How to Cultivate Presence as a Speaker

By Dayna Kneeland

In grade eight a theatre troop came to perform at my school.

I sat in the audience amidst the scent of gym socks and chewing gum and watched in disbelief as a woman took centre stage.

From her long blonde ponytail and dimpled cheeks to her skinny legs and white sneakers, she looked just like me. It was like I was looking into a mirror, but I was 15 years older.

And there was one other significant difference. This woman had a quality I didn’t have a word for yet.

Now, I know that word It’s presence.

The way she moved, carried herself and spoke commanded the attention of every person in that room. We couldn’t take our eyes off of her.

I decided right then and there that I wanted to be just like her.

So, I signed up for drama the next day and started learning techniques to become more comfortable being in the spotlight, make intentional choices in my body language, and genuinely connect with myself, my message and my audience.

Presence is hard to define yet we all feel it when someone has it because it draws us in. We sense that person is fully in the present moment and is confident, and at ease with themselves and others.

Within business, it is often referred to as leadership or executive presence. Actors and professional speakers call it stage presence. Whatever the setting, presence helps us to connect with and captivate our listeners.

Here are three ways you can cultivate more presence as a speaker.

1. Learn to breathe more fully and freely

The way you speak, how you move, and the energy you convey, all begin with the quality of your breath.

If your breathing is shallow and constricted it can intensify nerves, limit your range of expression and take you out of the moment and into your head. Your body is knows how much air you need to express each idea you have to share. However, most people need to re-learn how to trust this innate wisdom.

Here’s a helpful tip.

Next time you speak, take a few minutes to centre yourself and invite your breath to deepen, soften and expand. Tune in and allow your body, rather than your mind, to set your rate of breathing. Notice that there is a tiny imperceptable pause at the end of your exhale. Wait until you feel a need for breath. The moment you feel the need for breath, yeild to it. Breathe! Then, let your exhale release with a sense of full relaxation

2. Use your imagination

Visualization has a powerful impact on your capacity to communicate with presence, both verbally and non-verbally. Bringing an image to mind can help you shift an internal state, make an emotional connection, or speak with a specific intention. 

Try using this image to create connection with your listeners the next time you speak. Imagine your message comes out through your voice as a stream of light that can stretch across the room or through the camera to reach your audience. Take the intention that you want your message to be fully received by your listener.

3. Create a positive mindset

The reality is, for most people, public speaking is stressful. Because it’s so uncomfortable, your thoughts about it typically become out of proportion to reality. You exaggerate, become self-critical, and strive for a sense of perfection that doesn’t exist.

If you can relate…remember you are not alone. To break the cycle, you need to change the thoughts that are driving your fear by focusing on more accurate and positive thoughts.

Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, such as “I’ll sound like a complete fool. This is my only shot and it has to be perfect”, set an intention about how you want to help your listeners. 

Then, build that intention it into a more positive and accurate thought such as, “I’m feeling nervous but I’ll do the best job I can if I focus on sharing my knowledge and helping my audience to learn”. 

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