone, computer, or tablet and maintain eye contact. Don’t have side conversations or allow yourself to be distracted. Make a habit of actively listening to people and repeat back what they’ve just said. People love to be heard. When you stay in the moment with someone, they will deeply appreciate it. Leave the conversation in the room – if you have comments about what happened in the room, refrain from using the hallway to continue the meeting. Have the meeting in the meeting – ask your questions in the meeting/room and challenge in the room. If your environment doesn’t allow for that level of transparency, then that raises culture opportunities. But, you control how you ‘show up’ in that moment. Leading by example is the best way to change the examples you see in others.

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
— Epictetus

Presence might be hard to define, but it’s easier to develop than you think. The ideas of self-confidence, being centered, knowing your subject, and really listening to people will all help you come across well. As you build your presence further, you’ll naturally grow as a good leader, inspiring people to follow you.