The Power of "Presence"

Two young people at a cafe table looking at each other with excitement and happiness.

First impressions can make or break you. You know this if you work with donors or clients. You would be surprised at how fast people form opinions of us. The smallest details of our presence (how we present ourselves) speak volumes about us in the first few seconds of an encounter with a new person.

You know when you’ve made a good impression. The conversation begins and the other person leans in to hear more of what you’re saying or to tell you more about themselves. You also know when you didn’t make a good impression. The other person leans away, clams up, and crosses their arms in front of their body. If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered why this happens.

I’ve been reading a fascinating new book that explains the science behind presence and how we can learn to make good impressions and have more engaging interactions with others. It describes how we can:

“harness our inner power, stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves…to harness the power of presence by tweaking our body language, behavior, and mind-set in our day-to-day lives.”

The book is called “Presence” and it was written by Harvard business professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy. You may have seen her TED talk, which is the second-most-viewed TED talk of all time.

Through her research, Amy has learned that in the first seconds of an encounter people make two snap judgements of each other:

1. Can I trust this person?

2. Can I respect this person?

Humans answer these questions based on just two criteria: enthusiasm and confidence. The more enthusiastic and confident you are about what you’re saying, the more likely the other person is going to answer “yes” to both of those questions.  They will want to engage with you on a deeper level, learn more about what you have to say, and share more about themselves. I would call this charisma.

It sounds pretty simple, but there is a bit more to it. You also have to listen and ask questions that show you are genuinely interested in the other person. You can’t just erupt with enthusiasm and confidence all over someone and not give them a chance to fully participate in the conversation.

By listening you relinquish power, which shows your high confidence level. Good questions go a long way towards building trust.

Amy tells us that when you stop talking and start listening:

– People can trust you.

– You acquire useful information.

– You begin to see people as individuals.

– You develop solutions that other people are willing to accept and adopt.

The next time you meet with a new donor, client, or prospect – remember they are sizing you up quickly and asking themselves “Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person?”

If you show enthusiasm and confidence, ask insightful questions, and really listen, they will answer “YES!” and “YES!”

I highly recommend this book to anyone who interacts with other humans on a daily basis or those who are just curious about the science behind human interactions.

I’m not associated with Amy Cuddy or the book’s publishers and I receive no benefit from them for endorsing the book.

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