There are some people – maybe you know one or two – that no matter what environment they are in, no matter how many people – or how few – have the ability to make everyone around them feel comfortable.
Perhaps you are one of those people.
If you are – you probably do this naturally with no idea what it is or how you do it. It is just part of who you are. You were born with it. You don’t over analyse it, it’s just you. Perhaps you would struggle if asked to train someone else how to be like you, how to easily and effortlessly put others at ease?
But, here’s the thing, scientists now know what this is.
It’s called Affective Presence
Or, let me be more precise, Positive Affective Presence. And there is also, make no mistake, an opposite and equal, Negative Affective Presence.
These people are the ones that can turn an atmosphere sour in an instant, they are the team member who brings the whole team down in the weekly team meeting, the customer that none of the customer support people want to take the call from, the shop assistant who makes you feel like they are doing you a favour by serving you.
This ability to make others feel a certain way has been classified as an inherent part of your personality and was first researched only about a decade ago in a study by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein.
Elfenbein says “our own way of being has an emotional signature”.
Now, we all know that our emotions can have an effect on others – that is pretty clear. If you come into a room where someone else is angry or sad, you can feel the emotion. That’s how fights start – the angry emotion of the protagonist is quickly felt and matched by anger in the other person, and a fight – verbal or physical begins.
That’s not what Affective Presence is.
Affective presence is where a person has a positive effect on others EVEN IF they themselves are feeling negative emotions, or has a negative effect on others even if personally they are feeling good.
People who make others feel good, unsurprisingly, have more friends and more love interest than others. They are also more effective leaders (generally), because in order to be the best an organisation can be, it needs input, ideas and feedback from the people within the organisation.
Those leaders who make their teams feel good about themselves, and feel safe get better and more honest feedback, and ideas them. Makes sense!
As a Speaker, the positive affective presence will do more than just make an audience like you, it will enable you to break down barriers. It will make your audience feel safe – which is important when challenging old ideas, or old ways of doing things. And it will engender trust. The audience will believe you are doing this because you care about them. Which you are – aren’t you?
So, Can You Learn It Or Is It Inherent?
There have been no definitive scientific studies on how to develop your affective presence. But here’s what I think you can do to develop / further develop your positive affective presence:-
Learn to be in the moment.
Being in the moment (in brief) means not worrying about the past and not stressing about the future. Many times your negative state of mind is to do with one or other of those things. If you can truly be in the moment you are truly present!
And if you are present – then the people you are with generally benefit from that. They feel listened to, heard and that they are important.
Meditation certainly helps with the point above – being in the moment – otherwise known as mindfulness. It also has been shown to reduce stress levels and enhance creativity. Meditation can help you remain calm and not succumb to ‘blips of emotion’, which make you unpredictable and unreadable by people around you.
Being emotionally unpredictable is one big factor in negative affective presence.
Smiling makes others feel at ease. My tip for this – is creating more video. When you see yourself on a video you can suddenly realise things that you had never noticed before. Like for example, that you don’t smile much, or you look grumpy when you are concentrating, or that you say “er” a lot. Which is another subject entirely.
But you know – smiling uses muscles and the more you smile the more muscle memory you have for smiling which means you eventually won’t have to think about consciously smiling, it will just become your default.
Make Eye Contact – But Don’t Stare!
The thing that most engages the trust response in others is good eye contact. Mothers and babies spend hours looking at each other and babies have not been taught the ‘it’s rude to stare’ thing.
Making good eye contact with people is attractive. It means you are open and prepared to be vulnerable and trust the other person. The law of reciprocity kicks in, and your audience will make eye contact right back.
Again, once this becomes your natural state of being, it contributes to your positive affective presence.
Developing an ‘Other’ Focused Approach.
When you are called to a higher purpose, when what you are doing is as much about the benefit to others as it is about the benefit to yourself, then I believe that comes across. It has to be genuine though – people can spot a phoney at 100 paces.
I believe that when you have a purpose: when you know why you are doing what you are doing and are passionate about it because it positively impacts the lives of others then it becomes part of your persona and your presence.
People warm to and like to be around others who are creating a positive impact in the world.
And no doubt there is more to it than that. Science might come back and identify a gene or a scent or something else that contributes to affective presence who knows? What I do know is that a positive affective presence is critical to be a successful speaker. After all, if people don’t like you – they are not going to buy into whatever you are telling them or ‘selling’ them.
Let me know what you think in the comments below and come and join our Facebook group – How To Speak With…. for more tips on improving your public speaking and presenting skills.