Nick Morgan’s recent post introduced me to Patsy Rodenburg. She is one of the world’s most prominent voice teachers and a renowned expert on Shakespeare. Actors come to her for coaching on how best to use their voice in performance. And she has a great take on what it means to have “it“. Charisma. Presence.

This 10-minute video shows her explaining “second circle”:

This clip inspired me to purchase and begin reading her book, The Second Circle. I’ve only gotten a third of the way into it, but I’m hooked and know that she’s on target.

We all know people who seem to shine with presence, and it’s easy to think it’s some gift they have, that they won the charisma lottery. But I’m confident that everyone can flip a switch and become present, even charismatic, at will. I’m no master of this. I spend too much time in my head and not in the present moment. But, when I am intentional about connecting with the present moment, whether in conversation or giving a presentation or creating something, I feel so much more alive and dynamic. When you make that connection with an audience as a public speaker, you feel like a rock star. When you have that moment of genuine presence in a relationship, or even with a stranger, you feel like a real human being.

Think of those you consider to have a strong sense of presence. Don’t they seem to care more than the average person? They actually listen intently in conversation rather than simply waiting their turn to talk. In front of an audience they glow with expressiveness and confidence and energy. Charisma is caring deeply and having the courage to fully express yourself and genuinely connect in the present moment. It’s talking with someone rather than at them. It’s paying attention. It’s using the physical senses to connect with the here and now. It’s this paradox of being more powerful by being vulnerable.

Kids have this naturally. Watch young children engrossed in play. They are free and fearless and full of life. Somewhere along the way this gets stifled, and fear throttles our natural impulse.

I’ll report back after I finish reading Rodenburg’s book to see what she recommends for consistently getting into second circle. In the meantime, I’m going to be intentional about being present in conversations especially. I want to make a genuine attempt to understand before seeking to be understood. I will ask more questions. Make more eye contact. I will religiously put my phone away when I’m with humans, especially when I’m with my wife and kids. (What if your level of coolness is inversely proportional to how often your phone is visible in public? A staggering thought for most of us.) When standing in front of an audience, I will attempt to think through their point of view and make my remarks audience-centered. When asking “How are you?”, I’ll mean it and wait for a response. This is my aim, at least. An excellent journey of a life would be spent mostly in second circle, in the here and now.