I’ve written before about presence. Presence is the ability to command a room. It is a confidence that you have as a leader that engages the people in front of you, and keeps them engaged while you deliver a message. Not everyone has great presence about them, and not everyone is a head coach. For some it’s natural to their personality, probably forged through their experience and education. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways to work on your presence.

Presence is different for everyone. It can be based on your personality. John Belein has presence. So does John Calipari. And Steve Kerr. But I’d say the type of presence they have are all very different. Presence isn’t just standing in front of a room and speaking loudly. There is much more to it.

How can you work on your presence as a leader?

Know Your Craft

Confidence is a huge part of your presence as a leader, and confidence comes from knowing your craft. You have to study the game. You have to know clearly in your own head what you are trying to do, how you want to do it and why it matters. Any moment of hesitation in front of your team cuts at your credibility as a leader.

This doesn’t mean you are always going to be right. But you have to know what you are talking about and be able to explain it clearly.


Have a specific plan in place for practice every day. Know how you want it to flow, and the key things you want your team to get out of it. Think about the message you want to send, and prepare how you want to deliver it. You don’t have to speak into a mirror before practice like you might win an Oscar. But jot down the key bullet points you want to get across and rehearse in your mind how you are going to deliver them.

Eliminate Crutch Words

In your preparation, make sure your message is clean. Take note of crutch words that you use, words that give you time to think about what you want to say next. For me, it was often “Okay” or “Alright.” When talking to my team in a huddle I’d say “We’ve got to do a better job in transition defense, okay, we need to sprint back and guard the ball, alright, make sure we are matched up…”

The crutch words take away from your message, and show some indecision in your delivery. You want the message to be as clear and concise as possible. Have someone record your huddles one day in practice or a game. Notice the crutch words that you use, and work hard to eliminate them.

Deliver The Message

The best presenters and public speakers in the world will tell you to focus on one person in the group, and deliver them one message. Look one person in the eye and say, “We have to a much better job with our half-court execution.” Then focus on another person and deliver the next message. “Everyone has to know what we are running coming out of the huddle.”

The way you deliver the message is important regarding the confidence your team has in that message. One person, one message keeps them all engaged, and the message has an impact. If you scan the crowd while you talk continuously, you aren’t connecting with anyone, and you will lose them quicker.


The pace of your message is also really important to your presence. If you are talking 100 miles per hour you will appear scattered and unprepared. It’s certainly okay to have a sense of urgency when you deliver the message. But speak at a pace where they can hear you, and absorb the message. If you deliver the message to quickly you’ll miss your mark.


What is your relationship like with your team away from the court? How much time do you spend with them individually? The connection you have with your team is essential to getting the most out of them, and part of that is your presence as a coach. If they really believe in you, and feel like you have their best interests in mind, they will want to hear your message. They will engage, and give you a break if you get a little quick or confusing. Your connection to your players helps your presence in front of them.


Coaches lead the world in taking themselves too seriously. Don’t do it. Great leaders are humbled, and no matter how successful they are they don’t make it about themselves. Leading with an ego is a quick way to turn your team off.


Direct truth-tellers have a natural presence about them. Great competitors want to hear the truth, even if it’s difficult to hear. When they know you are going to shoot it to them straight, you’ll have them at attention. It seems simple, but it’s a mistake many leaders make. Speak the truth to them at all times, and they’ll want to listen to what you have to say.

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