How To Increase Your ‘Presence’

Some people find catching the attention of others effortless, be it in a job interview, presentation or a meeting. On the other hand, many of us feel that we lack charisma or ‘presence’ and the ability to stand up and influence a room.

A major part of communications skills training and public speaking training is determining the qualities that make some people more trustworthy, authoritative and persuasive. Charisma and presence are key to this.  The good news is that these qualities can be learnt…so read on if you’re interested in getting other’s attention (without shouting or doing the Shimmy Shake).

Understanding what charisma really is

Let’s imagine Eugene needs to stand in front of his business partners and persuade them to pool resources on a new venture. He needs to appear more authoritative, trustworthy and persuasive for his ideas to be heard, understood and absorbed, so what qualities do you think are vital? He needs presence and charisma, but what does ‘charisma’ really mean?

According to research conducted at the University of Lausanne, lead by Professor John Antonakis, there is a set of twelve communication habits that Eugene would need to adopt to improve his charisma. But when Antonakis was conducting the study of what would give people like Eugene that extra ‘zing’, he was taking the meaning of ‘charisma’ to a deeper level.

The Latin root of ‘charisma’, ‘charis’ means ‘favour’ and the whole word therefore translates as to ‘exhort favour’. In other words, ‘being influential’. Not every leader or manager needs or want to have that ‘wow the room’ factor, that is usually evoked with the word ‘charisma’.

However to be engaging is vital, and this is something that’s in your power. We can adopt techniques to ensure our words are heard, understood and absorbed.

Eight of the 12 techniques of engaging others, according to Antonakis, are verbal:

  1. Using metaphors or analogies
  2. Easy-to-remember three-part lists
  3. Telling stories;
  4. Drawing vivid contrasts
  5. Asking rhetorical questions
  6. Expressing moral conviction
  7. Reflecting an audience’s sentiments
  8. Setting high but achievable goals

The rest are non-verbal; raising and lowering your voice and letting your feelings show in face and hand gestures to reinforce what you say.

Making sure your words are taken on board

All these 12 skills are based on Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric and can be broken down thus:

  • Ethos – establishing your credentials and building rapport.

This could be done during a presentation by Eugene sharing his experience through anecdotes, for example, and reflecting the audience’s concerns and language. A major element of building credentials is through conveying life experiences and performance which make up reputation. Eugene may have a harder job if his audience think he had his hand in the pension fund, in which case, establishing credentials through colourful stories may be as productive as skiing uphill in slippers.

  • Logos – persuading through logic

By showing cause and effect, before and after, theory next to experience, Eugene will be using logic to influence.  Providing strong rationales that build an argument convey a sense of trustworthiness.

  • Pathos – persuasion with emotion

Try talking about something you are looking forward to in a flat, unmodulated voice with no movement. Then do this with gesture to underline points and apply emphasis with vocal colouring. Suddenly, what you say comes alive and triggers the emotions of others, embodying ‘pathos’.  Do be aware of cultural variations, though. For example, more open, expressive movement would be expected in southern Europe than Northern Europe.

The quiet quality of Presence

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor from Harvard, says in her blog ‘Why you need Charisma’, that it’s how well you listen as opposed to being heard, that will make you influential.

For her, ‘charisma’ is the quality of silence as well as speech. According to Professor Kanter,active listening is vital.  This means using questions to seek understanding, reflecting back key phrases, steering a conversation through non-verbals. These are all important communication skills which help you to be respected, engaged with and, ultimately, understood.

Combining the interpretations of both Kanter and Antonakis, you have ‘presence’ because you seek to understand, not push your agenda without measuring your audience.  And when you do speak you use engaging ways to convey your point.

How to improve your presence, charisma and engagement

Your Actions:

  1. In conversations, ensure you are using active listening: you’re not waiting to speak but seeking to understand. Click here for a break down.
  2. When you present, seek to change someone’s mind, or steer action, pick one of the 12 techniques above that Antonakis mentions. Choose one that you don’t think you use enough, working it into your written and verbal communications.

You can learn more of these key skills in my networking skills, conversational skills and public speaking training courses. So contact me, Frankie Kemp and become a Communication Ninja!

This article was originally published in March 2013 and was updated in October 2023.


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