That person you meet; there’s something about them. You can’t put your finger on it, they seem approachable, credible and confident. They simply ‘have it’.
It’s called presence. Amy Cuddy defines presence as ‘the state of being able to comfortably express our true thoughts and feelings and values and talents and knowledge — so knowing who you are and being able to access that when you most need to. When you can be present, you can actually unlock that knowledge and share it’.
Presence isn’t a mystical ‘x-factor’, it’s something that we can acquire, by raising our self-awareness and paying attention to our behaviour and communication.
How do we raise our self-awareness about our presence? To start, think about situations when we’re in control of our words, thoughts and actions. We make sense, we believe in ourselves and our message. We notice that our control leads to more people listening to us, agreeing with us and respecting us. Next time you see someone communicating or behaving in an uncontrolled way, be aware of how much less notice we take of them, how we sometimes doubt their credibility. They could be so silent, distant and unresponsive, we wonder why they’re in the meeting. They could be so loud and domineering, we wonder if they notice anyone else in the room.
Notice when you sense that you’re overdoing your presence. The more control we have, the more people are likely to respond to us positively.
Then think about times when we are quiet and comfortable with our own silence. We listen deeply, giving others the space to state their ideas and shine. We show our interest by asking thoughtful, open questions and building on their ideas. Here, we are often the most interested person in the room. This lighter presence shows that we’re interested, listening and thinking deeply about what others are saying. When we demonstrate this lighter presence, we gain respect for our attention and we are often more listened to when we start speaking. It also shows that introverts can display effective presence as much as their extrovert colleagues.
There are times when it is important for us to get our message across powerfully, when we’re influencing or persuading, for example: we have a firmer presence; we become the most interesting person in the room. We do this by speaking clearly and confidently, in a measured way. We state our case, while listening to others’ ideas. We tell memorable stories that touch emotions, use relevant facts succinctly and use language that others find understandable and relatable. When we have this firmer presence and control it, we can inspire others, giving them more confidence in themselves, our ideas and views.
Next time you meet someone, notice how you shift between being interested and interesting. Become aware of when you have less control and take it back. Notice how they respond to your interest and the language and behaviour you use to gain their interest. With attention and practice, you can become that person that effortlessly moves between interested and interesting, that people find approachable, effective, credible and trustworthy.
The most interested person
- Listens deeply
- Asks thoughtful open questions
- Builds on others’ ideas
- Let’s others shine
The most interesting person
- Speaks clearly and confidently
- Tells memorable stories
- Uses relevant facts
- Is understandable and relatable
Want to know more? Try these books:
‘Lifestorming’ by Marshall Goldsmith and Alan Weiss
‘Presence’ by Amy Cuddy or Amy Cuddy’s TED talk ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are’