new book, Presence, which is an extension of her wildly popular TED talk. What is presence, and how does it drive our success in life? I’ll never forget the first time I had to act in front of drill sergeants. I spent four years working with soldiers after I finished my master’s degree in applied positive psychology. I was part of a team that delivered resilience training to military personnel in the US Army, and as part of the training delivery, I was often selected to demonstrate a skill in front of the plenary group. Even though I speak in front of large groups on a regular basis, the type of demo that was required in this training involved some acting, which made me tremendously nervous and was way outside of my comfort zone. The first time I stood up in front of those brave men and women, my face felt flushed and my heart raced, but I got through it in one piece. I even made a few soldiers laugh, though I’m sure it was more out of pity than anything else. Since it was the first time I had been asked to demo, I solicited feedback from the primary instructor of the training. He told me I had “presence.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I liked how it sounded. Dr. Cuddy defines presence as, “believing in and trusting yourself – your real honest feelings, values and abilities.” Presence is a skill that is needed in most areas of your life – job interviewing, raising your hand to speak in a meeting or in a class, standing up for what you believe in, parenting, or asking someone out on a date – literally anything that is challenging. And while you might be able to think of a story where you had presence, it’s likely easier for you to remember a time when you didn’t. You remember the times when you answered the question wrong, stumbled over your words, thought of the perfect comeback 10 minutes after the conversation ended, or when your mind went blank. And if you’re like me, you spend hours re-hashing the event in your head, thinking of all of the things you could have said. The moments where I have lacked presence all have a common theme – I sense that someone is judging me. According to Cuddy, there are three core elements of presence:
- Confidence (without arrogance) – this involves seeing a situation accurately. You have to acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of your product, idea, or position.
- Enthusiasm – you have to truly believe in the value and integrity of the relationship, idea, product, or topic. People who are faking enthusiasm are often too low in their energy or too high energy – even aggressive.
- Comfort – you don’t have to erase all traces of nervousness in order to appear comfortable and have presence. I’m pretty sure some of the soldiers could tell that I was nervous from my flushed face; however, I knew the information I was teaching and had fun, and those things trumped any nervous “tells.”