Presence: The Great Differentiator
Success rested not simply on what my ideas were, but how I presented them. And this is where I had leverage—this is where I could differentiate myself from the 4.5 million others voices on the topic.
One of the strangest ironies of modern life is the fact that, in a world of instant access to information, the place where we move the fastest is also consistently the one place where it is impossible to get online. That is, in the air. Flying along at 500 miles an hour, crossing continents, we literally gain a high-level perspective on the world—but remain completely cut off from the high level of connectivity that we normally take for granted.
It was in such a situation that I found myself the other day. As I stared out of the window at the sunny clouds below me, I found myself thinking differently. Knowing that I could not check my email for hours, my mind was free to be more expansive—less transactional. Being the results-oriented person that I am, however, I still could not allow myself to daydream pointlessly. Before I knew it, I was caught up in a productive process, writing down my thoughts, and becoming more and more creative with my ideas. In this particular case, by the time the plane came in for a landing, I had articulated the title and primary thesis for an upcoming presentation, the preparation of which had been a point of procrastination for over a month.
Imagine my disappointment when I got back online on the way home from the airport. When I generate new material for an article or a presentation, I iterate repeatedly between composing and researching—researching and composing. And researching, nowadays, inevitably involves Google. While I had previously been confined to the strictly compositional element of my process, I now had the opportunity to field my thoughts against the vast trove of information instantly available on what I had believed was my unique idea less than 30 minutes ago while I was 35,000 feet in the air.
Indeed, back on the ground, Google quickly reminded me that there were no less than 4.5 million web pages that had already taken a position on “my idea.” Not only that, but the title I had carefully composed for the presentation turned out to be, word-for-word, the title of a book on the topic published over 5 years ago, as well as the exact name of an entire company devoted to providing services in that area. I was quickly reminded of the old maxim, “there are no new ideas.”
Just when I was ready to delete all of my hard work and start over again, I was faced with another blinding realization—this one far more reassuring. My upcoming presentation was just that—a presentation. It was not a book, or a company, or an article, or a blog. Therefore, its success rested not simply on what my ideas were, but on how I presented them. And this is where I had leverage—this is where I could differentiate myself from the 4.5 million others voices on the topic.
Delivering a live presentation—whether it’s 5 minutes or 50 minutes, whether in front of 5 people or 500—has become, perhaps now more than ever, the forum in which to capture people’s attention, above and beyond the endless stream of words that appear on every imaginable topic online every day. As anyone who has watched a TED talk can attest, the quality of the speaker is as important as the quality of the speech. Each one of us has a unique creative presence, and the degree to which we can embrace and refine that presence—both in terms of our choice of words as well as our delivery of those words—differentiates us in the marketplace of ideas. And while your presence as a presenter never gives you license to plagiarize another’s content without appropriate attribution, nevertheless our great challenge is to come down out of the virtual clouds and embrace our creative ability to transform a familiar idea into an engaging and inspiring piece of personal communication—right here on the ground in front of others.