Presence: a game-changer for presenters and speakers

One quality above all others puts presenters and speakers on the fast track to success… and that is presence. Of course you need good content and good presentation skills. But if you have presence you have that extra dollop of special sauce that makes your message resonate with audiences.

Washington DC-based leadership coach Kristi Hedges, author of The Power of Presence, describes presence as ‘a little-understood but potentially game-changing tool’. At its heart, she says, is authenticity. People need to believe in you before they will believe in your message.

That means knowing who you are, and being comfortable in your own skin. Or, as we sometimes tell people in our presentation skills workshops – using a Judy Garland quote – ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of someone else.’

Always be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of someone else.”

Nick Morgan, an occasional contributor to this Blog, describes presence as the single most important key to a successful speech. Dr Morgan is one of America’s top communications theorists.

On his own Blog recently he described presence like this: “It’s the quality of being so focused on the audience in front of you and on your message that you make the audience feel that what you’re doing – and by extension, what they’re participating in – is the most important thing in the known universe right there and then.  Nowhere, no one, nothing else matters as much as the speaker, the message, and the audience in that moment.”

Nick Morgan believes that if you want to be successful as a speaker you must learn to focus on the audience.  “Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the audience. One of the paradoxes of public speaking is that, if you can focus on the audience, you’ve got a chance to begin to enjoy yourself.  Remember, a speech is not primarily about you, the speaker.  It’s about whether or not the audience is moved to action.”

A speech is not primarily about you, the speaker.  It’s about whether or not the audience is moved to action.”

If you want to show people that you are the real deal, and deserving of their trust, you need to understand the three varieties of presence.

Inner presence. That’s how you feel about yourself. If you have too much inner presence you may be an egotist. Too little, and you may be perceived as a worrier.  Don’t confuse confidence with self-esteem. Confidence is the expectation of a positive outcome; self-esteem is your vision of yourself.

Verbal presence.  This is how you connect, convey and convince an audience.  It comes down to having something valuable to say. It’s not about being able, fluently, to recycle information. It is about bringing insight to a subject.

Outer presence.  This is how you make people feel. You want to exude executive presence – yet still be genuine. Too little and you make yourself invisible. Too much and you come across as phony and disingenuous.

You can have technically excellent presentation skills – but still lack presence. 

Here are my four top tips for polishing up your presence:

  1. Unleash your authenticity. Be true to yourself. Don’t try to be the speaker you think the audience expects.
  2. Make every single member of the audience feel as though you are speaking directly to them.
  3. Indicate by your tone, gestures and movements that your top priority is making a connection with your listeners.
  4. Before you begin, be absolutely clear in your own mind what you want the audience to feel during and after your presentation.

Work on those four points and you are well on your way to finding that game-changing quality that we recognise but find hard to define – presence.

Stop writing; start talking

Download our free "Ace That Presentation" White Paper for sure-fire tips on more effective presentations.