Still April… and a word starting with “P”… I admit that I had a long look in the dictionary to find the perfect inspiration. And it doesn’t turn out I will be writing about perfection because I would be under too much pressure ;-)!
PRESENCE is the word that I chose. What comes to your mind when you read that word? Maybe different things, like the radiance of a leader or of an actor on stage, or the fact of being physically in a room, or the fact of having one’s total attention to what’s going on in the moment. In her book “Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges”, Amy Cuddy, Harvard social psychologist, gives the following definition: “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potentials”.
With this definition, it is needless to say that PRESENCE is an important success factor as it can also be associated with confidence, comfort level and even enthusiasm. Maybe some of you are currently thinking “oh, no, this PRESENCE thing is nothing for me because I’m an introvert and only extrovert people can have it”. Note that PRESENCE has nothing to do with introversion or extroversion: it is a state of being that everyone can achieve.
In our daily lives, PRESENCE can be summarized as “the state of being when your complete attention is focused on the situation you are currently in”, whether during a meeting at work or a conversation with a family member or a dinner with friends, etc., regardless of how busy your mind can be or how difficult this situation is. You don’t try to flee, you fully assume who you are/how you feel/what you think in that situation.
How often do you attend meetings where people look at their phones or tablets all the time, being busy with something else than what the meeting is about? Maybe it’s cool… to do busyness instead of business ;-)… Tell me, what’s the point of having such a meeting? What’s the point for these busy participants to attend at all if they have other things to take care of?
We would like to believe that multitasking (being busy with many different tasks but not really PRESENT to one) is efficient but there are studies out there that mention it’s just the opposite: it takes more time to execute each and every task and it’s very likely that you’ll make more errors. Who wants that?
I agree that there are occasions when showing PRESENCE is no easy, as examples
- when we have a critical deadline ahead and no solution in sight,
- when we receive bad news and need to attend an important meeting immediately after,
- when we wonder too much about what the job interviewer will think about our answers,
- when we are nervous about getting onstage in front of a large audience,
- or to make it short, when our mind is preoccupied with something else or when we are anxious about a situation.
PRESENCE doesn’t mean to ignore or to play a game of total coolness but rather to not let these other thoughts and this anxiety run the show. You can choose that you and your PRESENCE run the show. How can you do that? I have an excellent solution that will cost you nothing. Because you are too much in your head in such situations, I suggest that you become aware of your body… You know this thing that sits way too much in front of the computer or the TV or in the car… it wants to feel alive and grounded when the mind gets too busy.
A simple way to do this is simply to stand up and feel your feet on the ground, slightly balancing your weight from one foot to the other to find your middle. Then you take a few deep breaths and that’s it! If you can’t stand up because you’re in a formal meeting, feel your feet on the ground, your butt and your spine on the chair and take a few deep breaths. It will boost your self-confidence, your capacity to focus and your PRESENCE!
In her TEDTalks about body language, Amy Cuddy even speaks about how power poses can help you to succeed at a job interview, leading to the famous: “fake it until you become it”. (Note here that there have been controversies about the study she conducted, still I have always been a believer that when the mind is too busy or nervous, the body becomes our best friend!).
When I lead workshops and I know that people have to listen for a longer period of time, I often suggest that they get up, walk around or even stretch if they feel like it. The condition: they have to stay PRESENT to what’s going on in the room and actively participate to the discussions if relevant. I myself can dread conferences when I know I’ll have to sit for hours or days!
The answer to my question above: the best gift you can make today is your PRESENCE. Watch what happens!