Blog Post: How to Become More Present



One of the most striking encounters of presence that I have experienced was at Monticello, the historic home of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. The sky was dark gray and looked as if it might open and release a torrent at any moment as the Jefferson actor began to speak. There were 20 or so people gathered around him, but from the beginning, I felt he was speaking to me. 

His presence was a combination of his relevancy, confidence, and proximity. He spoke from exactly 200 years ago but effortlessly applied his thinking to our current moment in history. His intelligence was not delivered downward to us lowly commoners, but instead, his respect for our ability to navigate the thought process was obvious. He lifted us and invited us into a heady, dare I say crucial, conversation about government during chaotic times. The fact that he stood not twenty feet from us was the binding that made it difficult to move even as the sky eventually tore, and the rain began to fall. 

Our ability to be present may be the greatest commodity at our disposal. Presence is a gateway into an extraordinary moment that transports everyone involved into a position of deeper understanding. If we as coaches can provide presence to our clients, we provide tremendous value to the relationship. Going beyond the binary availability or unavailability of our presence, we should consider how we might increase our presence from moment to moment. 

Using the faux Jefferson, let’s work through his three characteristics of relevancy, confidence, and proximity and apply them to our ability to become even more present in any given moment. 

Relevancy: To make myself present, the client must take interest in what I offer. That means that whatever I offer must be relevant to my client. If it is only relevant to me, then my presence will be degraded. 

Jesus was a master of relevancy. The creator of all things (Col 1:16) is able to set aside his concerns of maintaining the stability of the universe to be fully present with what concerns individual human beings.  

Speaking to the “Rich Young Ruler,” Jesus has given him the textbook answer to his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The young man is unsatisfied with the answer and wants to go deeper. The next verse is probably my favorite verse in all of Scripture: 

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” – Mark 10:21 

Jesus increased his presence from textbook to personal. The lever for this increase was by posture and connection. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” 

To be present, we must learn to set aside what is relevant to us and focus on what is relevant to our client. This is a nearly impossible task and is only possible by increasing our care for the other. We must become other-centered. More than that, we must become other-curious, driven by a desire for the other to increase. 

This is not only essential for coaching but also for citizenship in the Kingdom of God. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he simply says (in my paraphrase), “Love God as deeply as you can and love others as deeply as yourself.” Instead of being self-centered, learn to be other-centered. No wonder presence is such a powerful gift. In this way, we become relevant to each other. 

Confidence: The stability of a present person empowers the other to be more present as well.  

This confidence comes not from being more knowledgeable but from the ability to remain vulnerable throughout a conversation. The coach never feels dumb or exposed or defensive. The coach also never feels cocky or pretentious or pressed for time. The confidence allows the coach to enter the moment and invite the client to safely join him or her for the duration. 

My lever for increasing my confidence in a conversation is to find a way to take myself less seriously. One of my favorite things to do is to play my acoustic guitar in a band. There is a presence found in playing with a band that I have not found anywhere else. The obstacle to that presence is the feeling of incompetency.  

I would describe myself as an adequate guitar player and singer, and no, I’m not being modest. In my mind, there is a threshold level of competency required to play in a band, and I am only a few inches across that line. Since that competency line is relative, not everyone agrees on which side of the line my musical abilities lie. When that thought entered my mind, I used to tighten up. I would avoid all eye contact.  Any feeling of presence would leave me as I felt myself becoming a hindrance to the success of the band. 

A few years ago, something inside me changed. When I start to feel self-conscious, I find the question of my competence now brings me a quick shot of joy. I can share that feeling of irony that though my abilities are not great, still, here I am, enjoying the presence only found in a band. A smile infiltrates my face, and I become even more confident, not of my musical ability, but that my worthiness to stand and play with this band is relative. 

As a coach, I let my feeling of vulnerability become an indicator of my entrance into a grand moment. Now that I know what the feeling indicates, I can stay in the moment and let doubt normalize through an expression of joy. 

Proximity: Presence is realized by the client through the realization that they have been invited to a physical reality with the coach. A circle is created when the coach and the client no longer feel like an “I” but a “we”. The two must be facing each other so that their ears hear the other’s voice being directed toward them. Something changes in our focus when we know someone is talking to us. 

Above all other requirements is a clear, calm, interested voice. Eye contact is helpful but not always required. My friend Bill could only hear you well if he refrained from looking at you. Self-aware, Bill would simply tell you this at the beginning of any important conversation. Sometimes too much eye contact can make a client feel needlessly exposed. As with all of coaching, this depends on the client and your strengths as a coach. 

There are many levers for proximity with the simplest being to lean slightly toward the client without invading their personal space. Another is to make a subtle noise that expresses your interest. It is difficult to express this sound in writing, but it sounds something like, “Hmm.” As with any sound, you can make expressions sound judgmental or sarcastic. Be sure your subtle noise sounds like curiosity and interest. 

It is always my preference to not sit behind a desk when coaching, which I avoid if possible. I recently added a round table and chairs in my office so that I am not in a stronger position than my client. Our proximity should put us on common ground. When I coach on Zoom, I position the client’s image as close to my camera as possible so that I am literally looking them in the eyes both in my reality and in theirs. I sit up and lean slightly in. 


My hot water heater stopped working a week ago. You would be right to wonder why it is still not working a week later. I had some warning that the appliance needed servicing. The vent motor was making a low roar, which was getting worse. I asked my neighbor for a plumber recommendation. He gave me a number and said, “He’s a bit hard to get a hold of.” That was an understatement. 

I texted the recommended plumber and tried to make this as easy as possible. “The blower vent on my hot water heater is going out. Can you replace it?” I also took a picture of the model and part numbers. 

“Yes,” he replied. 

“When could you take a look at it,” I queried. 

No response. 

On Good Friday, the heater completely stopped working. I did not want to text him on Easter weekend, but my wife, who was hosting her family for Easter dinner, was insistent. She was right. I texted him a plea for our need of a repair. No response. I called him. His voicemail was full. 

On Monday, we went on vacation. It took a while to get another recommendation, and frankly, being away lowered my urgency. I called this new plumber and got his voicemail. His voice was calm and confident. He called me back a few hours later. This morning he came and looked over the issue. We hired him immediately. Why? Because he was present. Not only was he available, but he was also relevant, confident, and proximal.  

Out of all the coaching competencies, being present with your client is the one most to be coveted. The ability to be present will secure more new clients than the best marketing campaign ever could. Transformation is much more likely for the client when hosted by an excellent presence 

Start by considering your proximity. What is your posture? What is your body communicating? Then consider your relevance. Stop thinking and fully listen. What is the client talking about? How deeply can you hear the issue? And finally, grow your confidence. This is by far the hardest. It takes personal work and often involves professionals such as coaches and counselors.  

Coaching is a profession where all investments in yourself directly affect your clients. 

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