28 Dec 2015

What is Presence?

Presence. From the moment this guy walked into the room you knew he had presence. Everyone could feel his presence. Several people even whispered “Wow! This guy’s got presence!”. As he introduced himself it turned out ’Presence’ was his middle name. For the whole day eyes were fixated on him, pulse rates went up, and everyone who watched him couldn’t help but perspire. Obviously this guy has got presence. But what exactly is this magical substance called presence?

Quite simply, it’s being here, right now, and not there, or at some other time, just here, right now. OK…What does that mean?

To put it even more simply, it means you as the person controlling the room, are focussed on what you need to be focussed on. When the participant is sharing with the class, you are focussed on what they are saying. When you are sharing with the class, you are focussed on how the participants are reacting. When participants are practicing, you are focussed on making sure they are following the instructions. When time is tight, you are focussed on bringing the process to a stop. At any moment in the training, you are focussed on exactly what you need to be focussed on.

Quite often, it can be very difficult to keep our presence. We’re 15 minutes late to the class because the taxi driver took us to the wrong place. As we’re introducing ourselves to everyone, in the back of our mind we’re thinking “Curse that taxi driver, why was he so stupid!”. As a result, we speak a bit slower, our eyes look up and down as we recall what happened. We forget to say important things. We don’t notice the people in the back of the room who haven’t settled down yet and aren’t paying attention. When we look at the PPT slide that we’ve just been describing we realise we’ve been describing the wrong slide!

As the class goes on, we fail to notice who has understood our instructions or not. We fail to notice if people are following the instructions. The class gets out of control, we forget things, timing goes off.

For the participants they feel you are not professional. They feel disconnected from you. They feel you’re not paying attention to them. They don’t feel interested in the class, or motivated to learn.

But it’s not just bad taxi drivers who can distract our attention. There are many, many things. But some things are more common.

For example, when we lack confidence, one thing we may think about more is ourselves. Am I standing in the right way? Do they like me or not? Did I say that right? Do they trust me? Have I given them enough credibility? We think these when we are nervous, and we get nervous because we spend too much time thinking about ourselves and not about the present moment.

Or we’re trying to remember what comes next. A participant is sharing with the class. You’re looking them in the eye, you’re nodding, you’re going “Mm-hmm…Yeah…Mmm…Yeah” but in your mind you are desperately trying to remember what comes next and not paying attention to what they are saying.

Or we notice an urgent message came in on our phone during a class activity. Now the activity has come to a close we have to go back and debrief the activity. But in the back of our mind is that urgent message. How can I finish this sooner? What happens if I don’t reply soon enough?

So how we can develop and maintain this magical presence stuff? Here are 3 tips:

1. Be Prepared

The more prepared you are, the less you have to worry about what comes next and the easier you will find it to focus on what you need to at that moment in time. The amount of preparation required really depends on many different factors. But if you feel no need to worry about what comes next then most likely you’re well enough prepared.

If you are quite new to the game of training and facilitation, then it will be a great to help to have a very detailed plan. Plan down to the minute if you can. Plan backups. This doesn’t mean you need to follow your plan exactly, but it will at least give you peace of mind.

Another thing about being prepared is that sometimes you need to take some time to get into the right frame of mind. If you’ve arrived late due to bad traffic and you’re quite flustered, then take some time to calm down. Tell the class you need an extra 10 minutes or so just to prepare things.

2. Snap Back.

At times, you will forget to focus on what you should be focussing on, and you will get distracted. So, just snap back. It’s really that simple. Notice when you’ve drifted, and come back. If you missed what a participant was saying, ask them to repeat it again. If you’ve lost where you were in the course, take a few moments just to look back at your PPT. Focus on regaining your focus as opposed to pretending you didn’t lose your focus in the first place. Pretending is just another distraction to damage your focus.

3. Forgive Yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes. The more quickly you forgive yourself, the less time you will spend thinking about what you should and shouldn’t have done, which in itself is yet another distraction. It happened. Get over it. Move on. Now focus on the task at hand.