Whether you call it body language, executive presence or leadership presence, the way you stand, sit or speak has an enormous affect on how other people react. Even with the very best of ideas or intentions, if a person who wants to influence opinions or actions cannot command attention and generate confidence, the cause is lost.
Official or unofficial leaders who know how to command a room, generate discussion or draw out opinions of other people make it seem easy. Effective physical presence usually goes unnoticed because it appears so effortless.
However, when powerful or appropriate presence is lacking, the results are obvious to observers and frustrating for individual who wants to move forward. The following ten signs point to ineffective physical presence:
- Inattentive audiences — When audiences, large or small, gaze around a room, focus on their cell phones or talk to others when a speaker is speaking, they may be bored with the content. However, an effective speaker can frequently generate interest and enthusiasm in mundane topics simply by the power of physical presence and the intensity of voice. Their confidence, their own interest and their ability to read a room draws the attention of potentially disinterested audiences.
- Lack of confidence — The other side of inattentive audiences (of one or many) is lack of confidence on the part of the speaker, which observers recognize immediately. Research on physical presence indicates that how one sits or stands affects hormones in the body and in turn generates or limits confidence and control (Galinsky and Huang, 2011)
- Ideas or suggestions ignored — When comments are made in a voice that sounds unconvincing or a body that does not display power or confidence, people tend to dismiss them as irrelevant. When the same comments are made by someone showing more power or confidence, the same comments are embraced. Women often report this phenomenon in meetings, but the reaction often stems from lack of gravitas or lack of conviction that the idea will catch on.
- Low energy meetings — When effective leaders conduct meetings, they have the ability to generate discussion, creativity and collaboration as required. Their genuine interest in participants, the emotions they generate and their body language stimulates willingness to participate fully. When individuals do not show appropriate physical presence, their meetings are lifeless and unproductive. Attendees put in their time but rarely put in their full effort.
- Inability to connect with people — Effective physical presence offers authenticity and the opportunity to build relationships. Physical presence has two meanings: 1) how one is perceived by others and 2) being aware and in the moment. Both of these factors determine whether other people will make emotional connections.
- People express fear or other negative emotions — Leaders frequently want to appear powerful, but this physical presence can be overdone. Effective leaders recognize that different situations call for different body dispositions. Leaders who lack the ability to show empathy, curiosity, connection or other types of presence lose the ability to lead effectively.
- Jokes fall flat — Less effective speakers and leaders may have heard that jokes open doors to interaction or relationships. They repeat stories they find humorous or tell jokes they find funny. When listeners do not respond with laughter, they don’t understand why. Comedians rely on timing and delivery, which are components of effective physical presence.
- Failure to generate trust — According to research by Albert Mahrabian, when words and body language do not align, people tend to believe the body rather than the words. When this happens, people lose trust in the speaker. They sense that the speaker is hiding something or their motives are unclear. Effective leaders and speakers are authentic and they are mindful of their bodies to ensure coherent body, emotions and language.
- Confusing performance reviews — Directors or supervisors frequently find it difficult to mention physical presence as a deficiency because they are reluctant to point to traits they see as part of a person’s personality. They see physical presence or lack of it as a personal matter. Performance reviews may show very high ratings in some areas, but overall reviews may include messages that something is missing, but missing elements are not clear. Confusing performance reviews can stem from a variety of personal traits, but a very good starting point is to look at physical presence.
- Being passed over repeatedly for promotion— This result can be the most troubling to a worker who wants to advance. He or she puts in time. They learn all about their product or service. They know all the players, but when they apply for a higher position, they do not get the job. In a study of top executives, physical or executive presence accounted for at least 25% of what the executives said was required for promotion. (Hewlett, 2014) That is a significant amount.
What have you observed? What other factors may signal physical presence issues both personal and professional? Have you seen these results?
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- Chapman, A. (2015) Mehrabian’s Communication Research. Businessballs.com
- Galinsky, A and Huang, L (2011) How You Can Become More Powerful by Literally Standing Tall. Scientific American.
- Hewlett, S. (2014) Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success. Harper Collins: New York.