How Do You Strengthen Your Presence?

I was recently asked to write a piece for a magazine on developing presence. Because of the short deadline, I was disappointed that I had to decline the opportunity. However I believe this to be an important topic for not only leaders but also anyone who works with people to carefully consider because it impacts the influence and positive effect you can have on others. With more time to reflect on the topic, I couldn’t help myself.

I would define “presence” to be the vibe, energy, frequency, or power that emanates from us. When I think of presence, I think of my friend, Todd Christensen. I had the opportunity many years ago to work with him on a community project and came to know the person outside the image that others had of him. I must admit that at the beginning of our relationship, I was a bit intimidated. However, looking back today, I would identify him as a man with presence that I would want to emulate.

For those of you who don’t know Todd, let me tell you a bit about him. He was a five-time Pro Bowler who played tight end for the Oakland Raiders for 10 years. He played in two Super Bowls and after his retirement was a sports broadcaster for NBC, ESPN, and CBS Sports. He was often referred to as the “Renaissance Man” because of his prolific vocabulary. He was well read in a number of fields, could quote any number of well-known poets and authors, and had one of the most beautiful baritone voices I had ever heard. Despite being a person of renown, he was always respectful, gracious, and interested in others. He was supportive, encouraging, honest, and as unpretentious an individual as I have ever met. Indeed, if you didn’t know who he was, you would never hear about any of his achievements from him.  

Because of his example, I hope what I offer might help you to think about and improve your presence with those with whom you work and associate.

1.     Care for people. You might ask yourself if you really care about the people in your life. It has been said that we really don’t understand others until we have walked a mile in their shoes. Because of our harried existence, I have found that we don’t often take a moment or two to learn about those with whom we work. Sometimes during training, I provide participants with an opportunity to get to know one another on a more personal basis. Sometimes when I call “time” on an activity people will “boo” me. When I have asked why the boos, I typically hear, “I’ve worked with him forever and never knew this!” When you take the time to show you care about people, they know it, and they will respond in kind to you and those around them.

2.     Ask questions and listen. Asking and listening to others requires that we be totally present with them in the moment. Being present is not something that you can pretend and hope it works. When I become frustrated with a person at work, I always try to remember that from their perspective they are rational. Remembering that inspires me to ask questions, listen, and be totally present in order to understand their point of view. 

3.     Celebrate yourself. It is difficult to celebrate others if you can’t celebrate something about yourself. You have come to the point where you are because of something you have done. Take a minute to identify what you do well and the skills and capability that make you a distinct and unique individual. Indeed you should find joy in your abilities and celebrate your successes. When you are confident in your ability, your confidence will lead others to trust and have confidence in you. Remember that confidence is not arrogance.  

4.     Lead by example. Identifying some specific character traits or qualities that you would like to develop can help you to enhance the presence you desire to project. Identify the traits you most admire, make a specific plan for their development in your life, and demonstrate and apply those traits. You will become what you consistently do, and others will emulate the example that you set. Developing those traits to which you aspire will change your life and those with whom you associate.

5.     Express appreciation. I once had a woman who had worked for a major telecommunications company tell me that in the 19 years she had worked there, not once had anyone ever said, “Thank you.” We need to take notice of the things that people do for us and go out of our way to express our sincere appreciation for their efforts. Whether it be the janitor or the CEO, we should take the opportunity to express appreciation. People notice and care for those who notice and care for them.   

6.     Identify your intent. When I speak to large audiences, I often think about the type of audience that I am speaking to and identify a role and an emotion that I want to portray. For example, I might decide that I want to be a motivator with one group and that I want to project enthusiasm as an emotion. I will then approach that group with the idea of being an “enthusiastic motivator” in mind when speaking to them. I have found this to be like putting in the software that will run the program. Be clear about the energy you want exude. This will increase the likelihood of achieving the presence you want.    

7.     Become more self-aware. You might ask yourself, “What’s it like to be around me?” If you don’t know, start to take note of how others respond to you. Do people go out of their way to include you, ask for your support, or solicit your ideas? Do they easily hold the difficult conversation with you? What emotion do you most frequently portray? Remember that positive emotions, words, and behaviors attract others to you; whereas, “negatives” of any kind usually repel or push others away. 

8.     Be resilient. Don’t give up. Keep working at what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes we think that something like presence is something that some have and others don’t. People who demonstrate specific abilities and strengths have developed those abilities by working hard and continuing to press forward until they achieve their desired goals.

9.     Be true. This is the hardest of all to do because it is so personal in nature. Only you can decide what being “true” means. I really believe in Aristotle’s notion that to be a good speaker you had to be a good person. Being true is more than being authentic. Perhaps it deals with how willing we sincerely put the wellbeing of others before ourselves. If you really want to increase the power of your presence as an individual, a leader or a manager, then you must examine the singleness of your intent and the desires of your heart in how you live your life. Life elevated causes us to resonate at a much higher frequency that resonates with others.  

Every one of us has experienced a person that portrays a powerful, positive presence, whether it be a leader, a friend, a mother, a father, a teacher, a business associate, or a recent acquaintance.  What is important is the decision to become the person that we desire to become and take deliberate steps toward that journey of becoming. After all, it could be said that our presence is the essence of who you really are. Only you can decide that for yourself. That’s what Todd Christensen did.