The Power of Presence

Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others

The Power of Presence

Author: Kristi Hedges
Pub Date: November 2011
Print Edition: $22.00
Print ISBN: 9780814417737
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417744

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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

still lacking.

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

leadership presence.

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

much inconsistency?

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

than less.

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.

Search the full text of this book


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