The “It” Factor and Universal Truths About Presence

At SW&A, we’ve been busy. In these first eight weeks of the year we’ve seen everything from keynotes to internal meetings. And as we work with leaders and their teams on various scopes of presentations, we gain a broad perspective on company strategies and the road maps being built to reach them.

The themes are always consistent: strengthen employee engagement, improve customer experience, and move quickly before someone gets ahead of you. Purpose, People and Pace. Many believe these three P’s make up the “It” factor. But there’s a fourth P that seldom makes it into the strategies as a company commitment, and it appears on every employee profile as a development expectation.


From the beginning of my career, there’s been confusion about what Presence really is.

  • Thirty years ago, it seemed aligned to dress for success and the power suit.
  • Twenty years ago, it was about authority, personal confidence and owning the right to be there.
  • Ten years ago, it was more about showing up with authenticity and honesty.
  • Today, it seems synonymous with being present and the practice of mindfulness.

And I’ve been coaching presence long enough to know it’s all those things…and more.

The attributes above are all elements of influence. But, when presence is thought of as only one trait, it becomes misunderstood as a single skill.

Every day, we hear from individuals who either want to or have been told they need to improve their skills.

  • She needs to slow down. He needs to speak up.
  • She needs confidence. He needs to be comfortable.
  • She should command a room. He should stop interrupting.

And, we can help someone work through all of those things. But the concept of presence can be misleading because it is less about a specific skill and more about an evolution of someone’s personal brand.

Your brand is how people think about you and talk about you. Your presence is how people experience you in settings that ultimately lead to impressions and even assumptions that others attach to your brand.

And, that’s why presence isn’t something you give yourself; it’s an earned impression that comes from those around you who respect you and your ability to lead. It is a combination of behaviors and attributes that convey a sense of confidence, competence, commitment and authenticity. And, it’s ultimately what allows someone to influence a team or an employee group.

It doesn’t take long to notice that some people stand out and get noticed in a business setting. Whether it’s a staff meeting, a client discussion or even a social hour, we notice people who seem confident and comfortable. They can talk to anyone without getting nervous or caught off-guard when focus shifts to them for an answer to a question or more detail on a data point.

And if you look closely, those impressions are driven by an open and settled body and a full and measured tone to their voice. It’s why they get heard when they speak and noticed when they enter a room. Your authentic presence is evident in how people experience you every day and in every situation. And, that’s why we take a long view of developing and evolving presence by starting with the power of impressions and ending with the power of impact and influence with listeners.

Communication and influence are always about the listener, but it’s hard to think about the listeners’ needs when you don’t have a strong foundation to solve for your own needs related to feeling confident, comfortable and credible as a communicator.

That’s why we start with the personal brand of the communicator, and we evaluate impressions. In our newest workshop, Strengthening Personal Brand & Impressions, we capture this through videotaped exercises that help participants evaluate their own style and explore new choices that improve their overall presence. In our coaching engagements, we interview colleagues and capture insights through a verbal assessment. We do this in order to position presence as a vehicle for changing impressions or strengthening your brand.

Mastering Executive Presence is our second step in helping a communicator accelerate the development of their skills and explore the nuances of engaging listeners in an audience of ten or a thousand. We shift from day to day situations to the high stakes ones as we work through the large audience, the challenging audience and the ability to engage any group.

So, what’s the “It” factor? It’s yet another way that people have described presence. It may be the better way to encompass all the concepts. It implies there’s an aura to presence, and I tend to agree. With the right combination of awareness, coaching and practice, presence becomes a learned skill and a durable advantage. And that may be just the factor the other three P’s need to deliver on strategies this year.

We’d love to define “It” for you.

Call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson