What is it about Christopher Reeve’s Superman that worked so well for people? We can say that it was his good looks and stylish hair (perfectly curled) and that he was playing a fairly popular superhero, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Since then, two actors have tried to fill his shoes and have come up with mixed results. While both are good looking and talented actors in their own right, neither have made the sensation that Reeve did when he first donned the cape. The reason?
Reeve had that uncanny ability to be both approachable and irreproachable at the same time. We wanted to believe that he was a superhuman, not just because he looked it but because he seemed so confident and trustworthy.
Those same attributes are available to us as well. If you are a leader in an organization, or if you are working your way up to leadership positions, it is most likely the case that your abilities are not what are holding you back. Rather your presence is the thing that keeps you from being heard in meetings, picked out of the lineup or other leaders or passed over for promotions.
If you fit this description at all, there are three simple things that you can do to help yourself have the kind of presence that Christopher Reeve had in Superman.
1. Open and relax your body.
Look at the picture above and notice how open his shoulders are. We often take a defensive posture when we are standing, either to protect ourselves or to contain a feeling of impatience and frustration (usually with other people). Practice holding your body open and still (without the clenched fists pictured above, that would be weird) and see how people respond. It will feel weird at first, but you will begin to trust it more as you gain confidence.
2. Commit to your role with confidence that you are awesome.
Perhaps the most important advice is also the dumbest, that being that nothing is more attractive than confidence. The problem of course is that when we are in high pressure situations, we may not always feel confident. The trick is to channel our inner Superman at this moment. Imagine that you are in this position because you have special powers (maybe it is the power to communicate big ideas, maybe it is the power to make bold decisions, perhaps it is the power to clearly articulate confusing data.). Whatever the power may be, trust it and yourself. If you don’t feel it inside, imitate the feeling of the gif above. The people in the room will believe that you are confident, even if you might doubt it.
3. Love your inner Clark Kent.
While it was probably pretty cool to play out the fantasy of being an almost godlike figure, it was his totally nerdy Clark Kent that really won people over. Even before Reeve played Superman, he was known as being almost too perfect. At Julliard, his teacher John Houseman notoriously told him that he should be careful of not letting his good looks get in the way of his acting ability. And then he did this:
(This is Houseman looking surprised.)
What makes his Clark Kent such a valuable lesson for us all is that Reeve was unafraid to look nerdy on film. He was comfortable enough in his own skin to allow himself to look both uncomfortable and ridiculous. The lesson here for the rest of us is that the more comfortable we are with our own Clark Kent-ness, meaning our own nerdy and awkward selves, the more interesting and resonant we become.
It is only when we try to stuff down that side of ourselves, when we try to be perfect and big that we tend to communicate weakness and desperation. The more that we can accept ourselves as a whole person, the more presence we will have.