November 6, 2017

You don't need a stage to need stage presence

I was recently contacted by a woman who manages a small team of young, inexperienced salespeople. She was primarily concerned with their lack of self-awareness; their behaviors in front of clients and prospects were less-than-stellar.

One person bites their nails in meetings. Another person avoids eye contact. Another is a pen-clicker. And yet another makes elaborate faces when trying to conceal a yawn.

Most of us have habits we're not aware of. That's what makes them habits; the fact that we repeat them and yet are not aware of them!

And taken individually, on occasion, in casual circumstances, these kinds of habits are normal and human. But when you put a group of people together, all of whom are displaying distracting behavior in a professional setting, it can become quite noticeable and can take attention away from where it belongs: on the business at hand.

We tend to talk about stage presence as the way we command a room when we're on a stage or in front of an audience. Stage presence combines charisma, confidence and the ability to captivate your audience. But it's not just for the stage. Or perhaps I should say, "You're always on stage."

Note that the word "presence" is part of "stage presence." Presence means that you are actively and emotionally engaged with the person or people you're talking or meeting with. Presence means you're not in your head, thinking about what's for dinner, or off in la-la land.

You're making eye contact. Your body language shows engagement and connection through nodding, smiling, leaning forward or whatever is your personal style of demonstrating connection.

Stage presence is required ANY time you're part of a meeting or discussion, even when you're not the facilitator. 

Imagine you're one of this small team mentioned above, and you're in a meeting with a prospective client. Your boss is negotiating a contract and the discussion is getting into the details of the scope of the project and the deliverables. But you're mentally in another place, unaware of what's happening in the room - or even with your own body. You're clicking your pen, fidgeting in your chair, and wondering what time the game starts after work.

Your boss turns to you, expecting you to fill in some details that are the purview of your department and expertise. But your brain is only half-focused and you're caught off guard. Of course, you answer the question, but you fumble for the right words and you've missed some of the key issues in the discussion, so you have to ask for clarification. Your boss is frustrated as she repeats what's already been covered.

Now imagine how this conversation would have gone if you were present. You would be absorbed in the conversation, your mind already putting together the pieces that you're responsible for. When it's time for you to contribute to the conversation, you're ready. You're on fire, in fact, because you know exactly what's needed from you, and you deliver. Your boss seamlessly picks up where she left off and the negotiation continues. There's a big "thank you" waiting at the end of the meeting, for your timely and thoughtful contribution.

This is the "presence" part of "stage presence," but the "stage" piece applies here as well. When you're in a meeting, you are absolutely on stage. The prospect or client is paying attention. Are you respectful? Are you pleasant? Are you helpful? Are you part of the collaboration? Are you bringing a positive energy to the room? Are you sitting upright, leaning in, part of the team?

Or are you disengaged, restless, bored, shifty, slouchy, looking at your hands or gazing out the window?

Surprise! You're not invisible! Your behavior and demeanor is noticed and noted. It may not make or break the sale, but you sure don't impress anyone as a team player. And you certainly don't inspire your boss to give you more responsibility or promote you.

Stage presence is required whether or not you're on stage, whether you're speaking to one person, five people or 50 people, whether you're running the meeting or in the background. We see you. We observe you. We remember you.

You can be remembered for being that fidgety guy with the pen or you can be remembered for being the guy with the great ideas. It's up to you!

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