In the presentation and public speaking world, we talk about great speakers having ‘presence’. But what exactly does ‘presence’ mean in this context and how do you achieve it?
When you’re speaking in public with presence and gravitas, your audience are engaged with you and your words; you exude calmness, confidence and credibility.
There is a strong similarity between public speaking and acting as in both contexts you are essentially giving a performance. However, when presenting, the performance element doesn’t come from acting and playing a role, but from giving the very best of who you are, being a bigger version of your authentic self.
If you are still relatively inexperienced in public speaking, you can develop your presence by working on aspects of your performance. As Mark Powell says in his book Dynamic Presentations,” if performance is what you do, presence is what you are.”
So, to develop different aspects of presence, you need to work on specific aspects of performance. You can do that in the following ways:
Confidence Lower your voice and project it, avoid distracting mannerisms, make eye contact
Calmness Smile, slow down, breathe evenly, use pauses
Rapport Involve your audience, use a conversational tone of voice
Charisma Smile and laugh, look as though you’re enjoying yourself
Entertaining Show your natural sense of humour, tell stories, be playful
Provocative Challenge tradition and stereotypes, take calculated risks
Credibility Improvise where necessary, hesitate, use pauses to think
If you feel you are lacking some of the characteristics of presence as listed in the left hand column, make a conscious effort to do more of the things in the right hand column. It may feel a little strange at first, but that is normal when we are embracing a change in behaviour. It may be a case of ‘fake it until you make it’, (so yes, perhaps a bit of acting comes in here), but with practice you will start to feel more comfortable with the new behaviour.
Great public speaking is a life long journey of continuous learning and development. But with practice, dedication and the willingness to focus on the above areas of performance, everyone can become a great public speaker.