Here’s how it goes down. You enter the room for a seminar and hope there’s a seat in the front row. Or maybe your cohort already grabbed a seat at the midpoint of let’s say 20 rows of chairs, so you join them.

Then there are my favorites, the least enthusiastic who immediately take seats in the very last row, smack in the middle as if they’ve already planned to tune out or nap, or near a rear exit if they want to make a quick getaway.

I notice who hasn’t removed their coat or hat, even though the temperature is ideal, who has a pen and notepad at the ready, and each person with their arms folded across their body and sliding down in their seat.

Where I find the greatest pleasure as a public speaker is in observing and interacting with the audience both before and after the program. Whether they’ve independently registered for the session or assembled by HR mandate, the first thing that catches my eye is how attendees select a seat.

It’s easiest to interact with those near the stage, but I already know based on their first impression they’ll be easy to draw in, so I head to the back to pre-engage the least eager.

Some aspects of our personalities don’t change after middle school with the “achievers” positioning themselves in such a way that making a contribution will be easy, it’s more likely they’ll be called upon, they can easily be handed a mic and they’ll be the first in line to ask questions or thank me at the end of the program.

What I know for sure is bosses, managers and those in leadership positions do not intentionally get lost in the middle of the room – or in the back.

They’re either up front or on the aisle. They know that seat selection makes a difference and that it’s a part of their personal brand – that packaging that tells everyone how they want to be consistently perceived.

If a boss is towards the back, their seated posture and body language show me they’re listening intently and they respond when a call-out is made to the audience.

Your personal brand intersects with the first impression you make everywhere. If you want to show confidence, connect with people and have credibility, start by showing up and taking the seat in meetings where you are more likely to have influence.

At a conference table, sit within the first two seats on the right-hand side of the main speaker, do the same on the speaker’s left-hand side. Alternatively sit at the opposite end of the table directly across from the main speaker.


The middle is filler just like a whoopie pie. Do you want to be viewed as fluff?

Taking a seat at the perimeter of the room when a seat is available at the table is like saying “I really don’t want to take part, but at least I’m here.”

It’s not difficult to sit like a total boss. You just have to be mindful that people are always observing you and making judgments based on the positioning you choose.




Charisma May Be King - But Professional Presence is Primary

Professional Presence & Charisma - Oprah.jpg

Ahhh...charisma. The word alone sounds nice. It conjures images of a smooth operator who can make their way around the office or cocktail party as throngs of admirers glance in their direction and smile, all the while thinking "I wish I had that (elusive) thing!".

While charisma is often viewed as an enviable and worthwhile trait, it requires foundational building blocks to ascend to that level. There are a few other areas which may require your attention first.

Have you ever wondered what exactly "professional presence" is and whether you have it? Well, it's a component of your personal branding strategy and well worth your time to develop.

As a young girl, I recall watching my father win over people everywhere he went. It didn't matter if we were shopping, at a sporting event, or an amusement park. Within minutes, he always seemed to have a cohort of new friends gathered around him.

At the time, I didn't understand what my dad was doing or what "presence" was — let alone how it worked professionally. But decades later after working in the corporate world and founding several startups I'm able to detect it virtually instantaneously in face-to-face and online communications. For sure my dad has charisma too, but that was developed over time. If you're interested in doing double duty as you pump-up your professional persona, pick-up Olivia Fox Cabane's terrific book The Charisma Myth.

Professional presence is your personal "It" factor.

Now that I teach it to clients who want to have an excellent rapport with superiors, colleagues, and clients and right off the bat with new acquaintances, I've broken it down in a practical way. At its core, professional presence is about how you feel about yourself and how you want to be viewed in your little slice of the world.

There are no special techniques or tactics involved as there are in developing charisma. When you have a professional presence you feel like you belong, you're "presence" uplifts those around you and you're able to draw people toward you your ideas and create a legion of followers. 

But let's start with a basic question: why think about your professional presence anyway? For one, having professional presence instantly engenders "KLT" (know, like, trust) with you more so than anyone else in the room. We are naturally attracted to people who are confident, likable, and not self-focused. These traits generally lead to more income, friends, and personal success.

Does acquiring professional presence require a lot of extra work? Generally, no, however, that answer may depend on where you are currently in your business life and course of trajectory.

I'm going to show you how you can exhibit it in three different contexts: at work, at a social event and in a high-stakes situation with a boss or client. Ready?

1. In Your Workspace

Focus on a time in your life when you've felt sharp, focused, and productive. Why did you feel that way? What triggered it? The feelings that come to mind are your "presence power points".

Once you identify your presence power points, be mindful of that as you start your day. Focus on other people's needs and what they're saying to you. Active listening is an important daily exercise which keeps you present and makes people feel like they're the only person in the world at that moment.

2. Business/Networking Events

For social events, the professional presence points you may want to think of will likely be a little different from what you'd project at the office. If you want to be approachable and open to meeting new people, it's best to think about what triggers you to feel warm toward and curious about others.

For example, a client and I recently discussed why a particular evening out where she knew very few people went so well. We identified that a key trigger for her feeling good and attracting others was that she simply set a clear time to end her workday so she would have time to take a breath and not feel as if she were rushing to the event. Simply having time to get ready in a leisurely, calm way let her feel open, relaxed and confident.

3. VIP Business Situations

Now, this kind of professional presence is very different from the other two. If you're in a high-stakes situation — perhaps with a boss or a client — you're going to want to focus on what would make you feel powerful or "on top of your game."

Consider logging on Youtube and watching the best Ted Talks or other great, charismatic speakers. Notice how their bodies are moving, how they use their hands while speaking, how they project themselves. In high-stakes situations, you want to be cognizant of your body language and be seen as an authority (even if you're in a junior or subordinate position) who deserves respect. This is all part of your personal brand.

A solid exercise to practice when you'll be in a high-stakes conversational situation is taking time alone to state questions aloud and ensuring there's no "up-talk" or inflection at the end of your sentence which makes a declarative statement sound more like a question. Up-talk is up there on the list of things that will make you instantly lose credibility and appear you lack confidence.

There are many more elements to developing professional presence, and this will help you to focus on just a few elements at a time. In general, be hyper-conscious of your appearance, non-verbal communication and your voice in the first few moments of engagement.

As I tell all of my clients and people I talk to, finding what makes your professional presence unique and distinguishable from others in your workplace is a process to be refined and tested because you're finding out what works best for you. If you're committed to improving how you feel about yourself and most importantly — how you're perceived by others — then finding your presence power points and combining them with charisma may be the best free, personal investment you make.