Own Your Presence and You'll Own Your Professional Success

Many of us would like to believe that our professional outcomes are a direct result of skill and effort. Work hard, deliver results and you will be rewarded. Yet, we all know that’s not how it works. There are many dynamics that contribute to success beyond skill and effort, and presence is an important one (and one within your control).

Turns out we have seconds to make a first impression. Although studies vary from “less than one second” to “almost 30 seconds,” impressions happen quickly and often before you even have a chance to speak.

According to experts, 55% of first impressions are made by what we see, 38% are tone and 7% percent are the actual words you say.

Like it or not, presence plays a critical role in our success and it’s often not what you say but how you show up and communicate.

On August 6, Women In Investing Network of Philadelphia hosted an event, Dimensions of Presence, featuring experienced executive coach Terry Charlton. After the event I had a chance to talk to Terry and learned about her impressive and fascinating background.

Terry has been focused on executive development since the 1970s. Over the past 40 years, she’s worked as a consultant, coach and leader for prestigious financial institutions such as Citi Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Vanguard to name a few. Often the lone female and often in roles she wasn’t “ready” for, she attributes her success to a willingness to “take the ball and run with it” and strong interpersonal, and intuitive skills.

Presence has always been at the core of her success and the success of her clients. As she shared with the WIN group, she’s learned that developing your presence and “the ability to work with grace and ease is a never-ending process.” Looking back over the years she’s discovered that authenticity is key.

As a coach and consultant, Charlton has established a three-dimensional framework for developing presence:

  1. Mechanics/physical
  2. Mindset
  3. Mindfulness

She suggests starting by being intentional. Before an important event (an interview, important meeting or presentation), prepare by clarifying how you want to show up. Asking yourself, “I intend to demonstrate…” List how you want to show up and use the three dimensions to support you.

Ground into your body

Mechanics, your physical presence is how we traditionally think about presence. It’s our appearance, body language, tone and energy.

Looking the part is a given – dress professionally and be well-groomed (even on Zoom). Our newly digital world has further raised the bar. When showing up digitally do a test run using a free Zoom account to make sure your lighting, audio and environment (background) support your professional appearance.

Charlton suggestions strengthening your physical presence by:

  1. Grounding into your body by feeling your feet on the ground and your butt in the chair. Have your arms on the table, sit up and lean forward to be physically engaged.
  2. Sound deliberate by projecting your voice with intention, which means be a bit louder while keeping the tone warn and conversational. Also, be aware of your pace, clarity and inflection. You should hear the last letter of every word. Although it may sound unnatural to you it won’t to your audience. Don’t be afraid to slow down and use pauses strategically (and of course breathe).

Ground into your mind

If mechanics are concerned with the external, mindset is all about the internal – what you believe about yourself and the situation. Your attitudes, expectations, assumptions, opinions and judgments can influence your energy and confidence.

As a professional, manager or leader it’s your job to own and manage your beliefs and stories. Charlton learned through her career that she couldn’t wait until she was ready. She was “petrified along the way” but she had to have faith that she’d figure it out. She managed her mindset.

Change and growth are uncomfortable.

As the founder of a growth consulting and coaching business, I’m often in situations that are new or are uncomfortable. When I start to get in my head I pause and ask myself, “why am I doing this?”

I’m clear on my purpose – to inspire growth and unlock potential – and I don’t take on a project unless I believe I can deliver. So, when I have an intimidating project, client or problem I go back to my purpose and reset by reminding myself that no matter what, I will fulfill my commitment. I always have and always will. It may require more effort and resources than I expected, but I will do right by my client.

Commitment to a clear purpose and to do right by my clients helps to quiet the voices and keep me focused on the work and people, not on the fear.

If you’ve being given an opportunity or are in a position where you need to find opportunity, especially when you don’t feel ready, let history by your guide. Look back at your experiences and outcomes, and take comfort in the fact that you have everything you need to succeed and you can figure it out.

Engage in the moment

The last and one of the hardest (in my opinion) dimensions of presence is mindfulness – engaging in the now.

One of the most important skills coaches learn and develop is the ability to listen. I don’t mean “listen” while also mentally reviewing their to do list, multitasking on a project or planning dinner. I mean deep listening, turning all of your attention to your audience. It’s more than hearing what they are saying. It’s using all of your senses (including your intuition) to be fully present and engaged. Being in a state of full presence and deep listening is uncommon in today’s fast-paced, impatient, digital world.

Yet, if a situation or conversation isn’t worth your full attention, I’d ask you to consider why you are giving it any attention.

After Charlton was unexpectedly laid off from Citi, she found her days full of networking and interviews. She learned that to “show up” she could only do one interview each day. More than one interview and she didn’t have the energy to be full present.

The lesson is to pick your times to truly show up. Like a professional athlete, you can’t always be on or you will burn out. You can strategically plan when to show up and prepare for the event. Prepare for your week and day by reviewing your calendar. Choose the one or two most important events daily and show up.

Owning your presence

Charlton urges us to recognize that strengthening your presence is a journey. Self-coaching is critical along the way and being ones’ own cheerleader is necessary. Give yourself messages such as, “I’ll figure this out,” “What can I learn from this” or “Where is the silver lining in this situation?” 

Skill and experience can take you so far. Presence, a combination of physical, mindset and mindfulness skills, requires time and effort to develop. It’s more than looking the part, or having a powerful title or network.

As you invest in developing your presence, don’t forget to have self-compassion. Growth is an incremental process. As Charlton recommends, “take one step at a time” and never miss an opportunity to show up when it matters.

Related: Advisors: You Are Your Best Differentiator