"My goals are to get you to reorient your beliefs about what makes a strong executive presence and rid yourself of limiting behaviors, while providing you with new ways of thinking and doing."
Whether you are an executive, a leader, a manager, a job seeker, changing careers or just trying to increase your effectiveness, Kristi Hedges offers valuable advice in The Power of Presence. She shares her treasure trove of extensive professional experience as a communications expert, entrepreneur, and leadership coach. The way we present ourselves, our presence, can determine whether we reach our goals and our potential or whether we fail to connect and miss opportunities.
Hedges presents us with her three-part I-Presence model and through a series of stories, case studies, strategies, tools and exercises teaches us to be Intentional, Individual, and Inspirational. Throughout the book, she has included many actionable exercises and lists key takeaways from every chapter along with a special notes section to bring all of her ideas together and make them easily accessible. Understanding and practicing her technique helps align what we want to convey to others with what they perceive. She shows us how to become more intentional while we remain our authentic self which inspires others and creates impact.
For this summary, I will focus on overcoming obstacles to strong relationships. Nervousness, insecurity, and self-orientation are feelings that interfere with connection and undermine our potential by negatively affecting our presence. If we focus on our intentions and how we communicate we can turn them into strengths that make us inspirational. For some actionable tips, read on.
Build trust with body language
"Nearly everyone struggles with nervousness, anxiety, and insecurity in high-pressure situations where we care deeply about the outcome. It happens to even the most successful and dynamic communicators."
Body language plays a big part in the opinions others form about us. Feeling nervous is normal. Unfortunately, when our thoughts focus on that feeling, and we start thinking about potential or previous mistakes, and imagine others have disapproving thoughts about us our body language conveys those feelings. Our thoughts become negative, and our actions communicate mistrust, people perceive us as unpleasant, and we fail to make a connection. We may not be able to stop feeling anxiety and insecurity, but with some practice and preparation we can stop letting those feelings unfavorably impact our presence.
We have a physical reaction to stress—our heart pounds, we sweat, our breathing changes. It is difficult to experience those physical changes without riding the emotional rollercoaster. Before an important event, start a positive internal dialog about things you have done well. Think about things for which you are grateful. Listen to upbeat music. Take deep breaths and slow down your speech. Ask other people questions to take the focus off of yourself. Acknowledge your fear and physical reaction. Accept it as a feeling separate from who you are and the outcome of this situation. Our sense of how well we are doing under stress is biased, and others are often more approving than we believe. However, they will notice our discomfort. If we practice controlling our reaction, it will improve our presence and others will feel more comfortable and connected.
Be intentional and mindful of body language even in comfortable settings. I have a habit of twisting my hair and moving more than most people. I am not anxious; these actions are part of my normal behavior when I am alone or with other people. However, other people sometimes call them “nervous habits.” I used to dismiss the remark because I was not nervous. Later, I realized I was making them uneasy with my actions. It is important to remember people sometimes read body language the wrong way and become uncomfortable. Be sure your actions convey the right message. Ask for feedback and accept it. First impressions are important; we do not often have the opportunity for others to get to know us.
Build strength with competency and vulnerability
"Connection enhances presence when you reveal your competency alongside your vulnerability. It shows you are human, just like the rest of us."
Our performance is often measured by metrics, how perfectly we do our job. Unfortunately, people cannot relate to perfection. We admire it, but we connect with others’ vulnerability. Displaying our vulnerabilities might make us feel like others will regard us as incompetent or expose us to rejection or embarrassment. In reality, we all know no one is perfect. Projecting perfection makes us appear untrustworthy, and we will not establish lasting relationships. Missed connections result in employee disengagement and turnover and loss of clients even when the business is strong in other respects.
A great way to make others feel comfortable and connected is to ask them for their honest feedback. It is one way of acknowledging that we are not perfect and that we care about how we impact others. Another way is to tell stories about strengths and shortcomings. Keep the stories short, centered on things everyone can relate to and understand and apply to the situation. Perfectionism is a barrier. It alienates others and people avoid you. Humanity creates an authentic, open presence, conveys self-assurance and strength. It makes you unforgettable.
Maintain trust with selflessness
"When relationships break down or never take hold, self-orientation is often to blame. Furthermore, self-orientation and intimacy play off each other to create a negative or positive spiral, depending on the weakness or strength of both."
When we feel we must protect our interests whether the concern is avoiding the pain of rejection, loss of money on a sale, or missing out on a prestigious position, we communicate self-orientation. It separates us, and we sacrifice trust in our relationships. Although it may seem contrary to our interests, acts of selflessness restore our connection and transform faltering relationships. Doing things for others, even when it is hard, communicates that we have their best interest at heart and restores their trust in us. When our presence conveys respect and appreciation instead of self-orientation we build strong, trusting relationships.
Keep your focus positive. We have a strong emotional reaction to loss and fear of losing. We all sometimes struggle which can start a downward spiral that leads to self-orientation. When we are in a self-protection frame of mind, others read our orientation through our actions and react defensively. That reaction sets up our defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from failure or embarrassment, and we mistrust others intentions. Our presence reflects our internal barrier; our actions communicate that we are safeguarding ourselves, and others shut us out emotionally. Doing things for others keeps our mind focused outward and is a great everyday practice that keeps us out of the damaging self-orientation cycle.
Most of us are not in a position where the public scrutinizes every detail of what we do and say but whatever it is that we do, we come into contact with other people. The way others see us is important to everyone. A powerful presence opens doors, we get more opportunities and the possibility of creating opportunities for others. Soft skills are not unimportant. A solid education and impressive resume might get you an interview, but if you cannot connect on a human level, you may not get the job. The secret to effective leadership is inspiring others to follow. We follow when we feel a connection.