Presence is a unique word that describes how we perceive another person. We use it as a descriptive phrase, such as, “She has such a presence when speaking.” It calls up ideas of being present in the here and now, something most of us aspire to do (and find difficult to achieve). It’s a combination of physicality, authenticity, confidence and how you make the other person feel.
The biggest presence mistake that I see is allowing fear to overtake you physically and mentally, thwarting your confidence and overall presence. It changes how you are able to approach everything and immediately dims your light.
In my work, I focus on three main pieces: speaking, visibility and confidence. The first two contribute to the third. For example, strong, skilled speaking habits and visibility opportunities build confidence.
One of our brain’s main jobs is to protect us from danger, but it doesn’t recognize the difference between being chased by an animal and reporting stats to your colleagues. Fear is almost always our brain’s way of tricking us so that we don’t do the thing it thinks might hurt us.
Fear can see your hours of preparation and wipe them out in a single minute. Once it sets in, our bodies try to hide. This takes away our physical power. Our brains become fuzzy. We’re unable to access memory or rational ways of thinking. Our hands, knees and voices shake. We sweat. We blush. Our awareness of all of these things makes us feel even worse. It’s a quick downward spiral. We also might say “ahh” and “umm” more to try and fill up the quiet space because we’re feeling awkward (can you relate?).
So what do we do?
1. Start with the physical.
I teach my clients to stand using the principles of the Alexander Technique, but any physicality framework will work the same. Carrying your body openly while remaining rooted and strong positively impacts how you are perceived and even how you perceive yourself.
To test this out, the next time you’re feeling insecure, try feeling how your feet connect to the ground. Stand up straight, relax your shoulders and imagine your head reaching toward the ceiling. See how that subtle shift in physicality helps you feel more powerful.
2. It's always about the breath.
Controlled and deep breathing is the quickest way to let your brain know that you’re not in danger. This helps your brain stop flooding your bloodstream with cortisol and adrenaline—the stress hormones that make your voice and hands shake, give you the sweats and stop you from properly accessing your brain.
When breathing, imagine you’re expanding your lungs like a beach ball. Imagine the left and right, front and back, and top and bottom expanding. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth (breathing in through your nose warms the air). Try using a pattern like breathing in for three seconds, holding for three seconds, and breathing out for six seconds. Breathing out for longer than you breathe in stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you recover from fight, flight or freeze.
Presence, like confidence, is built over time. It’s about being consistent with practicing your technique. It’s pushing yourself forward through the discomfort. It’s recognizing when fear has you in its grips and practicing your training to get out of that mindset. Over time, you see the results, feel the benefits and become authentically, confidently and dynamically present.
This article was written by an FGB Contributor.
Megan Hamilton is a speaking, visibility and confidence expert in Kingston, Ontario. She’s a classically trained actor as well as a professional musician with five recordings, having toured across Canada and into the US. You can learn more at www.ubuskills.com.