What is personal presence?

Personal presence is that natural, unforced quality we recognise in people who are confident, comfortable in their own skins and true to themselves

We have all met people with presence – those individuals we feel drawn to. They are noticed, listened to, respected, trusted and followed.

Whether or not the word presence comes to mind, we know it when we see it – in individuals who are confident and inspire confidence, who convey positive energy and above all, who engender trust with their authenticity.

They may have charisma, but equally they may be quiet and unassuming. Whatever their style, they make us identify with them in some way.

So presence is not just for the powerful, the business magnates or the so-called ‘celebrities’. We are all born with it – an unselfconscious, sense of who we are.

Young children have presence in abundance – they are very much their own person. But as they get older and more aware of the world, they often lose that self-confidence and conviction. With age comes an awareness of what is deemed ‘acceptable’. They respond to the expectations of others and – for good or ill – adapt to meet the situation.

This is normal – a rite of passage we all face as our world becomes more complex. We have to adapt in order to function at home, at school and in the workplace. However, if we constantly hide behind a mask we become a cipher – unreadable. And if we pretend to be something we’re not, we appear to be ‘trying too hard’. This becomes an issue when others need to trust what we do and say.

‘What’ we say and ‘how’ we say it need to be aligned if others are to put their trust in us. The ‘what’ is relatively straightforward but how we say it and communicate our true belief in what we say is not. Being true to ourselves is something we cannot fake.

It’s not an act

In my view, personal presence is a natural, unforced quality. When you are open and engage people they can see who you are. They may not agree with everything you say but they will understand your intention, know that you are real and sincere.

Our belief in ourselves and what we are saying, our integrity and our intentions can all be read in our non-verbal behaviours – our physical stability, posture, breathing, facial expression, instinctive use of personal space, the energy we display and more.

Presence arises from being balanced and grounded in our own beliefs. It is being aligned with what we stand for that gives us weight. The suggestion that a person can have presence just by learning various body language tricks misses the point. In fact, attempting that will have the opposite effect. It will simply look and feel contrived – something that people recoil from instinctively and just won’t trust.

People follow those who they feel have a genuine, heartfelt intention. Leaders with presence have authority and gravitas. They are authentic, comfortable in their own skin. They draw others towards them, put them at ease and enable them to feel confident and willing to contribute. They are instinctively trusted.

Personal presence is ‘God-given’. We all come into the world with presence but so often we lose it. What we have to do as adults is rediscover how to be present.

Jo Ouston