Communicating is much more than just words. It is gestures, postures, and attitude. It doesn't matter if you are communicating with prospects, managers or your team; it is equally important the way you do it.

To shed some light on this subject, our Spinner Adda van Zanden shares some insights on how to emit leadership presence in off and online meetings so you can easily implement positive signals that are essential for trust and maximum impact. She is using her acting knowledge to teach leaders what actors have leaders need.

LEADERSHIP PRESENCE: Learning from the theater.

Leadership presence reveals what great leaders have always known: that the secret to having a commanding presnece isn't about personal power, but about empowering others.

- Ken Blanchard, co-author od the One-minute manager

Presence: What Actors Have That Leaders Need
All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players.

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts....


Great actors have it. Great political leaders have it, too, as do great business executives. Laurence Olivier. Meryl Streep. Marlon Brando. Martin Luther King, Jr. Eleanor Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. Gandhi. Oprah Winfrey.

But it’s not limited to people in mighty positions. Your local pizza guy may have it. Your doctor may have it. Your daughter’s piano teacher may have it, too.

All of these people-well known or not are compelling individuals who attract your attention almost effortlessly. They have something, a magnetism, that pulls others to them. When they enter the room, the energy level rises. You perk up, stop what you’re doing, and focus on them. You expect something interesting to happen. It’s as though a spotlight shines on them.

What is it they have?

They have a presence.

In the eyes of most, it’s the ability to command the attention of others.  Peter Brook, the eminent English stage director, expressed it this way: One actor can stand motionless on the stage and rivet our attention while another does not interest us at all. What’s the difference?

What other words, besides presence, come to mind when you think of these people? Here are the words I hear most often when I ask that question in our workshops: Inspiring. Motivating. Commanding. Energized. Credible. Focused. Confident. Compelling.

What is leadership presence?

The majority think of presence as the ability to command the attention of others, but “commanding attention” is only one outcome of presence, not its essence or even its most valuable outcome. I prefer to think of presence in a different and deeper way. For me, presence is the ability to

connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others.

Learning from theater

Acting for more than 20 years has taught me a great deal about being present on stage. Luckily we will be on tour again soon with our current production ‘Shakespeare’s Women’. As a presentation and storytelling expert, I bring that experience and knowledge to the business stage.

How can you connect in an authentic way with the thoughts and feelings of others, in order to motivate and inspire them? What does that actually mean to connect and be authentic, what does that look like? How can you build relationships and encourage bonding when you aren’t even in the same building?

Although face-to-face meetings are slowly returning to our international focused, post-pandemic society, virtual meetings are here to stay. In both situations, it is important to create an atmosphere of trust and safety.

Here are my 5 tips to master non-verbal leadership presence

Leadership presence needs confidence, warmth, and trust.

1. Create trust with body language

If your body language is congruent with what you say, your audience or your team will trust you more. Ensure your hands mirror what you say. Actors do this to make their characters come alive and use hand and body gestures to help remember their lines (emotional or sense memory in acting). The body shows emotion and intention. When on camera, that’s why it is important we see most of you, from your waist up, with your hands often visible.

2. Distance between your audience (discussion partner) and the screen.

If you stand far away from your audience, you create an emotional distance as well. Come close, but not too close, as that can be intimidating.
Alternate…. when saying something personal you can move closer, indicating that you are listening, or that you care. The most common distance from your body to the screen is an arm's length distance from the camera, providing the most pleasant appearance. You don’t need to stay in one spot the entire time, though; try alternating by sometimes moving closer and other times backing away and granting space.

3. Be confident with body language

Confidence resides in body posture and movements. Take the space and time. Moving at a pace slower and pausing before speaking is powerful.

Good posture is also very important in online meetings. Sit up straight, don’t fiddle, and don’t touch your hair or your face. These actions are distracting and can make you appear nervous or not confident. Remember: you are always ‘close-up’!

4. Maintain eye contact and smile.

Eye contact is one of the most difficult things in online meetings. It really requires a bit of camera acting! Eye contact means looking at the camera when speaking to your audience. Otherwise, your audience cannot see your eyes.

‘But how do I see the way they react?’ I often hear. The simple answer is to alternate between looking at the camera and looking at the people on the screen. Smiling creates a good feeling in your audience or team because of our mirror neurons. It is a positive signal that creates warmth, but your smile should be sincere. Nothing is worse than a fake smile! Your reaction should be congruent, as well, which means that some messages should not be delivered with a smile.
The first impressions people get from you are with your smile and your hands.

5. Have confidence in body language - take the space.

We know presence can be developed. There exists a whole group of people who work diligently and successfully to develop this trait: actors. Their success, even their livelihood, depends on presence. They must excite us when they step on stage, or they will fail. For the actor and performer, presence is not a happy accident of genetics or upbringing; it’s the result of training and practice.

The skills that actors use to move, convince, inspire, or entertain have direct and powerful applications in the worlds of business, politics, education, and organizations in general. They are not only useful for leadership, they are essential. Great leaders, like great actors, must be confident, energetic, empathetic, inspirational, credible, and authentic.

Presence and Leadership Presence

Because it’s about connection, presence is useful for anyone who engages with others. That’s virtually every one of us. Connecting authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others can only improve and deepen our relationships. You don’t have to be a leader to enjoy the benefits of presence.
But leaders, in particular, need presence, because at its core leadership is about the interaction, the connection, the relationship between a leader and the people she leads. When we talk about leadership, you may think first of those in organizations who have positions of formal authority - the CEO, the director of marketing, the supervisor of customer service, and so on. The people in these positions are leaders by definition. Maybe you’re one of them.

What we say about presence for leaders obviously applies to them. But when we talk about leaders, we include anyone who tries to foster achievement and positive change in any group of people. It can be a family, a PTA, a social club, a volunteer organization, a huge government agency, or a giant corporation. A leader is anyone who tries to move a group toward obtaining a particular result. You don’t need a title to lead. That being said, with or without a title, you do need presence.

This article is a collaboration between Veronica Guguian from Spin Ideas and Adda van Zanden from Stage Presence for Businesses, to provide our readers with the right tools to grow their businesses.

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