Learn how to harness the power of presence.
Our clients ask us to help them in many different ways. They want to articulate their thoughts, think on their feet, harness nerves when speaking in public, and speak with confidence. But one of their most common requests is that they want to have presence.
People believe that presence is something you’re either born with or you’re not. They believe it can’t be taught. Some fear that if they don’t have it, there’s something wrong with them. They couldn’t be more wrong. We watch our clients improve presence right before our eyes all of the time.
It’s true that presence means something different for each person. Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy describes presence as “the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves.” It’s not as elusive as you think. It’s a tool and a muscle—just like communicating and speaking in public. With practice, anyone can learn how to harness the power of presence.
So, what is presence?
Presence is the alignment of awareness, intention and action.
Communicating and speaking in public can be overwhelming for all of us. Throw in the pressure “to have presence” and it can be a recipe for disaster. Anytime something is overwhelming, break it down into smaller pieces. First, work on your awareness: Practice observing yourself and others without judgment. Second, be intentional: Set a specific intention and know what you want to get out of an interaction. And lastly, take action: Practice and rehearse for an upcoming opportunity and go out and do it!
Attention must be paid.
Before I started my mindfulness practice, I would often miss social cues and important plot points. I realized I was living in my head, listening to my internal soundtrack instead of paying attention to the outside world. Presence is about giving your attention 100% to something outside of yourself—people like attention, so if you pay attention to them, they are more likely to like you.
The danger of multitasking.
We’re way too good at multitasking. We’re checking our phone while speaking to a colleague while editing a blog post. When communicating, multitasking can hurt us more than help us. Unfortunately, doing one thing at a time does not come naturally to us, so we have to practice it. Stick with a task until completion—from the small (looking up that restaurant) to the big (finishing that blog post). Read Tim Urban’s eye-opening series on procrastination here.
It’s about being present.
We busy ourselves reading books on mindfulness and we beat ourselves up for not meditating. Even when we do make a point of it, we beat ourselves up for not meditating for the full ten minutes and when we do, we beat ourselves up for not being able to “clear our minds” enough. This all defeats the purpose! It took me a few years of meditating to realize that it’s not about getting rid of thoughts or feelings—instead, it’s about fixing and releasing attention without judgment (which—you guessed it—takes practice). Practice being present—being aware of physical sensations like the breath, or those uncomfortable palpitations or sweaty palms—without judgment. If you’re new to meditation, I recommend Headspace or Meditation Lite. And read D.G. Watson’s post on how meditation can help you overcome your fear of public speaking here.
It takes work and attention, but practicing these tools will help you improve your presence. Pick one or two activities a day and be truly present (brushing your teeth or washing dishes are good places to start). Pay attention to the way your breath causes your stomach to go in and out when breathing, or the feeling of your feet against the floor or in your shoes. Be genuinely present with the gentleman who pours your morning cup of coffee. When you get distracted (which you inevitably will) return to the interaction or the moment without beating yourself up. Slowly and surely, you will increase your span of presence and the muscle will strengthen.