The Secret to Having a Commanding Presence

You know him when you see him – he’s the guy everyone notices when he takes his first three steps into a room. A natural leader. Is it witchcraft, or perhaps just a combination of simple body language tricks you yourself can master.

How does “that” guy do it? When your boss assigns a team project everyone seems to subconsciously recognize him as the leader no matter what he does. At the bar after work, he barely makes it through half of his first drink before the girl you wanted to talk to is giggling at his jokes. I bet he was always the first one picked in 2nd grade kickball, too.

What does “that” guy have that you don’t? What’s his secret? Presence.

Our culture has advanced a great deal, but we are still often guided by our most primal instincts. Our highly developed brains are directed by the same instincts that guided the Cro-Magnon. A confident, powerful presence becomes the “big club” of the modern day caveman.

Nothing can ever take the place of presence. The world is simply a reflection of the energy we put out from within. Consider the fact that it is impossible for someone to know your history at first glance. You don’t walk around with a resume taped to your chest announcing your finer points to the world. People are drawn and respond to the physical energy you display. We analyze your “visual resume” to form an opinion of you within about 3 seconds of first meeting. Everything you say and do from this point is judged on the basis of that 3-second opinion. It’s not a question of rather that is right or wrong. It’s a fact of life we must learn to work with.

We are constantly under scrutiny. If you can’t deal with that fact, you will most likely spend the rest of your life locked in your house watching daytime television. Job interviews, dates, coworkers, waiters, etc., all will deal with you according to the type of presence you have in the situation. Savvy marketers have used this truth to sell products with the “status symbol” and “dress to impress” theories. There is a great degree of importance to how you look, but we’re going to concentrate on the importance of how you present your physical body.

Posture

How come the President never leans back during the State of the Union address as he does in casual conversation? The reason is that a tall, erect posture displays self-confidence, which allows others to be confident in you. Information received from a slouched, downward-looking presenter is automatically assumed to be incorrect. Whether you’re selling insurance, asking for a discount, or convincing her she wants to give you her number, you must present a confident, convincing posture.

Keep your feet shoulder width apart in a grounded stance, hold your shoulders back, and keep your back straight. This presents a confidence that leads people to trust you, subconsciously admire you, and begin to agree with whatever it is you have to say. Take notice of how you stand in your next presentation or conversation. Practice the skill of straight posture until it becomes a natural part of your presence.

Eye Contact

The eyes are the windows to the soul. We’ve all heard that one. Like most poetic statements, there is some truth in it that can be applied to daily life. When you speak to people, they search your face for your real motives. Western culture has accepted that direct eye contact is a sign of confidence and truth. When you look others in the eye while speaking, it gives a sense of absolute certainty to whatever you are saying. Presenting yourself in this way draws people in to trust you and view you as an authority on what it is you’re discussing.

There are some situations in life when a man must show strength. You can take a cue from the animal world and see the power of looking an opponent directly in the eye. A strong powerful stare can do more to control a situation than any sharp statement you can think of. Richard Nixon was said to have had a piercing, unbreakable glance when displeased that would cause top White House staff and politicians to drop their heads.

When you sense an argument or confrontation, look the other person straight in the eye focusing on the iris. Hold your stare with a commitment that the other individual will look away first. Most people are uncomfortable with direct eye contact and if you master this ability you will develop a powerful presence. (Note: Save this exercise for the right environments. Nightclubs, New York subways, or MMA fights are not good places to practice “the stare down.”)

When you make direct eye contact while listening, you show a respect, interest, and concern that people appreciate. You’ll be amazed at how simply looking your boss directly in the eye during his next super-boring planning meeting will cause him to see you as a smart, fast-rising, focused executive. If you can look your girlfriend intensely in the eye while she goes on about her friend at work, you’ll become the sensitive, interested, good listener she wants.

Body Movement

How you move your body is a reflection of your thoughts. No one can read your mind. Yet, what makes them ask, “What’s wrong?” Your body tells exactly what’s going on in your head. To have a strong, positive presence you need to monitor your thoughts. When you put yourself into and keep a positive state of mind you will move with freedom and confidence.

Consider Kennedy’s smiling youthful style compared to Nixon’s serious tight-shouldered demeanor, or Obama’s smooth, bouncy stride versus McCain’s rigid military marching style. Both are examples of the nation’s support for a younger, less-experienced candidate due in part to their presence.

Despite the pressures you may face, focus on a positive thought when you walk into a room or meet someone new to create positive motion and presence.

Don’t let weaknesses in your presence limit your success. You can be an intelligent, skilled individual that misses an opportunity due to an inability to show confidence in an interview. Many kind, sensitive, guys never get the girl because they can’t even look her in the eye.

It’s the way of the world. You wouldn’t go into a restaurant with garbage spilled at the front door would you? It may have 5-star food and service, but you would never venture in to find out. People won’t see the good qualities in you without a positive presence. Put the work in to present yourself as you wish to be viewed by the world and all will treat you accordingly.

What do you think? Do you have any techniques for creating a dynamic presence?

Antwan McLean is an author, speaker, life coach, and modern Renaissance Man. He shares the wisdom of old in a way you don’t have to wait until you’re 40 to understand. You can find him on Twitter @froma2z and check out his newest book, “Your Greater Self: An A-Z Guide to Becoming the Person You Most Admire” on Amazon.com.

  • Matt S.

    Another good tip I have for “Body Movement” section is to never move too quickly. With the exception of life-threatening situations, I find that moving slower gives you a more controlled look. People who move too quickly to scratch something, pick up a pen, stand up/sit down, etc. just don’t exemplify someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Matt, that’s a really good point! I never thought of it, but it’s certainly true. Just like when they tell you to speak slower than normal when you’re in front of a group, being conscious of the speed of your body’s movements will definitely convey a better image.
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..The Secret to Having a Commanding Presence =-.

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  • steve-0

    the article instructs how to display or act like one has talents or skills.

    for a man who actually has the talents and skills, these displays and actions will come naturally…

    …and be proven out with future performance. first impressions will fade in any relationship over time. if expectations of that first impression go unfulfilled, the subject might be viewed as a poser or peacock.

    presence without substance is flimsy and short-lived at best.

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  • Randy Shackleford

    Having a .45 sidearm will increase your presence in any social situation as well. I’ve found that lightly running my fingers across the holster while sipping a Drambuie is a real ice breaker in those awkward first moments of a new relationship.

  • http://www.showroomlogic.com/blog Mike Annable

    If I can only figure out how to use these during a webinar :)

    Great article, I found it on stunbleupon

  • Mike Puckett

    When you smile, make sure the areas at the corners of your eyes show it. Smile with your whole face.

    Te best way to tell a phony is a phony smile.

  • Dan

    Lipstick on a pig. Eventually people see past the lipstick and find a pig.

    A person without the required skills or character can not hide that behind some silly coaching about “presence.”

    By the way, this word “presence” featured prominently in a recent NYTimes article on dating. What is this “presence?” The latest buzzword, thrown around like certain colors are the “must haves” for the fashion year?

  • gorton

    You said: “or Obama’s smooth, bouncy stride versus McCain’s rigid military marching style. Both are examples of the nation’s support for a younger, less-experienced candidate due in part to their presence.”

    McCain shattered his knee and broke both arms when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967.

    McCain spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi where he was tortured. After he was released in 1973, he returned home on crutches and began a painful physical rehabilitation. He later regained flight status and commanded a Navy squadron before retiring from the service in 1981.

    In his autobiographies, McCain said that his knee still bothered him in cold weather and that he was unable to raise his hands above his shoulders.

    Now, tell me again about Obama.

  • jim

    To the “webinar” comment above, I have to agree; I am never in a room with my clients, subordinates, or supervisors anymore. Everything is a conference call between USA, India, Western Europe, Australia, sometimes at the same time. “Presence” means nothing. Speaking well, speaking clearly, and actually knowing what you’re talking about is all that matters in 2011 and beyond.

  • hattip

    If “presence” is based on such superficial manipulations of the weak-minded, what good is it? Why should we desire the “respect” of people so easily manipulated? Is it good and moral to manipulate such people for our own ends?

    Better to look towards a man’s character as reflected by his deeds.

    By their fruits you shall know them.

  • Vader

    Appropriate dress is important. I favor black.

  • Joe

    Evidently these gentlemen have never used a Turkish urinal, then they would really appreciate American superiority in industrial design. The Turkish unit is a square China dish recessed in the floor, with a pair
    of China footrests. They look like the bottoms of rubber overshoes.
    The person using the urinal steps into the middle of it and pisses away. The splattered device is also the toilet, you can imagine the mess.

  • PMain

    Gorton beat me to it.

    Obama doesn’t make eye contact unless he’s angry or disagrees w/ the speaker – see the press conference that he & the Israeli Prime Minister Held – and then only w/ his head slightly turned.

    Watch how his walking has changed from the stride he used while running & now. There is no “bouncy” nor “smooth” steps, his shoulders are usually hunched, slightly forward in a guarded position. That is unless he’s golfing.

  • Daverco

    To the skeptics here: take a lesson from Cary Grant. Do any of you doubt the man had presence? Read about what he has to say on the topic. He wasn’t a natural. He developed it. How? Acting the part. Act it at first and then gradually you will internalize it. Try it. It is not easy, but it works. I’m that guy you think is a natural, but is actually quite introverted.

  • egoist

    Perhaps this is just a variant of “positive”, but I find enthusiasm – genuine enthusiasm – to be important, if not essential. I’m striving for this presence in my work position, and think I have largely achieved it. I like to stand during meetings (usually in the back) and question certain actions / assumptions… of a project. I try not to be a jerk, but rather an ardent advocate for our customers. I have found that the enthusiasm approach makes it all a little more fun for everybody too.

  • Marc Malone

    I have developed some presence over the recent years. I now draw some eyes. I have not consciously worked on the non-verbal language. It has come from a built-up confidence within. My confidence comes from having people figured out.

    Some guys do that when they are young. They have that cockiness. They know they have it figured out. They are ahead of the curve. To their peers, they are “natural” leaders. To their superiors, they are “up-and-comers”.

    You can fake it until you make it, but you better make it quick, or guys like me will see you for a fraud. You cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

  • angeleyes

    I’m a teacher, and have been told I have a strong stage presence in delivering talks. I don’t think it’s something one can imitate successfully in most cases. There’s a lot more to it than what this article suggests. Chemistry with your audience is a big part of it. Some people can naturally connect with a large group of people.

    The “move slowly” comment is interesting, because most people presenting material don’t move at all (even experienced teachers). They basically stand in one place. I’ve seen teachers improve their presence by learning to move; but in each case, while better than before, it’s nowhere near as good as someone who’s natural at it.

    I think some people can practice enough to move from a “C” to a “B” level in terms of quality of presence, but don’t expect to be as good as the natural “As.”

  • http://waznmentobe.com Whoopie

    Richard Pryor noted that when you’re running down the street and you’re on fire, people get out of your way.

    Personally I’ve found that brandishing a deadly weapon seems to command respect and attention.

    Go figger

  • Dave Marcus

    For those who complain that this presence thing is a charade, consider that what you are doing by using these techniques is simply opening – or commanding, to some degree – a communications channel. You are placing yourself in the position where your personal content will be heard. That’s not a charade; it is simply positioning yourself so that if you have good personal content it will be recognized.

  • http://askmarccharles.blogspot.com Dr Marc Charles

    Okay — but what about digitally? A commanding presence online?

  • Jake

    To all the sceptic commenters, you’re all idiots.
    What is said in this articles is absolutely true, and all of you are influenced by other people’s body language just like everyone else.

    Sustained eye contact in certain situations is so powerful that I cannot even begin to explain.

    Thank you for an amazing read. Really.

  • David

    ROTC. ROTC, ROTC, ROTC. I had approximately zero presence middle school through sophomore year. I was nervous in front of crowds (I even got twitchy in places lots of other people could see me, like the lunch hall), stuttered occasionally, was socially awkward, and had terrible posture. I knew the pattern of the tile floor by heart. After a little over a year of ROTC (and especially drill practice), my posture is impeccable. It literally feels weird to slouch, and it might be too much of a good thing, but I like it. I am at ease in front of crowds, and am much more confident socially.

  • Death_Crush

    really good article, surprised there are not any comments. As Nietzsche said (paraphrasing), the idea that truth is something below the surface might be one of the single biggest misconceptions in modern thought. 
    -M

  • Dave Rich

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Nice guys finish last only because they don’t show real confidence.

  • Cynthia Moom

    Men are not the only ones who have presence. When l was fifteen years old l remember being in my bedroom studing and my father walked past. My father is a man with one daughter and three sons. He stood their for a moment staring at me. l looked up at him and he said to me, “You were born a leader”. I have never forgotton that moment. My father saying that to me, his daughter. I didnt understand what he meant at the time but l do now. Thanks Dad. Always Love You. XXXOOO

  • Cynthia Moom

    Its nothing to do with body language, looks, self worth……..blah…..blah…….blah……..presence is about having ethical standards, being fearless and leading with your heart…….Its who you are on the inside, not the outside.

  • Chimera

    I think the secret to a commanding presence is stopping masturbation. Trust me guys I know what I’m talking about. Every orgasm from your hand will make you weaker and less of a man.

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