To be meaningful and memorable, people must first ‘get out of their own way’. This feat was exemplified in the performances of both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the recent hit film La La Land. Although it is likely that neither would have described themselves as singers, dancers or in Gosling’s case a piano player (Gosling having learned to play for the role), there was something special about their connection with us and one another. Perhaps, it was their playful unapologetic, abandon, so colourfully captured by the camera that made their passion feel real. To succeed in their respective roles demanded that they step outside of their comfort zone. It would have been easy for them to self-critique and second guess themselves. Instead, they left behind their inhibition, embraced their characters, and achieved a level of transcendence. Effectively, they created a sort of magic…a presence and we sat transfixed, transported into their world and outside of time and space.
Magnetism is not reserved for stars of the silver screen alone. It can be found amongst the people that we live and work with as well. So, what are some of the traits of those with presence? And what is that ‘it’ characteristic that makes people stand out in a crowded room?
For starters, when speaking about topics of importance to them, their passion is palpable and contagious; they don’t stop to evaluate our reaction or measure their effect on others. Instead, it is their enthusiasm for the meaningful which makes them memorable and creates that intangible quality that we call ‘presence’. It is presence that not only makes us want to be near them, it makes us want to help them reach their goals as well. To have the support of others and to have them want to work with us is of huge benefit. Not surprisingly, presence makes for natural leaders.
Presence would fetch a high price could it be bottled and sold but for most, acquiring this equanimity proves elusive. Mostly, presence simply comes to those who know who they are on the inside and have the courage to act upon it in the outside world. They seek out, and are aware of, that which has meaning and then pursue it with passion. It is this authenticity that attracts others to them.
In the same way that we are attracted to someone who is ‘real’, none of us like a phony. Even though an individual may be physically good looking, well-mannered and charming if they are without an innate belief in something beyond blind ambition our antennae signals that something about them is off. I worked with a man like that once. Forever jonesing for the next promotion, he spent an inordinate amount of time in the lavatory grooming and would suavely butter up each new round of management. But, despite his calculating every move for maximum effect, one manager after another would pick up on his hollowness. It was never long before he was sidelined, further proof that ‘the sizzle is no good without the steak’.
To harness the magic of presence we must courageously try new things and nurture our confidence. We get more by doing more, especially when we rise to the occasion to accept a challenge. All actions become easier with practice, and eventually, we will acquire competence. Still, confidence alone is not enough to manifest presence. It must be motivated by and reinforced with caring and compassion. When we connect with others in a way that makes both parties feel good we will feel the glow.
Ryan and Emma made that connection with the audience in La La Land and you can too. To develop presence, begin by looking inward and connecting with what you value; the things that are truly meaningful to you. Ask yourself what gets you out of bed in the morning and propels you forward? What gives you energy, and makes you feel like a larger, fuller human being? The next step will take courage. You must then endeavor to take on projects that are based on those values.
Another critical ingredient to developing presence is being able to shift your energy from the internal inspiration of the feminine to the external orientation of the masculine. Investment guru Warren Buffet is a perfect example of someone who is in sync with shifting between the energies. He has stated that he spends 80 percent of his time immersed, not in a hub of activity, but rather reflecting on his intentions for action. His introspection has helped to generate superior returns and to ensure him a place as a leader in his field.
Finally, to develop presence you will first need to recognize and overcome the early socialization and conditioning of your gender. Probably, it will have led to your utilizing only half of the equation and tools available to you. To better connect, men must be willing to surrender their strong, tough guy stereotypes and become more caring and compassionate, and women need to conquer their risk-averse conditioning to be able to build their courage, confidence, and competence.
When we step outside these boxes, our performance will be enhanced. When we discern, what is meaningful to us and then act upon it with confidence, people sense that we care and we become memorable. To develop presence, we need to get out of our own way and allow it to be about something bigger than ourselves. When we transcend beyond our self-imposed limitations, act with passion, and deliver the sizzle WITH the steak we will naturally become magnetic leaders in the process.