For professional actors, it's common to hear the idea of "stage presence" discussed with awe: "She has such amazing stage presence!" "His presence just dominated that scene." No doubt, if you've ever discussed a performance by one of your favorite actors (stage or screen), you've commented on their presence.
The tricky thing about stage presence is that it's elusive — difficult to define, but oddly recognizable. People might not know exactly what it is, but they know it when they see it. The same feeling exists around the idea of professional presence. You might not be able to put your finger on what it is about a colleague that exudes professionalism, but you know they've got "it".
So, what is "it"? Luckily, that "it" is something that can be studied and honed, or even learned. People who are naturals at leading have things they've had to work on and develop over time. Let's open the door a bit on some essential thoughts about professional presence. And let's make it a discussion. Feel free to drop us a line in the comments and keep the investigation rolling.
Here are 3 thoughts to start:
1. It's about control, but not in the way you might think. We say that professional presence is the ability to control the information you're giving off to others at all times. However, this isn't "control" in an overly-restrictive sense. It's about developing your own self-awareness to be able to discover where you may unknowingly be undermining your own strength.
Here's an example. Recently, I was asked to film a brief video of myself for an upcoming project. I'd worked on my material, and solicited help from a colleague. I made sure my equipment was in working order, and found a good spot to film. I recorded a few different versions, and then stopped to review the clips.
What I didn't realize what that every time I introduced myself at the top of the clip, I rolled my eyes. In a big way. Like a huge, gigantic, Liz-Lemon-type eye roll any time I said my name. Yikes.
I wasn't aware that I was doing it, at all. But wow, did it undermine my presence. It made me look disinterested, a bit haughty, and a little unhinged, actually. The good news is that once I was aware of it, I could work on it. I did a few more takes, concentrating on making direct "eye contact" with a spot on my camera. I was no longer communicating a message contrary to the one I wanted. My presence was greatly improved!
As I said, this doesn't have to be a rigid control. It's more the awareness of habits, so you can ensure that you're communicating the information you want to be.
2. It's not about wardrobe. Don't confuse presence with wardrobe. (Although adherence to your own professional brand is important!) It goes far deeper than the idea that someone "looks" professional. While there is obviously a visual component to how professional presence is communicated, it's about a lot more than simply wearing an Armani suit and the right shoes.
Think about it: there are people who can project professionalism in jeans. And there are those that can be dressed to the nines, and yet their presence is lacking. Professional dress is important. But it's not even close to the whole story.
3. It can be very, very quiet. This is because those with the best presence are exceptional listeners. Simply listening and connecting with those around you exudes confidence. It communicates that you're settled enough in yourself to give over control of the proceedings, and that you care about what's being communicated to you.
Silence and stillness can be powerful, especially when it comes to professional presence.
Honing your own presence means that you can work towards being exactly the professional that YOU want to be. The one you'd like to listen to, communicate with, and put your trust in. It's not as intangible or elusive as it may seem. And when you've got "it", people notice.