The Four Components of Presence
What does your presence say about you? Or… do you even have “presence”? What do people mean by “presence,” anyway?
Your presence is simply how you show up nonverbally to others—how you present yourself.
You do actually have to present yourself to have Presence. I sent someone a “friend” request on Facebook awhile back and they jokingly told me, “I’m a Facebook stalker. I never like or comment on anything, but I see the posts.” He has no social media “presence” because you don’t know he’s there. You have to let yourself be seen and known to have Presence. You can’t be a stalker or a wallflower.
Assuming you do show up to work or Zoom meetings or family gatherings or social events, you already have a presence. The question is, is it in the Presence that you want?
To increase your Presence, decide how you want to be. Then, consciously communicate it in the following four areas.
1) The Mind: Be Present.
Presence takes place here and now, in the present moment. So, you have to be here, now—not just physically with your body, but with your mind and attention.
To communicate presence, minimize (or ignore) external distractions, like your buzzing phone or what’s happening in the next room. Then, stop the constant chatter in your head. It doesn’t matter if it’s positive, negative, or completely benign (“I need to stop by the store later”), you can’t give your full attention to two conversations at once. End the one that’s going on in your head and be fully present.
2) The Body: Be Aware & Purposeful.
Most people have no idea how they sound or act, especially when they’re nervous. You see a picture of yourself or hear a recording of your voice and think, “Really!? Aack!” As a kid, when I was concentrating hard at the piano, I’d stick my tongue out to the side. I had no idea I did it until my piano teacher told me after months of lessons. Once I became aware, I discovered I did it all the time!
To increase your Presence, develop awareness of your habits. Because you can’t actually see yourself, one-on-one coaching helps tremendously. You can also videotape yourself so that you CAN see and hear how you come across. I do this all the time when I’m preparing for a presentation.
Once you have awareness, you have choices. Use body language and a voice pattern that conveys the presence you want to communicate. There are literally hundreds of options here, depending on whether you want to convey confidence or compassion or friendliness or power and on and on it goes… But often simply asking yourself, “What does it look and sound like when someone is _________?” gives you a big head start.
I’ve written dozens of articles on specific nonverbal communication skills. Here are a few to consider that directly relate to how you present yourself to others:
- Nonverbals that demonstrate confidence under pressure
- What your breathing patterns convey to others
- How to keep attention through silence
- When to use eye contact
- Authoritative vs. Approachable nonverbals
- How to get and hold the attention of a group
- Body image issues that can detract from your presence
3) Space: Be Inclusive.
Have you ever attended a meeting where the leader only seemed to address a few attendees? Or a keynote where the speaker’s attention was locked on the first few rows?
Going back to my piano days, when nerves got the best of me I would often block out the audience and play just for myself. Oops! That rather defeats the purpose of performing—to share the music with others.
Presence, by its very nature, includes others. It is seen. It is felt. It is an inclusive awareness of space and the people in it. To expand your personal presence, expand your sense of space. Go beyond your phone screen, your laptop, or the person right next to you. When you’re in a group (in-person or over a video call), claim a space big enough for everyone.
The more people and space you include, the greater your presence.
4) Others: Be Open.
It’s one thing to be aware of others. It’s another to invite connection. There are many ways to do that; here are a few:
- Avoid barriers, including nonverbal gestures (like crossed arms), physical objects (such as your computer screen), and jargon.
- Develop conversation skills, especially listening skills.
- Create safety through open body language and respectfulness.
- Be generous by assuming positive intentions in others.
- Bring your full self to the interaction.
Your presence says a lot about you, who you are, how you work, and what you want in life. Are you aware of the messages you are sending? By mindfully addressing each of these four components, you can increase your Presence in a way that aligns with your character and your values. Be purposeful, proactive, and powerful.