Building Presence

January 26th, 2007 by Sit up a Tree

We can all think of speakers who have great presence and it’s an admirable quality to want to develop.  But how do you go about building presence, especially when presence itself is a difficult concept to describe? 

If you have heard a speaker with great presence, you may have felt that they seemed at ease,  that they gave a lot of themselves or were unself–conscious.  That’s a tall order to try to achieve especially if you are not a confident speaker to begin with.  So how can you go about learning to create that presence?

Success if focus – or is it?

The first clue is in the word – presence is all about being present.  And it’s all too easy to be glib about being present – I’m here aren’t I?  But how often though are we really 100% where we’re supposed to be?  Our minds wander constantly and life is full of distractions.  We learn early on that success is focus, so we focus our minds on the task at hand.  If those tasks are mental tasks we can completely zone out on our physical bodies.  If we are concentrating on our work it’s necessary that we shut out the distractions around us to be able to succeed. 

All this is vital to achieving.  But it comes at a price.  We forget that we are here.  And more importantly we forget how to be here.  And when it’s time to take the stage, make the pitch or otherwise strut our stuff we’re not really present at all!  If we’re not present for ourselves, how can we hope to be present for the audience?  How can we hope to create rapport?? 

We are taught from a young age to concentrate and focus on the task before us, giving it all our attention.  And technology means that we are never away from some task or, more importantly, some inanimate object, on which we can concentrate.  Even our leisure is often about concentrating on a sport or an activity.  With so many gadgets around us even a passive activity like watching TV is hard to do unless we are channel hopping with the remote, checking texts on a cellphone, eating, drinking, knitting.  This constant concentration on objects and multimedia all makes it harder to be present.  And in that way we lose our presence.  So just as we learned to focus on the task at hand we need to retrain ourselves to focus on being present.

Showing up is not enough!

So what are the practical ways of doing that?  Firstly make a time each day to be aware of yourself.  Noticing your breathing is a good place to start because breathing is something which your body does automatically, but over which you can also have great control.  And just becoming aware of your breathing will calm you.  Once you have started noticing your breath, spread outwards and notice other parts of your body. Notice your posture.  Pay attention to your fingers and your toes.  Concentration often means that we don’t pay attention to our bodies, so we literally forget that they are there.  Taking time to notice them for just a few minutes can bring us closer to actually being in the moment. 

Now spread out further and notice the room around you, sounds, smells, vibrations.  Be aware of position in the space around you, and move your arms to take up that space. 

Next time you’re doing a mundane task, such as filing, mowing the lawn or washing dishes, notice whether your mind has wandered off.  Are you really there?  Are you hearing the sounds of the papers, smelling the grass cuttings or feeling the hot water on your hands??

Spending a little time each day actually being aware of yourself can quickly get positive results in terms of posture and confidence.  Activities such as yoga or tai chi are excellent for helping you become aware of your breathing, the position of your body in the space around you.

The more you practice being present the more you will find that you are aware of yourself and the people around you.  And you’ll find that should you find that you’ve zoned out in a boring meeting that you’ll have the skills to be able to bring yourself back and literally be present again.

Being present is about widening your concentration.  It’s about seeing your interaction with the world around you in a broader way than our task-oriented (and thing-oriented) work and lifestyles normally demand. Confident speakers are often said to be unself-conscious but usually the reverse is true – in fact they are self-aware  from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet! 

In that way, stepping up to the podium is not ‘the task at hand’, but an opportunity to open out your senses both to yourself – and to your audience!

This entry was posted on Friday, January 26th, 2007 at 8:11 am and is filed under Communication, Personal Development, Public Speaking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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