The Power of Presence
Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others
Author: Kristi Hedges
Pub Date: November 2011
Print Edition: $22.00
Print ISBN: 9780814417737
Page Count: 240
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417744
Buy the book:
For 20 years, presence has been not just my profession but also my
passion. And it’s been a winding path that’s led me here.
In my career, I’ve been the person behind the leader. I’ve worn a
few different hats: CEO coach, entrepreneur, public relations executive,
corporate marketer, and political consultant. In each role, I’ve
been privy to what goes on with leaders as they struggle to motivate,
inspire, and impress audiences as small as one and as large as one
million. I’ve seen the anxiety, heard the lack of confidence, throttled
back runaway egos, and managed the stage fright.
Somewhere along the line I also became a leader, running my
own company and being the one out in front. Because I’ve used my
own techniques and advice on myself, I understand what succeeds
and what falls short.
Politics, where I started my career, is an interesting training
ground for leadership. In that world, a candidate’s presence is always
top of mind. It’s discussed, polled about, massaged, and widely known
to be the make-or-break factor. (Think Hillary Clinton in her 2008
run for president: Countless polls were taken and articles written
about her inability to connect with voters and be likable. Democratic
insiders worried it was her Achilles’ heel. It wasn’t until she showed
her humanness by breaking down during an interview that her likability
increased, as did her poll numbers.) Political strategists know
that we connect individually with our leaders first, and only then can
we grant the trust to give them our vote. A candidate’s background
is scoured for personal stories with which voters can connect—
stories that break down perceived barriers between the candidate and
When I had the opportunity to segue into public relations, I took
this experience from politics into the corporate world. In traditional
public relations, the focus is 90 percent on the message and only 10
percent on the messenger. So I bit my tongue a lot in the beginning as
I watched beautifully messaged speeches decimated by a CEO whose
body language screamed, “I don’t totally believe what I’m saying!”
But the engine that fuels the PR world is content, and time and
money is spent on developing stronger messages, writing press releases,
and, nowadays, blogging and participating in social media.
The Secret Life of Struggling Communicators
As I made my way into the inner sanctums of companies as a PR
consultant, I found that a leader’s presence is often considered to be
personal—something that is not discussed. Eventually, I started my
own communications firm and worked with hundreds of CEOs
and leaders as a trusted adviser. Routinely, a company official would
whisper that the CEO was a poor communicator or lacked presence.
No one wanted to deal with it head-on. Time-consuming and expensive
workarounds were often employed, such as having paid
spokespersons or keeping the CEO behind the scenes. At most, we
could gain agreement for media training or a good speechwriter.
Everyone knew that while those solutions helped, something was
Other times, I had the opportunity to tackle the issue directly
with the CEO. I found that most leaders cared deeply about their
own presence and how it affected their
leadership ability. My clients’ communication
challenges took different forms:
Some leaders were confident with their
ability to communicate one-on-one, but
not in groups. Others had a hard time
connecting with individual executives,
and many feared speaking in public. Because the idea of presence
seemed like something that should come with a leader’s title, people
were embarrassed by the shortcoming. It caused anxiety. I’ve met
more than one CEO who relied on Ambien to combat the sleepless
nights leading up to a board meeting or important presentation,
and who then popped a Xanax to get through it.
I began developing tools to give my clients a process and structure
to improve their presence. This skill building produced results,
because my clients steadily improved their effectiveness. Yet often
the results were hard-won or fleeting. As I learned years later, there
was more to the story.
Concurrent with my work with leaders, my own experience as a
leader was unfolding. I started my first company, one of the first
Washington, D.C.-based technology PR firms, at age 28. In less than
two years, my business partner and I grew the business from a twoperson
shop into a well-known agency with dozens of staff members
and millions of dollars in revenues. We developed a reputation as a
go-to agency for creating technology brands, with a focus on smart
strategies and deep customer relationships. Our name got around so
quickly that we turned away more business than we accepted—and
we still had a three-month backlog! Within six months of opening
our doors came the first of several acquisition offers. We experienced
great success helping our clients achieve greatness, with front-row
seats taking companies public or through industry-defining mergers
and acquisitions that turned them into global brands.
On the rare occasions when I could slow down, it was only to
feel a mix of disbelief and pride for what we had created from pure
tenacity. We had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I was honored
as one of the top PR professionals in the country under the age
of 35 and named a leading businesswoman in Washington, D.C.
Our firm took its place as one of the largest independent agencies
and women-owned businesses in the D.C. area. That tenacity came
in handy later, as the technology bubble burst, 9/11 happened, and
we learned to navigate historically tough market conditions. You
learn twice as much on the way down as you do on the way up—
and in the 10 years I had the firm, we had a few rides both ways.
Behind the scenes of those accomplishments, I faced a steep,
seemingly endless learning curve. I was young and terribly inexperienced
in leadership when we founded the firm, so I fumbled
through a lot of situations where what was required of me surpassed
my knowledge and ability. I used presence techniques on myself as
I simultaneously developed them for clients. For me, the outside
work with clients and business development came naturally, but I
struggled with being the internal leader. I read leadership books,
took courses, and joined a CEO development group. I failed a
lot. I succeeded some, too. There were times I nailed my goal of
inspirational and connected leadership. Keeping our team together
and catapulting our company into a market-leader position,
despite considerable market odds post-9/11, were huge personal
Then there were other times when the daily stresses of running
a business and managing staff issues overwhelmed me. My intentions
and my words were out of alignment, and everybody knew it. Frustration
undercut my capability. Everyone—employees, clients, industry
peers, media, lawyers, and advisers—seemed to need the
best piece of me. Mental exhaustion was common from the pressure
of having to be “on” in each interaction. I tried to learn from my
mistakes and experiences as I went. My proudest moments were
when my team members reached out to thank me for being a mentor,
or used their experiences to go out and build even more success
in their careers. That was my impetus to keep working on my own
A decade after I cofounded the company, I sold my share and
became a leadership coach. I took some time to reflect and question
what I knew to be true in my work with leaders. What is it about
some people who can get others to follow with ease? What qualities
do they possess that engender trust? How can presence be learned if
one’s own skills aren’t enough? Why did I personally experience so
As a coach, I began working with my clients’ thought patterns,
preconceptions, and mental focus—their “inner” presence. I also developed
an interest in neuroleadership, a burgeoning field that marries
leadership with brain science and the study of human behavior.
It offers some remarkable findings about why people have a hard
time changing and sustaining new behaviors.
Over the course of several years, I refined my approach and saw
powerful, lasting shifts for clients. Through this experience I developed
I-Presence, a model that I have found to be the “secret sauce” of executive
presence. It is equal parts communication aptitude, mental
attitude, and authentic style. It combines a supportive inner mindset
with the outer skills needed to create the natural, confident, consistent
leadership presence we all seek.
The I-Presence Model to Inspire and Motivate Others
This book takes you through the three-step model of I-Presence
(Figure I-1) and provides easy-to-use tools, exercises, and strategies
to integrate the concepts into your everyday work. Some of these
concepts will be new to you, while you may be familiar with others.
I’ve laid out the model in step form so that the concepts become actions.
And because we learn so well from the stories of others, you’ll
also find examples of leaders who can
demonstrate behaviors that impact
presence. Furthermore, because we all
struggle with so many of the same issues,
I’ve included numerous case studies
of executives—developed as composites from leaders I’ve
observed and worked with over the years—so you can see how others
in your situation have managed.
My goals are to get you to reorient your beliefs about what makes
a strong executive presence and rid yourself of limiting behaviors,
while providing you with new ways of thinking and doing.
I-Presence is at once intentional, individual, and inspirational.
Your beliefs shape every aspect of your presence, from body language
to the actions you choose to undertake. Therefore it is critical to get
your head around what type of presence you want to demonstrate,
the values you want to convey, and how that matches up (or doesn’t)
with how others currently perceive you. The first part of this book
describes how to become more aware of your own presence and impact,
and then provides useful tools for creating alignment between
your intentions and how you want to be perceived.
We connect with individuals, not with the hierarchical concept of a
leader or manager. Whether with employees, customers, investors,
or the market at large, these connections drive business, loyalty, and
career success. And counter to what you may believe, building these
connections doesn’t involve having all the right answers or working
harder than everyone else. In this part of the book, I’ll uncover the
relationship-building secrets of successful leaders and the ways in
which you, too, can form deep connections with others and build
relationships that foster trust.
What tools are in your toolkit when you want to inspire others?
What’s the best way to address a group and get people excited? What
do powerful communicators do that’s different? This final part of
this book outlines the specific communication techniques that will
improve your outer presence. I’ll cover a range of must-have executive
presence skills, including powerful language, employee and team
communications, motivating through change, visionary leadership,
gaining eminence, and high-impact presenting to senior management,
boards, employees, and public audiences of all sizes.
A Little Presence Goes a Long Way (or Leadership
for the Overwhelmed)
Perhaps you’ve already read a lot of leadership theory. New ideas
always sound compelling, but if you are like me, you become overwhelmed
because you can’t do everything. This book is designed to
help you focus on and leverage your greatest potential as a leader—
your own presence. It challenges you to be more of yourself, rather
And here’s the best part: Because your presence is integral to
everything you do, even if you choose to work on only one lesson
learned from this book you will have a positive result. I’ve written
the book to make it easy for you to select concepts that resonate
with you by including short takeaways at the end of each chapter, as
well as leaving room for you to jot down ideas to try as you go.
Read on, figure out what works for you, and get the ball rolling.
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