The Mastery of Presence

The development of an effective communicator is a journey. And I’ve always felt that my team can impact that journey in two ways. In our workshops, we introduce awareness and core competencies to start someone’s journey, and in our 1:1 coaching relationships, we accelerate the journey by working side by side to influence results.

But neither format nor a combination of the two is a promise of mastery. And I’ve thought about that a lot in the last few years.

I’ve had an opportunity to work with a lot of people over thirty years, and I’ve tracked their progress over time. Every investment of time leads to progress and every lapse in effort leads to bad habits. And so behind the scenes, I’ve been thinking about mastery and comparing my knowledge of different journeys to different outcomes.

I don’t think it can be solely blamed on a lack of effort if someone never truly masters the art. And I don’t think it can be assumed that only a few people can. I’ve seen the road to mastery for many clients, and I’ve thought about my own experiences at trying to master different things in life.

To be honest, there are far more skills that I’ve quit on than ones I’ve mastered. And you may feel the same way. It’s why I believe any kind of “road to mastery” has to have passion behind it. You have to deeply want something to be great at it before you’ll invest the time and the length of the journey to master a skill. That easily takes learning guitar and marathon running off my list!  Way too much of a commitment and not enough passion to master it. But it still leaves hiking 16ers and beating my kids at pickleball as potentials!

If you connect passion to a true interest in mastery of communication, then you’ll see some people  drop off the journey based on a lack of a commitment toward something they just don’t value enough.  And if that’s you, we should have a different conversation because I believe that someone who can influence and impact groups is destined to be a leader in one setting or another. And I also believe if you aren’t willing to be a great communicator, then you shouldn’t lead people because people want to follow someone who can define a direction with passion and purpose.

But even those who have been earnest about communication skills, don’t always master them. And I think some people stall on the journey because they don’t have all the ingredients in place for mastery.  As we’ve thought about it on our team, we’ve agreed that mastery comes from combining six things:


Impressions and guidance aren’t the same thing. Everyone can give feedback by telling you how they’ve experienced you. But few people really understand what drives impressions and how to help someone consider new choices that move beyond them. And that’s why a lot of communicators get guidance that isn’t very helpful. More than 70% of the guidance clients share was a clear impression and misguided direction.

To master communication, you need insights from an expert, and someone who knows how to interpret impressions into actionable goals.


One of the hardest things to do as a coach is to meet someone where they are versus where you think they should be. Thinking through where a person’s journey is today helps shape goals that they can reach. And accomplishing some goals encourages someone to keep working toward mastery.

It’s no different than training for anything else. You don’t start at the top of the 16er. You work your way up through the length and difficulty of hikes.

We work hard to set goals that can be reached in a workshop day or across a coaching engagement. To master communication, you have to keep resetting goals that align to your journey and push you toward the next milestone.


That’s the first real roadblock for new skills. Are we really willing to change habits and think about being uncomfortable as a part of the journey? Mastery is way outside your comfort zone, and it’s the reason a good coach can keep setting new goals and forward motion for a communicator.  Expectations change with any new role, and skills have to expand and grow as well. It’s why communication should be integrated into any transition plan.

To master communication, you have to keep resetting communication skills. Every time you step into a new role, you should align goals for influence and impact and think through how you can continue to grow.

Those three elements make a big difference in how well someone begins the communication journey.  It’s the right formula to start with awareness, intention and effort. And I’ve evolved our coaching steps over the years to integrate these three concepts into everything we do.

And we deliver on it really well…as long as we’re in charge! And that’s what I’ve been thinking about around mastery. The difference in someone who becomes a master of communication is something that’s happening when we aren’t around:


It’s really what leads to mastery. And it’s practice with intention, not just repetition. It takes a plan, manageable pieces and a little motivation. And those are the remaining three ingredients.


We’ve created practice plans in coaching engagements for years. We outline where to practice and align someone’s goals to upcoming events. But we’ve come to realize we can’t practice for someone. And the difference in someone who knows how to practice versus someone who picks up a few techniques is miles apart.

People who master communication buy into practice. They’re less about “I use a few things” and all about “Here’s how I think about it.” When it’s internalized, it sticks.


Practice helps a communicator break big goals into small parts. Whether it happened in our workshops or someone else’s, when someone tells me they took away a technique, I explore it further. Techniques feel like acting to me. It’s something you think you’re supposed to do in a certain setting. Communication doesn’t have one setting or one technique. Communication is all about intention in every situation.

To master communication, you have to know what you’re trying to do in order to do it well. Break down techniques into intents. When you truly understand it, you begin to accomplish it. And, that’s great momentum toward mastery.


I called out passion at the start of the newsletter, and I think it’s critical to keep you going. I can’t force you to be as passionate about communication as I am. But I can help you practice in small parts, and maybe that’s all the motivation you need! That’s why we built SWAU – a practice platform that provides the intent behind every communication tool and a little encouragement in every step. It brings clear goals together with an intentional plan to work on style step by step.

Our exploration around mastery has expanded our thinking about Presence and has led to a few additions to our offerings.

We recommend you begin your journey with our personal brand workshop. It takes a deeper look at impressions and assumptions. And it sets a great stage for thinking through why impressions occur so that you start your journey with a clear set of intentional choices, rather than universal techniques.

And when you’re ready…we’ve added Presence 2.0, which we call Mastering Executive Presence. And whether we worked with you two years ago or ten, this is the next level course that shifts focus from your style to the audience impact. We look at style through the lens of a listener and take the basic concepts and fit them within a higher profile setting and a high-stakes impact.

And mostly, we’ve built the practice platform to keep the journey going.


That’s what we’ve done about mastering communication. What will you do?

 We’re here when you need us!

Sally Williamson