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Presence and how to improve yours

Sandra knows her stuff. She understands the data. Knows where the holes are and how to plug them. She has reviewed history and foreseen the future.

When she gets up to present to the ExCo though, she quivers and shakes. She seems small and insignificant. She has a tiny presence, a tiny voice and impresses no one.

The ExCo see an incompetent.

She has a presence problem.

So if you, like Sandra, have a presence problem, here are some useful ways you can lift your game.

Wonder Woman!

The Wonder Woman is beautifully explained in Amy Cuddy’s TED talk Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (below).

It highlights a very useful physiological fact. When we take up more space with our bodies our confidence chemical (testosterone, even in women) goes up. At the same time our anxiety chemical (cortisol) goes down.

Amy Cuddy outlines classic power poses: hands clasped behind your head with your feet on the desk. standing with your arms outstretched and your legs far apart. Or the Wonder Woman, hands on hips, chest out, legs braced wide.

You do not have to do power poses in public Just before you present, go to the bathroom, and stand in a power pose. When you’re waiting outside the door, or waiting offstage use the wonder woman. If you must sit while waiting, take up more space. Broaden your arms out and put your legs wide (women, remember to wear slacks!).

Do it for friends dinner party to test it out if you want to. Stand normally. Give them a chance and speak about something. Leave the room and do power poses for three minutes. Return and see what they say. They will tell see a difference. And you will feel it in your body.*

Power poses and Wonder Woman work for presentations. They also work when you are about to negotiate a pay rise or confront poor behaviour in a performance review.

Get rooted

Get rooted was passed down to me through a series of trainers and presenters who swear by it.

Here’s how you do it. It’s similar to the Wonder Woman, and they go well together. Imagine an invisible arrow which goes from your centre to the heavens through your spine. This arrow also continues down through the centre of the earth. Adjust your spine to accommodate this massive connection.

Next, imagine jets of the energy going to the four corners of room you’re in, connected to that grounding yet inspiring up and down arrow. Allow it to glow. Adjust yourself to accommodate this massive connection.

If you want an even bigger presence, make your outwards arrows go further. Take it the edges of the city you are in, or makes them international.

Again, test this by having someone watch you. Don’t tell them what you are doing, just ask them what they see. They may not have many words to describe it, but expect to hear that you seem taller, grander, more yourself, more impressive.

With practice you can do this as you walk to the stage of podium, or even as you walk into a room. It’s like donning your costume to play royalty.

Stand on both feet

Both Wonder Woman and Get Rooted presuppose that you are standing with both feet planted on the ground.

If you tend to sway to one hip, or lift your feet from the floor, that’s fine, if they give the message you’re trying to convey.

Standing one-legged, jiggling your feet back and forth, or wandering aimlessly are distractor behaviours (see Satir categories here). They will give you a more flirtatious feel. Great if it’s part of a longer piece, or if your job is light relief. Not necessarily what you want to convey if you’re giving a board report.

Remember you have control over how you come across to an audience. Do what you do on purpose, not because you’ve thought about it!

Twinkle Toes

Research on charisma has shown that putting your attention in your toes can up your charisma levels. Try it or an audience who can give you feedback. Find out its effect.

Of course Sandra tried all of these techniques in a safe environment. She loved them, but the next time she presented she was too busy to think about any of them consciously. That didn’t stop her boss from tapping on the shoulder and telling her it was the best presentation he had seen her do.

True story. Only the names have been changed to protect the clever and powerful. Try it yourself and let me know your results!

* Recently researchers have tried to replicate Amy Cuddy’s research and have been unable to do so. See here. I’d be curious to know how your personal research turns out!

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