David Strittmatter

How to get people to listen when you speak

We only speak when we are fully living what we are saying

Dear friend,

During my 1-week-long training 3 weeks ago, an executive coach was giving a session about “presence”. First, she asked us as a group of 30 learners, how can someone have a great presence?

After a quiet minute, I still struggled to find an answer. So, I asked the instructor to clarify what having a great presence actually means. She answered that a person with great presence is someone who says something in any given context, and people will remember that person very well.

Still owning her an answer to her initial question, I contemplated what makes me think of someone being “remarkable” by having a great presence. As nobody had yet given it a try, I raised my arm and gave my explanation: Someone with a great presence is a person who says something with great determination. This person doesn’t say anything without the intention to deliver the message. It’s about how something is said and not what.

Bingo. The instructor liked what I articulated and wrote some notes on a flipchart. Further learners then also gave their thoughts.

Next, we discussed why we should aim to have a great presence. “Trust”, “credibility”, “persuasiveness”, and “impact” – those were the words we used to describe the benefits of having a great presence. And eventually, we elaborated how we can attain a great presence.

In today’s blog article, I will dive deeper into the topic of presence. You will read about why having a great presence is crucial to becoming a great leader, what it looks like in action, and what you can do to attain a great presence.


  • “Presence” is basically when you speak, people listen
  • Great presence is a must-have quality for professionals who are eager to become a leader
  • Having a great presence significantly increases your persuasiveness, allowing you to make people do things they wouldn’t do otherwise

Practical advice:

  • Know the purpose of your message
  • Speak clearly and make your message clear
  • Be authentic, be vulnerable

Great leaders have a great presence

Great presence is a must-have quality for professionals who are eager to become a leader. People with great presence are able to put other people at ease, take charge during chaos, and instill confidence when things are changing.

Having a great presence significantly increases your persuasiveness, allowing you to make people do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. Steve Jobs was known for his great ability to make the best people work for Apple and push Apple’s employees to always try their best. His great presence was what allowed him to do so.

In my job as a consultant, trust and credibility are key ingredients for fruitful collaboration. There are many ways to gain trust and credibility, but having a great presence is among the fastest to become a trusted advisor. When people listen to you, they will more likely want to collaborate with you.

Great presence in action

“Presence” is known as many things: commanding attention, holding court, or owning the room. Basically, when you speak people listen.

If you were lucky, you had a teacher who had a great presence. This kind of teacher captures the student’s attention, delivers content understandably, and is well respected. This teacher makes students feel they don’t waste their time but learn crucial lessons.

In your work life, it’s the manager with a great presence who makes you flourish. This kind of manager instills trust in you, creates interest and curiosity, and is a major reason why you work for your employer.

In your social circle, it’s the friend or relative with a great presence whom you love hanging around. You’re attracted to the aura of this person and usually look at this person as some kind of role model. It’s this person who doesn’t speak all the time but if, you will listen.

How to attain a great presence

What I learned from the session with the executive coach on how to attain a great presence were the following 3 requirements:

1: Know the purpose of your message. Whether it’s presentations, meetings, emails, negotiations, or casual conversations – before you speak up or start writing, have a strong why. Don’t do anything unintentionally, but do it with strong sense of purpose. Don’t hold a presentation, don’t take part in a meeting, don’t write an email, and don’t talk to anybody if you cannot answer why you do it. If you have to do something, think of why you will have to do it anyway and why it’s great that you will do it.

2: Speak clearly and make your message clear. Whatever you communicate, make it clear and concise. Don’t use more words than needed. When in doubt, cut words out. Focus on 1 theme instead of 5. Rather do 3 things great and become well known for them instead of 10. Don’t use more than 25 words in a sentence. Take multiple 5-second pauses in your presentation.

3: Be authentic, be vulnerable. Nobody is perfect. People with a great presence know that being authentic and clearly showing people their weaknesses is what makes them even stronger. Be honest about why the things you say are meaningful to you.

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