Build Your Leaders

Three Invisible Forces Behind an Invincible Presence

Most communications trainers fail to address the most crucial component of powerful communications — presence. Presence is defined by Webster's as the bearing, carriage, or air of a person. It's also a "felt-sense," how speakers make us feel, or the "vibes" they put out.

External factors, such as dress, mannerisms, and vocal quality, make up only twenty percent of presence. The other eighty percent lies within the person.

Three invisible forces contribute to presence: being present, acknowledging our feelings, and staying attuned to our authenticity.

You can't have presence without being present.

In order to have presence, we must be "present," and for most of us staying present is tough. Research shows we need only twenty percent of our brain to process language. With the remaining eighty percent reviewing a mental "to do" list and pondering where to go on the next vacation, it's no wonder we have a hard time staying present to people.

An excellent tool for staying more present is breath. By taking a deep "belly breath" we can become grounded and pay better attention to the conversation and the people with whom we are communicating.

We can also strengthen our presence by adopting a communications rather than a performance orientation. When we take a communications orientation, we become self-forgetful. No longer obsessed with our performance, we can fully focus on the audience and our connection with them.

Someone asked Queen Victoria whether she preferred the company of Benjamin Disraeli or William Gladstone. She answered that when she dined with Gladstone she felt he was the most interesting man in England, but when she ate with Disraeli she felt she was the most fascinating person in the world.

Disraeli understood the power of being present. He was able to put aside his ego and agenda and focus on the other person as if she were the only other person in the room.

Presence requires being in touch with your feelings.

People react to how we feel about them more than what we actually say. People know intuitively if we like them, and it's that to which they respond.

An exercise used to illustrate this point is to place two strangers face to face, four feet apart. One person is given a piece of paper on which is written an emotion such as compassion, resentment, or jealously. The person is then asked to communicate this emotion to the partner without using words, facial expression, or any other body language. After a few minutes, the partner is asked what he or she felt. While the partner may not be able to pinpoint the exact emotion, he can usually say if it was positive or negative.

Before communicating, it's valuable to ask what we are feeling, as those emotions will temper what we have to say. For most of us, emotions govern our facial expression and body language and affect vocal quality and the actual words we use. In order to build credibility and trust, the spoken word must synchronize with our body language, vocal tone, and feelings.

By recognizing how we feel about what we are saying, and to whom we are saying it, we can make a shift to allow connection and communication to take place. When we are able to pinpoint our exact emotions, we are more in tune with our authentic selves.

Authenticity is a key ingredient for presence.

Who we are is far more important than what we say. Some, however, think who we are is our public image, rather than our authentic self.

Our "public image" is comprised of both persona and presence, and while these two terms are different, they are also closely related. Persona describes roles and facades, while presence means bearing or carriage. The two are related because presence contributes to persona, and persona contributes to presence.

In my work training executives in presentation skills, I teach that presence can be grounded in persona, as with Bill Gates or Marilyn Monroe, or based upon authentic self, as with individuals like Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. Of the two, the latter is much more powerful because only when we allow others to glimpse behind the mask can true communication and connection take place.

Some of us are masters of self-deception; we think we are sharing our true selves when we are not. By using our bodies as barometers, we can determine if we are being authentic. We feel calm, connected and grounded when we are standing in our authority. And when we are not, we feel the opposite; we are not at our communications best.

In summary, these three invisible forces — being present, in touch with our emotions, and authentic — make up a large percentage of presence, and a strong presence makes us more powerful communicators.

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815 Words
Copyright 2003, All Rights Reserved

The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at