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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

Aug 2019

Presence is so much more than charisma

Many of my clients, have, at some point in their career, wanted to build more presence. Perhaps they have had feedback that they need to be more confident, influential or engaging.  Some have a model in their head of the charismatic, powerful, public-speaking leader that feels far from who they are. In fact they are not even sure they like the idea of developing that kind of presence, let alone whether they are capable of it.

I want to say a bit about what I mean by presence because it really isn’t the same as charisma, although can include it.

Presence is multi-faceted. It does, of course, include factors such as credible expertise, the clothes we wear and how we carry our bodies. These external factors can also give us confidence. If we feel well-qualified, well-prepared, well-dressed and standing proud, we’re likely to feel more confident. If a leader also has some presentation skills, knows how to tell a story, project their voice and hold themselves on a stage then this is also a huge part of presence. But there are deeper layers of presence that get less attention.

The first is the ability to be present; to pay attention to others and to what is happening in a room. To be in the moment, not thinking about what we’re about to say next or distracted by our inner chatter. Being present includes being in relationship with others, paying them attention, building rapport, listening.

The second is receivable insight. When we are aware and in relationship, we have the ability to offer receivable insight. We can ask a question or offer an observation that draws on our expertise but also resonates with people and changes the conversation. If we believe in our ability to add value, others will too.

The third, and I believe most important, is comfort in our own skin. If we are friendly with all parts of ourselves* we can avoid being rattled or triggered. When we receive a difficult question, we don’t feel the need to be defensive or prove we are right. When something unexpected happens we can flex, because we are not wedded to our plan. When someone disagrees with us we can be curious about their resistance because we don’t have to be right. Presence is as much about our relationship with ourselves as our relationship with others.

*A phrase used by faculty at the Gestalt International Study Centre to whom I’m grateful for many things including the depth of their work on presence.



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