Presence Is More Important Than Preparation

As my company grew, one of the things that I struggled with was the feeling of seriousness — a sort of heavyweight of importance. It felt like a company of 60 people needed more profound leadership than one with 20 people. With the smaller company, I could show up and we’d just have a discussion about the future of the company. But with the larger one, I felt a pressure to project strong, prepared leadership where everything had been considered and future of the company was etched in stone.

The smaller version was more collaborative, more connected, and more interactive. The larger version was more prepared, more of a broadcast, less connected, less collaborative, and less vulnerable. I would start on the annual State Of The Company talk weeks before and inevitably spend a sleepless night-before-the-presentation in a combination of preparation and worry, trying to form all of my thoughts and ideas to set the right tone for the team and the coming year. Yet, with all of this work and preparation, it never felt as authentic or rewarding as the less-prepared discussion-style talks.

Now that I’ve been out of the company for a few years and I’ve had the chance to coach leaders of other businesses, I’ve realized why I never felt great about those State Of The Company presentations. I’d exchanged presence for preparation. I’d become so focused and worried about being prepared, that I wasn’t really present. I was not being very interactive. I was not being very connected. I had no real idea whether my employees were on board or not. It didn’t feel like an all-together team effort, like things did when we were a smaller company.

Given, it’s difficult to be present with that many people at once. Having spent a lot of time in my life standing in front of audiences, it feels like the natural limit for that kind of interactive communication experience is about 32. (I like powers of 2!) But there are certainly ways to connect with a larger group. I’m a big fan of town-hall-style meetings, but that’s the subject of another article.

But how often do we inadvertently opt for preparation at the expense of presence — even with smaller groups of people? Fear or some sense of importance is usually at play: a client pitch; firing an employee; fundraising; or just a difficult conversation. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t come prepared for these types of things. But it can be difficult to remain present, especially if you’ve come over-prepared and you stay focused on your prepared materials. Are you listening? Or are you just reading from the script? Are you reacting in the moment? Or are you just plowing forward?

In the end, you’re more likely to remember the things you were present for than the things that you were prepared for. Likewise, the people around you are more likely to be present and attentive if you are present and attentive. So while we’re preparing, let’s not forget to prepare to be present.

Jeff Robbins is a business coach, mentor, and virtual business partner who works one-on-one with company owners and leaders to help them build vision and direction for their companies while building productivity, stability, and happiness for their employees and themselves. You can work with him too. Reach out to set up a free consultation session.

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Jeff Robbins

Cofounder at @Lullabot. Executive Coach at @jjeff. Rockstar at @Orbitband.