23 Feb The Power of Presence
It’s happened to all of us. Even the most experienced communicators can relate. We go in for that meeting, job interview, a potential sale, the pitch, or the ask for a promotion or a raise. We open our mouths, and the words fall out in a jumbled incoherent mess.
If you know the work of Social Psychologist, Amy Cuddy, you may be familiar with the research she’s done. Her Ted talk, or even her story from her book, Presence, Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Here, she explains the story of her “elevator pitch” where she studied psychology for years waiting for an exact moment to share her experience.
To become a professor in the field of social psychology, she describes, “if lucky”, a doctoral student’s faculty advisor will “debut” the candidates at a certain smallish annual conference that’s attended by the by the elite Social Psychologists in the industry. Here the selection of a handful of potential candidates for graduate research are introduced to the world.
Amy explains how, “in a sense, students train for this moment for the entire four or five years leading up to it”. There she was; ready to go, having rehearsed her “elevator pitch”. Knowing that the 90 seconds she’d be allotted better be used fully and succinctly to get across all that she knew. Her anxiety heightened as all she knew, all she trained for, she’d need to translate about herself a few choice words.
What she didn’t plan was that as she moved from the conference lobby into the actual elevator to the event, she entered with three prominent figures in the field – they’d ride that elevator up the floors with her. When the doors closed and the floor numbers where punched, a quick joke was made that went something like, “Fine, we’re in an elevator. Let’s hear your pitch.”
Then, the story went something like this.
Amy froze. She felt her face grow warm.
The elevator took off, shooting past floor after floor.
She started to speak.
Prefacing what she wanted to say. Her words left her lips in more of a garble than a flow. She glanced at the increasing floor numbers whizzing by, knowing that she “started all wrong”.
She said more about what she remembered from her practices.
The three faces looked puzzled.
Her anxiety grew as none of the words felt right. It was almost as if she was speaking in tongues.
The elevator came to a halt. Their destination was reached. The doors slid open and they all got out.
She said that if there was more time, she’d like to elaborate. There wasn’t.
Heads, down, two passengers exited the elevator. The third, said, “That was the worst pitch I have ever heard.”
She never exited the elevator herself, she rode back down to the lobby.
Amy had trained for this moment for years and in two minutes, had managed to let the opportunity slip by. That’s all it took. She was devastated. How could she move on from this?
Have you ever felt this way?
There have been meetings, interviews, and presentations that despite extensive preparation and research, just haven’t gone the way I wanted them to. Someone became distracted and took the conversation down a completely different road. I didn’t know all the answers to the questions or perhaps I did, but the words didn’t flow. They kind of sunk like lead into water instead.
What’s the factor here between success and feeling sunk? What’s the key to articulating your point, saying the right thing at the right time and then being understood?
If you ask me or Amy, it comes down to presence. The way we are projecting, explaining, and communicating. It’s about the confidence we project while we are getting our message across. It can be verbal, physical, energetic, or a combination of them.
One thing is for sure. If you are uber aware of yourself in the process of what you’re doing—in other words, fixated on how you are performing rather than the point you are trying to get across, it’s likely you won’t convey what you want. It’s equally likely that those listening to you won’t get what you are saying in its entirety.
The focus and energy we give equals the passion we translate. Ultimately it’s about what we strongly believe in. If we communicate deep belief, we’re more likely to sway those listening to understand.
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
If we don’t truly believe in what we’re saying, neither will the person listening to us. It’s that simple.
So what does it take to cross this threshold and be present? Here are a few guides:
- Tell the story you believe in. If you believe it, your audience is more likely to believe it, too.
- Be passionate about your points. Use words and your body language that makes sense to communicate points.
- If the examples you use don’t directly pertain to you, use examples of someone else who had results you want to show.
- Know with whom you are speaking. You’re more likely to get your point across if you understand your audience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Speak authentically, clearly, and with excitement about your topic.
Remember to believe in yourself and others will follow suit.
Bring it Full Circle
Have you ever had a moment when you felt like your words weren’t flowing right or you weren’t being listened to?