How Do You Achieve Leadership Presence? Act Like an Actor

May 1st, 2012 by Kelly Kienzle

I recently read a book, “Leadership Presence,” that takes an innovative approach on building presence. This book encourages us to adopt the techniques used by actors to connect with our audience and exude a presence that “fills the room”.  What is so innovative about this book is that it skips the helpful tips on how to be a good public speaker and deliver a compelling speech.  Instead it goes straight to the root ingredients for building your presence: being fully immersed in your message and connected to your audience.

The idea is that actors train themselves to accurately portray the motivations and desires of their character.  They become the message of their character. And that is a skill that leaders should develop as well, if they want to truly connect with their audience.

But isn’t great leadership about being authentic?  Can we learn authenticity from people who make a living out of imitation? The answers are “Yes” and “Yes.”

Yes, great leaders are authentic and speak from their vision.  And great actors truly understand their character. Actors want to transport us to the other world where their characters live, to feel their emotions and to experience the outcomes of their actions. And here lies the similarity between leaders and actors: They each want us to connect with them and understand the passion of their beliefs.

How do actors build these skills of connection? Here are a few approaches that you can adopt from our thespian friends before your next business meeting:

  • Be truly present. Actors are fully in-character before they go on stage.  Translation for us: Be laser-focused on your message and the emotional impact you want it to have on your audience. Show up, both physically and emotionally.
  • Reach out to make connections. Actors thoroughly research their characters and the other people in the characters’ lives.  Translation: Do your homework to understand why your message is important to you and to your audience. Tell a story that shows how your needs are related to theirs. (If you haven’t done your homework, commit to making the first part of the meeting about understanding their needs.)
  • Be expressive and allow your emotions to come through. Even the quietest character can exude great emotional power on the stage or screen.  (Think of Ben Kingsley in Ghandi.)  Translation: People are drawn to intensity, even if they don’t subscribe to your message. Show that you care about your message through the tone of your voice, the movement of your head and hands, how you walk about the room, and through your eye contact.
  • Make sure you know who you are and what you’re about. Actors know their characters’ lives inside and out. They understand the character’s weaknesses and strengths. They understand what excites them and scares them. Translation: Know yours, so you can show up as a human being that the rest of us humans can relate to.

To gauge how far along you are on developing these skills, the authors offer a good on-line assessment test that takes about 10 minutes to complete. The results show how your leadership presence rates across their 4 dimensions: Being Present, Reaching Out, Expressiveness and Self-Knowing. Check it out to determine your overall level of presence and where you want to start deepening it further.

So, having leadership presence is not about putting on a show. It’s about connecting with people by expressing what is important to you and how it connects to what is important to them. What kind of connection do you want to make today? Who is your most important audience and what do you want them to understand?

I offer a 5-session program to focus exclusively on building your leadership presence through this 4-part model. Please contact me to learn more about the methodology, tools and cost of this program.

“We can telegraph and telephone and wire pictures cross the ocean; we can fly over it. But the way to the human being next to us is still as far away as the stars. The actor takes us on this way.”
- Max Reinhardt, early 20th century German theater director

Leave a Reply