By Dianna Booher
The perception of “personal presence” dictates decisions and actions every day. Buyers make purchases based on the personal presence and persuasiveness of the salesperson. Negotiators with the strongest personal presence, not necessarily the strongest argument, walk away with the best deals. Job applicants with the greatest confidence and people skills often beat out candidates more technically qualified. Managers with the strongest personal presence persuade the best people to come to work with them. People often start—or decline—a dating relationship based on first impressions. Organizations and nations often elect their leaders based on the power of personal presence as conveyed through the media.
People size you up quickly, and change their minds slowly. Researchers tell us that somewhere between eleven milliseconds and five minutes, people make judgments that do not differ from impressions made after much longer periods. So instead of resisting that fact, understand how to make it work for you rather than against you.
The Essence of “Presence”
Personal presence may be difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it. Someone walks into the room and people step aside. Heads turn. Conversation opens up to include them. When they speak, people applaud or chime in. When they ask, people answer. When they lead, people follow. When they leave, things wind down.
People with presence look confident and comfortable, speak clearly and persuasively, think clearly even under pressure. They act with intention. People with presence reflect on their emotions, attitudes, and situations and then adapt. They accept responsibility for themselves and the results they achieve. People with presence are real. They present their genuine character authentically. What they say and do matches who they are.
The Power of Presence
Presence can help you get a date, a mate, or a sale. Presence can help you lead a meeting, a movement, a revolution, or a nation. Presence appears in all segments of society and all levels of an organization.
Presence may be used for noble purposes or selfish goals. Wherever you are and wherever you want to go, presence can help you get there.
Back in the fourth century, Aristotle identified three essentials of persuasive communication—a big component of personal presence:
––logical argument (the ability to articulate your points clearly)
––emotion (the ability to create or control emotion in your listeners)
––character (the ability to convey integrity and goodwill)
Times haven’t changed all that much. Being a skilled communicator––a huge part of personal presence––still grants social status and influence. In fact, communication makes leadership possible––in politics, in the community, in the workplace, in the family. Think how often pundits and voters alike point out a candidate’s speaking ability and social skills—or lack thereof. And I’m betting the election cycle and chatter of 2012 and beyond will continue to be no different.
Not only do we expect our presidents and celebrities to speak well, but that has also become the expected norm for CEOs, systems analysts, sales professionals, and soccer moms.
The Perception of Presence
Granted, you can never measure presence in the same sense that you can measure someone’s heart rate or their running speed. Measuring someone’s presence falls more along the lines of measuring their health. Generally, physicians can check reflexes, do an EKG, give a stress test, check cholesterol levels, do a blood and urine analysis, give a vision and hearing exam, and then certify that someone is free of disease and physically fit or unfit. Beyond that baseline of health, subjectivity comes into play. Individuals compete among themselves and against their own personal standards for healthy living according to the energy levels they want and lifestyles they want to lead.
But there are substantive core concepts involved at some point as well as subjectivity.
The same holds true for personal presence. We can agree on these core concepts about presence. Beyond these, what you see and hear comes down to others’ perception of your presence. At work, the limiting label generally comes down to some supervisor’s statement on a performance appraisal or around a conference room table that the person under discussion lacks “polish.”
Often we hear entire groups of rising superstars in an organization categorized and set aside for special mentoring or training this way: “These are the high potentials. We’ve identified them early on for key projects and high-visibility assignments in front of the executive team. We need you to help them add the finishing touches.”
Although they are technically competent, someone at the top has decided that they need more presence to make the next career jump. Certain commonalities always surface—common traits and attitudes among the candidates, as well as similar remarks from the executives sending them for the coaching.
––“Brilliant. But not well liked. Just doesn’t connect with people.”
––“Doesn’t always use the appropriate language—too flippant, too laid back.”
––“Too stiff, always looks a little nervous, with that deer-in-the-headlights look.”
––“Comes on too strong. Too intense. Needs to dial it back.”
––“Doesn’t dress appropriately. Just not what I call classy.”
––“Tentative. Needs confidence.”
––Too intense. High strung. Makes people uncomfortable.”
-–“Rambles. Knows her stuff, but gets off track and down in the weeds too easily.”
––“Has difficulty facilitating a meeting with a lot of strong personalities in the room.”
Whatever the comment, the superstar has hit a wall for a reason, and he or she has no idea what it is or how to “fix it.” Most people are aware, however, of the advantages increased presence brings them. They understand that influence demands personal presence. It’s not the “what” that’s the problem; it’s the “how” that puzzles them––those marginal differentiators that stop them in their tracks.
Seemingly small things can make a big difference––in landing a job, getting a promotion, winning a contract, or leading an organization through change.
Presence is not an all-or-nothing commodity. Consider it a continuum, with your physical attributes, natural talents, communication skills, and character traits plotted along the way somewhere from one end to the other between “low presence/low impact” and “high presence/high impact.”
How do you make sure that you develop that certain mystique of personal presence? Understand that there really is no mystery after all. Day by day, present yourself with awareness and intention as you inch closer to your goal of strong impact.
Continue to learn how to create presence at work by signing up to our free webcast on Speaking with Presence: Delivering Your Message with Authority and Confidence
About the Author(s)
Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 45 books, published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Booher and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in written communication, presentation skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication. www.booher.com