• Would you like to consistently grab the attention of your audience, prospect, or client before you open your mouth?
• Have you ever wondered why some people make an instant connection with others, while many folks struggle to be heard?
• Did you ever wonder why certain people enter a room and, without saying a word, others notice them and think to themselves, “Now there goes someone with star quality!”
What is it about some people that allows them to not only grab, but maintain that kind of attention and almost instant credibility? Personal Presence.
If you’d like to be that person, here are a few things to consider:
Be present— whether to your audience, client, prospect, boss, direct report, or friend. I’ve had a couple of experiences that might help explain my meaning. First, let’s look at how you can get present to your audience (whether speaking to two or three people across a conference table or in a ballroom to a thousand).
I was asked to critique a presentation delivered by a man I’ll call Jim. From the instant he hit the stage, I was reminded of the power and credibility lost when the speaker is not present to the audience. Jim began his presentation “on the move,” and never took a moment to get present and actually see his audience. He missed his big opportunity to make the most of the one time in his entire presentation when maximum audience attention is almost guaranteed – before he even opened his mouth.
Had he capitalized on that brief, but powerful moment, he’d have come downstage center (the most powerful place on the platform), paused for a moment, and made an eyeball-to-eyeball connection at random with various members of the audience; he’d have remained unhurried and confident while focused on them. In those first few seconds, he’d have heard the sound of silence, as every eye and every ear turned to him, waiting for the first words out of his mouth. Then, from a focused, solid, open position, with his eyes still on the audience, he’d have spoken words carefully chosen to grab their attention, heighten their anticipation, and introduce the topic he had prepared and practiced. Instead, he missed his golden opportunity. He simple was not present, and, as a result, the audience did not experience the fullness of his presence, nor the power of his message.
How does this same thing apply when meeting someone for the first time (or the tenth time)? Did you know that if you shake hands upon first meeting others, they are twice as apt to remember you? You may be saying to yourself, “What’s newsworthy about that?” Well, did you know that if you don’t do a few other things to accompany that gesture, you might be remembered, but not for the reasons you’d like? Being present to the other guy is critical to being remembered in the most positive way. Let me illustrate what an introduction may look like when you are not present, and then compare that to what is looks like when you are.
Last fall, I attended an event where Ed, a senior leader of a high tech company, introduced himself to me. I was so taken aback by his lack of being present that, had that been our only occasion to meet, our relationship would never have gotten off the ground. Rather than reaching out and making a firm web-to-web hand clasp, he grasped the ends of my fingers and gave one short shake. Rather than looking me directly in the eyes while make a positive comment as we were shaking hands, he barely saw me, dropped my hand, and looked away with a, “Nice to meet you.” Not only was the introduction uncomfortable, I felt dismissed by an action I’m sure was intended to be positive.
Fortunately, I had a chance to get to know Ed over a period of time and discovered he was a bright, caring fellow. However, if first impression had been my only opportunity to interact with him, I wouldn’t have chosen to do business Ed.
Robert Caldini, in his book, Influence, discusses his research on the importance of appearance and body language, and the impact seemingly simple gestures have on our ability to influence. For example, if the senior leader had looked me in the eyes when taking my hand, connected web-to-web, given a firm (not bone crushing) shake, smiled, and said something positive or pleasant, like, “Nice to meet you, Mary Jane. I’ve heard good things about you,” while still shaking my hand, I’d have been positively impressed. If he had raised his eyebrows upon seeing my eyes (a gesture that also lights up the face), as if it were a pleasure to meet me, I’d have been doubly impressed and found him just that much more likeable. If we’d chatted for a few moments, and he’d leaned in just a bit, keeping his focus on me (being totally present), I’d have been wowed. Finally, if he had added just one more little gesture by lightly touching my forearm, while repeating my name again before departing, he’d have clinched the introduction, making himself unforgettable in the most positive way. His presence would have been firmly felt because he had made himself so present to me.
Be real. Remember Jim, the man whose presentation I was asked to critique? I mentioned he was on the move. “Stalking” the room, he opened his mouth and out came a BIG VOICE that radiated “fake” enthusiasm. He spoke as if he were presenting to an audience of thousands without a microphone, unable to actually see anybody. He paced the floor, his eyes scanned the room, seeing no one in particular. He spoke much too quickly for many in the audience to comprehend the content of his message, and he slurred his words.
When we sat down afterwards to talk about how he could improve, I asked him one question: “Jim, are you passionate about what you’re talking about?” He replied that he was. I then said, “Tell me why you are so passionate.”
He looked me right in the eye and said, “Mary Jane, I’m passionate because this thing can really make a difference for a whole lot of people.” He then went on to share with me in the most authentic voice imaginable the reason he was so committed to getting the word out. I bought the idea, but most importantly, I “bought” him. He looked me in the eye, and he spoke to me as though I was the only other person in the room (I was). He was conversational and yet energized by his firm belief in what he was talking about. The sincerity of his message and his delivery of it, had it been amplified, would have carried to the back of the room. I then suggested that he take that same approach to his next presentation.
He did. What a difference it made. He came across as sincere, his voice was more expressive, and his manner more intimate. He made it possible for those present to experience and visualize each example, illustration, and poignant quote. His delivery added depth and value to his message as he built the bridge that made it possible for his audience to get engaged with him and involved in his message.
As I shared with Jim: “Genuine power comes in your presence, not performance.” In giving a presentation, a bit of performance can be a good thing, but the real power comes from being totally present to the audience, sharing yourself with them in a way that allows them to experience you as authentic—the real deal.
But what does being real look like when making a first impression? Let’s take a lesson from the CFO of a large company I met years ago. Prior to meeting this woman, a number of people had shared with me the incredible power she had to connect with others. When I enquired as to her secret, they pretty much said the same thing: “Her eyes. When she speaks to you, it is as though you were the only person in the room. And she genuinely listens. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with her, she listens and lets you know you’ve been heard. She comes across as sincere, very real.” It was clear that the woman I was soon to meet left people feeling honored and valued by her presence that appeared rooted in authenticity, putting her a position to be much more influential. Upon meeting the CFO, I completely agreed.
Be aligned. Alignment demands an adherence to values, beliefs, and moral and ethical standards to which we hold ourselves—those things that serve as the rules of the road for how we live life. People who are internally aligned have a clear knowledge and understanding of themselves, what they believe, and what they value. They demonstrate their beliefs and values with every action they take. Though remaining internally aligned in all circumstances may sound difficult, the women leaders I interviewed for my soon-to-be released book, The Unstoppables – How Twelves Women Leaders Made It to the Top, not only demonstrated it, but have proven alignment to be a critical piece to their self-fulfillment and success.
Take for instance, Patricia Caruso, the first female Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. One of her stated values was compassion. Patricia had more than a few opportunities to demonstrate that value throughout her eight years as the director.
For example, Patricia had to close down several prisons due to budget cuts. One of these prisons was where she had been part of opening the prison as the business manager, and the prison’s staff was very dear to her. In fact, the same week the prison’s closing announcement was to be made, she had been invited as a special guest to their 20th anniversary celebration.
Rather than sending someone else to do the dirty work, Patricia choose to personally deliver the bad news to prison staff so that the message could be delivered compassionately. Following the announcement, she offered to withdraw her acceptance of their invitation to attend their 20th year anniversary celebration if they deemed it too uncomfortable for the staff to have her present. They were so taken by her courage and compassion in coming to them directly, they said that they could think of no one more appropriate to be their guest.
It is no wonder that, even today, those who have worked with her comment on her ability to lead with fairness and compassion. When she enters the room, her presence if felt. She is just one example of someone who is internally aligned.
Those who enjoy the power to influence typically spent time in self-reflection; they know themselves and what they value. They are people who have learned that there is nothing more respected than authenticity, nothing more treasured than someone who is truly present to others, nothing more valued than someone who is aligned, willing to walk their talk consistently, regardless of the consequences. They are people others deem as “safe” because they are people with nothing to prove. They look inwardly to discover the person they need to be outwardly to put themselves in the best position to serve others.
Though volumes could be written on the subject of the power of presence, the three B’s—Be present, Be real, and Be aligned—will take you a long way toward being someone others will experience as a cut above, someone with real star quality.
Be your own best coach. Consider the following:
1) In examining your own presentation style, where could you make improvements for a more powerful connection?
2) How aware are you of your own behaviors when first meeting someone? Of the items mentioned in the article, what are you currently including in each introduction?
3) Being real involves being present, listening deeply to others, and making yourself vulnerable by sharing something of yourself so that people experience you as authentic. On a scale of one (low) to ten (high), where would you rank yourself on authenticity? Where do you think others would rank you?
3) Are your values crystal clear to you? If not, what could you do to get clearer? If they are clear, how are they showing up in your life?
To be notified when Mary Jane’s book, The Unstoppables, is on the bookshelves, register here: https://maryjanemapes.com/leadership-products