February 27, 2013
I have just updated my website with the schedule for the one and two-day workshops I’ll be offering this upcoming spring. Learn more about these programs and the dates they are offered by visiting the small group coaching workshop page on my website.
To get some idea of the strategies that we’ll be working on, you might enjoy the most recent article that I’ve posted on this blog. In this article, entitled Closing the Presence Gap: Simple tools for rediscovering this innate leadership ability, we look at the reality that being the content expert doesn’t always translate into having a strong leadership presence and we explore simple strategies that will help you become a more confident and effect leader.
And, as a final note, remember that I’m always available for individual coaching if you are either preparing for a specific presentation or can’t attend any of the workshops I have scheduled. Visit the coaching page on my website to learn more about how we could work together either in person or on the phone.
February 27, 2013
(This article, in its original form, was written in 2009 and posted on my website: www.riverways.com. I’ve since reworked it slightly and wanted to share it in this blog space. The three people described below are each composites of a number of clients who have come through my public speaking programs and services.)
Jane was bright, experienced, and the only female on her work team. Frustrated, she felt that nothing she said at team meetings was taken seriously and her participation was frequently discounted or ignored. When she came to me, she wanted to become more visible as a strong member of her team.
Jim formed a small startup company with 3 other classmates after graduating from college and soon became director of marketing. At first enjoying his work, the bloom faded when his sales force grew to twenty-five, all direct reports, many of them older than Jim. Naturally introverted, Jim wanted to overcome his shyness and his anxiety about age differences. They were limiting his ability to lead with confidence.
Miriam, well regarded in her highly technical field, often spoke to conference audiences of 1,000 or more. With a quick mind and enthusiasm for her subject matter, she tried to cover a wealth of material, talking quickly and packing her slides densely with information. Miriam found that her audiences often had trouble understanding and absorbing the material she presented. She wondered what she needs to do to be more effective at conveying her message.
Each of these people was an expert in their field, with a solid foundation in their subject matter. There was a gap, though, between their expertise and knowledge and their ability to communicate effectively. This gap hindered their ability to be truly effective leaders.
As each of them worked to strengthen their presence using some very simple strategies, they became more influential and respected in their respective fields.
Here are some of the simple essential strategies you too can use to develop your leadership presence:
1. Slow down. By using the breath to slow your thoughts, you will be much more available to the present moment.
This is often the most important step towards developing an effective leadership presence. In this culture of adrenalin soup everything goes fast. Day in, day out, people are besieged by urgent demands on their time – ubiquitous cell phone access, relentless emails, increased workloads, and complicated family schedules – so that they race from one activity to another, attempting to multitask as they go. This state of continuous urgency and information overload is amplified by the racing thoughts accompanying the stress and anxiety that arise when people encounter uncomfortable leadership situations.
Presence arises when you take a deep breath, slow down, and pay attention to what’s in front of you. By doing so, you establish a rhythm and pacing that helps others slow down and become present; and you spark more effective interactions.
2. Embody Presence: Bring all of yourself into a meeting or important presentation, not just your brains.
People with real presence are “comfortable in their own skin.” Presence is a holistic experience, where our entire being – mind, body and spirit – is engaged, not just our minds alone. At the same time, when a person is fully embodied, she authentically engages the human beings in her audience, not just their thoughts.
One simple but effective mechanism for developing body awareness while speaking is to focus on how you are making contact with the solid ground while presenting. When anchoring attention to your physical experience and also connecting with the audience while delivering the message, you bring more of yourself to each interaction. This has the effect of drawing your audience towards you and engaging their interest and regard. It does take practice as it requires multiple awareness’s at once.
3. The power of the relationship: Place a priority on connecting with your audience rather than your material.
This is paradoxical for most people. When asked to give a talk or speak up in a meeting, their focus is naturally drawn to the subject matter and how to convey it. But the truth is that effectiveness as speakers and leaders is less about what is said and more about who you are and how well you connect with your audience. People respond to a message because of authenticity, humanity, and ability to connect. If a speaker focuses entirely on himself and the material, he creates an experience of separation and is not available to connect with his audience.
Instead, if you give careful thought to why you are speaking, what you want the audience to leave with, and how you can be helpful to them, you will “invite” the audience to join you. Ironically, when your relationship with the audience becomes the priority rather yourself, you’ll be less anxious, your thoughts will quiet down, and your audience will trust you more.
Here are several simple ways to invite the audience in:
Maintain eye contact with a soft, receptive gaze even while thinking. Linger with each person, truly see them, say hello to them in your mind as you speak.
Think of it as a conversation rather than a presentation. Speak naturally as if you were having coffee with a friend.
Ask yourself: How can I be of service? Instead of: How can I be perfect and show my expertise?
Let yourself be human! Don’t try to be perfect. Making mistakes is OK, it’s part of human nature. The best way to do this is not to take yourself too seriously. We are the most engaging when our audience sees that we are accessible and human just like they are.
Leadership enhanced with presence.
To enhance their leadership presence, Jane, Jim and Miriam began to incorporate these strategies into their daily interactions. While doing so, each placed special emphasis on one practice.
As Jane became more fully embodied in her meetings, she noticed that while her voice wasn’t necessarily louder, there was more power behind her words and her team members began to listen more and consider her opinions.
Jim started to place a priority on connecting with the human beings on his sales team rather than focusing his shyness and the differences in age, and he found himself more able to align with them and garner their respect.
Miriam found when she slowed down and took a breath between each major point and eliminated much of the detail in her presentations, her audiences were able to absorb more of her message.
In accessing their own natural presence, these three leaders found themselves to be much more effective in communicating their message while enjoying themselves more as well.
May 10, 2012
I’ve just posted the new schedule for this summer’s public speaking workshops. Check it out!
January 10, 2012
I was at a team meeting recently where a group of us were talking about the leadership training program in an organization employing about 275 people. One person in the group asked the CEO, “What’s the opposite of leadership?” The CEO without any hesitation immediately said, “Absence!”
How interesting! I was intrigued by this view of leadership because I often think of absence being the opposite of presence. It made me start to wonder if presence and leadership are synonymous.
One way to compare absence and presence is to examine the distinction between self-consciousness and consciousness-of-self. When we are self-conscious, we often feel awkward, clumsy and alone, with a sense of separation (or absence) from the outside world. When we are really present, we are quite aware of ourselves in a balanced way as we fully engage in the activity of the moment and we connect to those around us so that we no longer feel separate, alone, afraid.
This is especially true when we speak in public or take on a leadership role. When we are anxious, we become self-absorbed and fearful about looking inept, making mistakes or forgetting what we planned to say. If, instead, we stay aware of ourselves as we focus our attention outward, placing a priority on the people in our audience, becoming open to receiving them, being genuinely curious about them, and thinking about how we can be of service to them, we lose that self-consciousness, we are in-the-moment, and we can then drop into a shared, collective place with our audience. This is being fully present!
Think about a presentation you’ve done when you didn’t feel you were as present as you know you can be, then complete the Obstacles to Presence Check List. You’ll notice that many of these obstacles reflect either an absence from the immediate situation or a degree of self-consciousness.
October 18, 2011
Over the past month, I’ve been quite intrigued by the growing Occupy Wall Street movement. My interest has been on multiple levels. Most especially, though, I’ve been particularly curious about the group process and the community self-organization that seems to have emerged.
As I thought about what I’ve seen through videos and commentary, I decided to write an article for my new blog, Meaningful-Conversations, entitled “Occupy… The Conversation“. In this article I reflect on the unique speaking style that has emerged from this movement, the respectful way people listen, as well as the quality of group conversation that has no leader at the top. And, I end with the question, “What if all our important conversations had these qualities?”
August 2, 2011
This SpeakingPresence blog addresses the experience of presence in speaking through articles I write. I have a second blog, RevealedPresence, that explores presence through photographs and questions. Last month, Rabbi Jordan Rosenberg asked me the following question in a comment on that blog:
I am curious about what you mean by presence? Is it more or different than mindfulness? What is the source of the ‘presence’? Internal? External? Human? Divine?
This seemed a pretty fundamental question, so after some thought I wrote a response in a comment on that blog. Rabbi Rosenberg and I have emailed about ways to keep this conversation going and we’ve decide to cross-post on our respective blogs. I’ve moved the entire conversation to a blog post on that site and thought I’d share the link on this blog because my response is so relevant to the subject of this blog. You can read the entire conversation by following this link. I welcome any comments that people would like to make as a contribution to this conversation…
April 14, 2011
I don’t know if I’m getting older and feeling my age, if my chronic injuries need special attention, or if part of me is just getting “lazy”, but lately, after 20 years of practicing yoga (with a 5 year stint as a teacher), I increasingly find myself drawn to beginner yoga classes.
In these “easy” classes, rather than rapidly flowing through a series of yoga postures, I become deeply curious as I get to really explore the inner experience of each pose. I like the slowness, the intentionality, the quality of “less is more”, the level of very present attention, and, quite honestly, the degree of real physical exertion that I feel when I practice in this way.
Contrary to what my mind sometimes thinks outside of class, there’s really nothing “lazy” about this practice at all. It seems that by working in this way I can bring the quality of curiosity associated with a “beginner’s mind” attitude to each moment in the class and I leave feeling much more embodied than simply having had a good workout.
So, once again (as is so often the case in the articles I post to this blog), I wonder what does this have to do with public speaking presence? I feel intuitively that there’s a connection, but I’ll need to tease it out as I write this post.
In the more advanced yoga classes I sometimes find that in attempting to keep up with the class, particularly during fast moving posture flows, rather than paying careful attention to how it feels inside, I’m scrambling to simply get to the right place at the right time. And, by the time I’m settling into where I should be it’s already time to move on to the next posture.
It’s also more likely that my ego will get in the way. Can I go as deeply, as far, as flexibly as other people in the class? If I’m not really careful, I can sometimes push beyond what’s healthy for me in my attempt to achieve what I see others being able to do. The perfectionist in me can sometimes take over as does the performer, where I become more concerned with how I look from the outside rather than authentically listening to what is real and right for my body in that moment.
Speeding up, needing to perform and be perfect, and worrying about what our audience thinks of us are often the biggest obstacles to speaking presence. Rather than taping into what’s most important and real for ourselves and our audience and speaking authentically, we can obsess about not wanting to make a mistake, about looking good, about sounding like we know what we’re talking about. These concerns have the effect of taking us out of ourselves and creating enormous amounts of anxiety. Which, in turn, cause us to lose our ability to connect with our audience and to remember what we want to say.
When I work with clients on specific talks, I often find that the most crippling part is the fear of making a mistake or of forgetting what they want to say. There are two basic things that I help them discover. The first is that they can take their time. There’s no need to rush. The second is that I encourage them to try to say less, to simplify their message, and to speak to that message conversationally rather than as a presentation (performance). The “less is more” attitude is so essential in giving themselves the space to find what they truly want to say and also in helping the audience really get the fundamental message of the talk.
What if we were to approach each speaking situation with the curiosity of a beginner’s mind, letting ourselves pay careful attention to what we want to accomplish in the talk, to how we articulate what we want to say, to how our audience is able to comprehend what we are saying? What if we were to speak less and “listen” more? What if we let go of the need to performing and allowed ourselves to be real?
Maybe then every speaking situation could be like a beginning yoga class.