Everyone wants a powerful leadership presence. But how do you define it, and more importantly, develop it?
The most compelling public speakers have something in common – a presence that helps them project a balance of complementary personal qualities that builds trust with their audiences. Presence can be measured on a spectrum of perceived characteristics from warmth and relatability on one side to strength and authority on the other. A powerful leadership presence balances warmth and strength, and relatability and competence. We like our leaders to be strong enough to get things done, but we also want to feel like they could be our friend.
Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum. Where do you? Understanding what characteristics you display as a leader and presenter can help you improve your public speaking skills, strengthen your relationship with your audience, and enhance your presentations.
For example, because of my personality and life experiences, my natural presence is at the strength and competence end of the spectrum. It should come as no surprise that during much of my 20-year acting career the cop, doctor, and lawyer roles were my bread and butter. Casting directors, being busy people, usually cast roles according to “type” – they want to see the essence of the character walk into the room, and my comfort in portraying strength gave me an advantage with roles of authority.
However, later in life I found that my strong persona limited me professionally – and personally. My determination to project competence to the world created a wall that kept others at arm’s length. Over the next few years, I undertook the stretch work of getting more comfortable expressing vulnerability. By expanding my expressive range – adding warmth to complement strength – I found that people were more willing to listen to my ideas because they related to me on a human level.
To gain more awareness of your own presence, first consider where you fall on the spectrum. Chances are, your preference is somewhere towards one end or the other – you’re more comfortable expressing warmth/relatability or strength/authority. If so, you can enhance qualities on the other side to balance your delivery. For example, if you tend to come off as very strong and authoritative, use humor to balance your presentation with more warmth and relatability. Or, if you’re very likable but want to be taken more seriously, add stories that demonstrate your professional experience with the subject matter throughout your presentation to increase your authority.
There’s also a deeper and more sustainable way to enhance your leadership presence: by understanding and adopting the mindset behind the behaviors we associate with it. If you think about your favorite leaders and speakers, you probably get a sense that they feel comfortable in their own skin, they believe in themselves and know they can deliver, and they have a clear vision for what they want to accomplish. In short, these leaders display authenticity, confidence, and purpose. I call this the ACP Presence Model, which uses these three inner principles to produce the outer characteristics we associate with leadership presence.
Authenticity is the degree to which you know yourself and show yourself to others. It requires self-awareness and the courage to express your true feelings, values, experiences, and behaviors. Authenticity is about letting people see the real you, and that includes what makes you different.
Confidence is the belief in your ability to accomplish a specific goal. Notice I said belief in your ability, which may or may not reflect your actual ability. You can be good at what you do or have the capacity to be; but if you don’t believe it, you’ll have a hard time selling it to others. The key to confidence is to remain connected to your authenticity, professional and innate strengths, and prior successes.
Purpose provides people with a sense of direction, meaning, and contribution. Put simply, purpose makes you psychologically and emotionally engaged in what you’re doing. If you can identify a clear purpose for why you’re sharing the message in your presentation, it makes it easy to be passionate in your delivery. Being authentic and confident helps you bring your best self to your performance, and purpose marshals your best self to help others.
Authenticity gives you warmth and relatability, confidence projects strength and competence, and purpose gives you all of the above. Using the ACP Presence Model will help you cultivate a sense of personal power that radiates from the inside out. By finding your unique ACP balance and expression, you can develop a powerful speaking presence, solve most common delivery problems, and create memorable presentations that truly make an impact.