What is presence? Before you improve your presence, you must understand presence. There are several definitions that need to be considered. First and foremost, presence is the act of being present. The second definition of presence is the being, carriage, or air of a person, especially stately or distinguished. And finally presence can be defined as a noteworthy quality of poise and effectiveness. So what does all that mean? The guy who walks into a room and everybody turns to look? He has presence. The actor that walks on set and immediately commands the scene. He has presence. The story teller at the dinner table that controls the mood of the event with his charming tales and anecdotes. He has presence. We’ve all known guys that walk into a room and suck the very air out of it. They all have presence, and with some effort you can improve your presence as well.
There are a few things that all men with presence have in common; appealing physical appearance, control of body language, excellent communication, and energy.
Physical appearance is not necessarily attractiveness. And for those guys who are in the upper echelons of comeliness, your looks do not substitute for presence. You can control many aspects of your appearance, starting with your outfit. Dress appropriately for the occasion. If you show up to a baseball game in a tux, you do not look stately. You look foolish. Likewise, showing up to a party in jeans and a used gym shirt is also unbecoming. You want wear an outfit that is as formal as the venue and the host. This is basic social etiquette. In order to have presence, you should dress slightly more formal than the event. If others are in jeans and t-shirts, you should be in a nice polo. If polo shirts are the norm, wear a button down. The balance is to be well dressed but not overdressed. Stick to classic tones and styles. You want to be remembered for who you are, not what you wore. If you find yourself wearing an ensemble, go take off some accessories. Men wear outfits and uniforms. Flash, flair, and dazzle should not be in your vocabulary, and certainly not be in your wardrobe.
You also need to be tall. Not everybody has that genetic advantage, but you can add several inches to your stature by standing up straight and not slouching. Improving your posture is something that requires a little time and effort, but is well worth it. Studies have shown that people are attracted to taller men, that they get paid more, and have better luck in the romance department. Do not slouch your shoulders and walk around with your head down like a whipped dog. Just work on maintaining a natural and erect posture and you’ll do fine. This is something you should practice beforehand. You want to have your back straight and your chin up, but you don’t want to overcorrect and have your chest stuck out like Johnny Bravo. Increasing your stature even a little bit helps to increase your presence.
Another part of improving your physical appearance is to stop hiding. Do not enter a room, lap it once, then head for the nearest shadowy corner. Men with presence gravitate toward the light. You need to minimize or eliminate all self-consciousness or self-doubt in order to project a presence. You need to be comfortable in your own skin, and comfortable in the light.
Body language says a lot about you, your confidence level, and your comfort with a situation. You want to face people square and open. This demonstrates to your audience that you are comfortable and relaxed. Standing on an angle is a defensive posture, also known as a closed stance to boxers and martial artists. You are presenting less of yourself as a target, which is a good thing in boxing, but it makes you seem less confident in a social setting.
Eye contact is something you’ve heard harped on over and over. The reason that everybody says eye contact is good for establishing a rapport is because it works. You want to look people in the eyes, but don’t do it so much that it becomes creepy or makes the other person uncomfortable. Do not get into staring contests, it makes you seem petty. You want to look into your audiences eyes and engage them. If you do this properly you can make it seem to each individual that you are speaking directly to them as if they were the only person in the room. A mental trick to help you improve this skill is to attempt to memorize the eye color of each person you meet. As an added bonus, this can help you remember their name later.
Nervousness can undermine your presence. You don’t want to appear confident, you want to BE confident. Two key ingredients to banishing nervousness are breathing and relaxing. If you can, take a moment prior to going inside, and gather yourself. Collect your thoughts, banish anything in your mind that isn’t relevant to the event at hand, be it a meeting, a party, a social gathering, an interview, etc. Take a few deep breaths and clear your mind. This will calm your nerves and bring the task at hand into focus in your mind. Like a recent string of Amp energy drink commercials has been telling us, “Before every moment, there is a moment.” Also, no fidgeting. No pen clicking, no napkin shredding, nothing but a cool calm and collected demeanor.
In some cases you can make an entrance. This is the moment most of the other men in the room will size you up. Depending on the venue, you can almost always walk in with confidence. You were invited; you are supposed to be there, so act like it. Don’t slink in quietly. This, like so many other things, can be overdone. You do not want to burst into the room so dramatically that you almost fall over like Kramer from the hit show Seinfeld. Enter with some spring in your step, but don’t bust in the doors and declare yourself to the world. If I haven’t made this clear yet, allow me to reiterate; being loud, obnoxious, flashy or comical does not give your presence. If you are entering with more than yourself, hold the door for the others, especially if they are women. Allow any men to enter before you, but don’t immediately follow them in. Allow for a little pause before you enter so that you can enter effectively alone. If you are bringing a lady to the event, enter with her. Stand in the entrance long enough to take stock of the situation, and notice the room and everyone in it. Something I like to do is locate the facilities, and the exits. Both pieces of information will probably be of use at some point during your stay.
This section probably warrants an article all on its own, or perhaps several. A vital component of effective communication and presence is this: listen. You want each person you encounter to feel like they are alone in the room and they have your undivided attention, even in the middle of a group. This is done by listening. Not just hearing them, but actually listening to what they have to say. You should listen at least twice as much as you talk in any engagement. When you do chose to speak, make sure it is only when you have something to contribute to the conversation. If you’re busy thinking about your next amusing story, rehearsing it in your mind, then you are not listening. When you do speak, pause for a second to gather yourself first. This will help eliminate filler words and stumbling. A long dramatic pause isn’t needed, just half a heartbeat to shift your brain from active listening to active speaking. Asking pointed questions and allowing others to answer will let you to lead conversations without dominating them. Every one you meet should come away thinking that they were important to you and the conversation should reflect that. Make it about them, not about you.
I like to pay people compliments, genuine ones. When paying compliments, do it in private, or quiet conversation. This is much like tithing. If you tithe loudly for everybody to see, then your reward is only in the praise people give you. You do not need to tell that lady across the room that you like her dress in earshot of 27 other people. This falls under the loud obnoxious behavior that we’ve discussed several times before. Paying someone a compliment in front of everyone is doing it for your benefit, so they can hear your excellently delivered, suavely spoken words. Compliments given in private actually mean something to the other person. If you have presence, you do not need to call attention to yourself.
The energy you bring to an event is important. In order to be engaging, you must first be engaged. I know, I sound all mystical and kung fu-y but let me explain. If you are worried about filing your taxes, checking your phone for sports updates, planning your next vacation, or any other thought pattern that takes your focus away from the here and now, you are not engaged. This will register plainly on your face and in your actions. If you go into autopilot mode, you are not present and therefore have no presence.
If you know you are going to have a late evening, do something vigorous beforehand to liven up. Don’t be the guy on the couch yawning and trying to stay awake. Though it wasn’t officially recognized Randy Gardner, a 17 year old high school student, stayed up for 11 straight days during a science project as a bid for the Guinness record. However tired you are, you can make it through the next few hours without yawning, or tipping over into your soup bowl.
This next point will probably become its own article someday. No Drinking! You must be in firm control of your full mental capacity at all times. While I believe I can make a strong argument for a Christian man to not drink, I realize that I’m probably in the minority on that point. If you are expected to drink, limit yourself to 1. You do not want to hear embarrassing stories about your behavior the next morning. You do not need liquid courage, you need actual courage. If something requires you to drink to accomplish it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
So let’s recap.
- Be yourself, only better dressed and groomed
- Be in total control of your body, your nerves, and your actions
- Listen more than you talk
- Make others feel important to you
- Act like you belong there
- Be present
- No drinking!
There is a lot to think about here, but if you pick one thing to work on, like posture, until it becomes second nature and then work on something else you can become a natural presence in any encounter. It costs you nothing to improve yourself in this way, and the benefits can be quite far reaching.