The Gift of Presence

As a nation, we spend a small fortune on the perfect present for birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions.  It may be chosen with care, wrapped lavishly and will be opened in seconds.  Some gifts are cherished, yet some are discarded immediately, maybe re-gifted or shipped to the charity shop before the week is out!  Last year an advert from a well-known Swedish furniture store went viral.  It featured an experiment where children were asked to write and tell their parents what they really wanted from them for Christmas.

The list included ‘spend more time with me’, ‘listen a bit more’ and my personal favourite; ‘tickle me more’.  The gift of our attention is one of the most powerful things we can share. 
I frequently work with senior Executives who are seeking the holy grail of ‘presence’.  We all know someone who seems to ‘own the room’ from the moment they walk in.  We recognise those who have that certain ‘it’ quality.  Barak Obama has it, Bill Clinton is a master (Hillary is not), Oprah, and our own Queen Elizabeth all exude this quality: presence.  Presence allows you to connect and influence: drawing your audience in, earning their trust and compelling them to be a part of whatever you are offering.

Those who do it successfully seem to exude presence as if it were second nature, hence the common misconception that those who have it, are born with it; we even describe people as ‘born leaders’.   Yes, some are dealt a better hand from the start, but the great news for the rest of us is that it can be learned.

The secret lies in a wonderful quote from Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’   How often are we truly present in someone’s company, listening to their every word rather than waiting for our turn to speak in the conversation?

The power of presence is well-documented in politics and a great example goes back to Victorian Britain during a close run general election contest between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.  The week before the election, on separate occasions, both candidates entertained the same woman for dinner. When asked her opinion by the press she responded that on dining with Mr Gladstone she felt she was dining with the cleverest man in Britain.  And dining with Mr Disraeli? ‘I felt like I was the cleverest person in Britain.’  Disraeli went on to win the election.

In our busy, busy lives 100 percent attention is a scarce commodity.  Think about it today; each time you interact with someone give the gift of your full attention.  A colleague at work, your mum, your friend, your child.
We all love presents, but presence is a true gift.

Deborah Ogden is Managing Director of DO Positive Impact, working with clients to clarify and communicate an effective personal brand.