Amy Cuddy has a great definition of presence:
“Presence is the ability to be attuned to and comfortably express the best parts of yourself.”
So, yes, it’s about authenticity. But it’s about the best parts of our authenticity — not the kind where we play our music at work as loud as we want because we think “well, I’m just being me.”
You’ll also notice that the definition doesn’t mention anything about having presence — or being present — all the time. That’s because we can’t do that. Because we’re human. There are always thoughts and feelings poking through, and that’s why we can’t be authentic selves all the time. I’m not, you’re not. Nobody is. If we were then why would we even be talking about it? We wouldn’t. It wouldn’t even be a concept — because it wouldn’t need to be. That’s why advice like “be yourself” is terrible. And these “gurus” who tell us to be who we are all the time, that we can be who we really are all the time, are also terrible. Because they’re lying.
A result of having presence — again, or being present — is having harmonious verbal and body language. This is important because this is the best way to tell if someone is trying to deceive you. Forget eye contact and scratching the head and all that stuff. If someone is trying to deceive you, their words and their body will be saying different things. They’ll say they’re passionate but their body will tell you otherwise. It will betray them. And although we can’t always pick up on exactly why we don’t trust someone, it’s usually this. And if people don’t trust you then how will you ever get what you’re asking from them?
Now you might be thinking “ok, well how do I make a good impression on others then? How do I get them to trust me?” Well, this is what else the research shows: the more we try to manage our impression on others, the worse that impression comes across — because, shockingly, it seems inauthentic. So the best way to make a good impression on others, the best way to get people to trust you, is to manage the impression you’re making on yourself. And the best way to manage the impression you’re making on yourself is to have presence. That is, to be the person you are in your best moments. To focus on who you really are as opposed to who you think other people want you to be.
“Ok”, you might be thinking, again, “but how do I do that?”
Power poses and self-affirmations.
I know. But hear me out.
When we talk about power poses, we mean poses like Wonder Woman or Superman strike, or the victory pose with your arms in the air, or when you sit with your feet on your desk and your arms behind your head — very expansive poses, in other words. However… you don’t have to — and definitely shouldn’t — do these in front of other people. These are for you to do on your own. Unless you want to make a terrible and weird impression, obviously.
The reason we do these very expansive poses is because, yes, your mind can control your body, but your body also controls your mind. Doing these power poses will change how you’re feeling — they’ll literally alter your hormones. For example, if you’re like me, you’re on your iPhone 25 hours a day. And, unsurprisingly, our posture when we’re on our phones is terrible. Curved shoulders, chin down, hunched back. What would you think of a person who had that posture and wasn’t holding a phone? You’d think they were depressed. Maybe even weak, or powerless. And yet we’re in this posture all the time. Just reflect on that. Also — when you imagine someone with presence, they’re not on their phone, are they?
I also mentioned self-affirmations. If you’re like me, you probably cringe at the concept. Well, that’s because self-affirmations aren’t what we think they are. It’s not looking at yourself in the mirror and saying how awesome you are, or how great you are at this or that, or how you’ll always succeed no matter what. Real self-affirmations aren’t about what you can do — they’re about who you are. They’re about what makes you… you. And that’s exactly why real self-affirmations are so powerful: because they’re rooted in certainty, and not in deceiving yourself to try to believe what you know isn’t true.
This last point should be a relief to you: you don’t have to be “charismatic” to have presence. Having presence isn’t about entertaining everybody else all the time, or being some magnetic god, or being fearless. It’s about pushing through your fears long enough to show people who you really are.