Demystifying Presence

Posted in NEWS on October 24, 2007

By Wizards of the Coast

"Good presence" is without question a vital asset of a good judge. It comes up often in feedback, and yet its definition remains somewhat nebulous. Often I've heard that a judge needs "better presence," but this says nothing about what specifically the judge is doing wrong. In this article I would like to present one way of thinking about judge presence in hopes that it will inspire the judge community to reflect on this subtle subject.

Presence is, in essence, people skills. It is the subset of interpersonal abilities upon which we call when we judge, be it as a floor judge of a Prerelease, or in the black and red stripes at a Pro Tour. As presence is inherently subjective, it must be noted that there is no hard and fast standard or one perfect judge. What I present here is only one possible set of guidelines for thinking about presence.

I've split presence up into three simpler aspects: confidence, professionalism, and apparent attitude. Each of these aspects can be modeled on a diametric spectrum in which balance is ideal.


A judge will encounter problems if his confidence is noticeably lacking or obviously excessive. A lot of this has to do with player and peer perception, so be aware of not only how you feel, but how others view you. While the prime level of apparent confidence varies from judge to judge, neither extreme is desirable.

An under confident judge can rarely earn the respect of players. Players are quick to sense when judges are uncertain of their rulings and some will attempt to exploit this to persuade the judge to change his mind. They are also more likely to appeal the ruling of an under confident judge or feel dissatisfied if the ruling does not go in their favor, as they are less likely to trust the judge's abilities. Among other judges, an under confident judge's opinions may be disregarded prematurely due to his lack of assertiveness – making your voice heard is an important part of contributing to any group.

Conversely, an overconfident judge will draw fire from players and peers. He may come across as arrogant and unwilling to hear criticism or suggestions from others. This makes the judge seem unapproachable and incurs resentment from players who may distrust his willingness to repair his errors, and from other judges who feel they are unable to communicate and work with him effectively.

Ideally, a judge should have enough confidence to gain the trust of players and staff, but not so much as to appear unwilling to accept feedback.


Professionalism must be considered relative to the event at which it is being evaluated. Giving a Game Loss to a player who is a minute and a half late to a side draft at a Prerelease seems harsh, and making announcements humorously at the top eight of a Grand Prix seems to be in poor taste. However, these actions would not be out of place if their settings were reversed. There are dangers in both insufficient and excessive professionalism.

A judge can be inappropriately casual in many ways. Spending too much time with friends who are enrolled in the tournament may come across as biased, and is generally poor practice at larger events. Sloppy attire could belie a good judge's competence by making him appear unprepared for the event. Remember that you are representing the DCI, and that you should be a neutral figure that players can trust to uphold tournament integrity. Poor professionalism can cause a loss of respect from players and fellow judges.

That said, there are dangers in being too serious at the wrong time. We are also customer service people, and being overly harsh can make a judge seem cruel, condescending, or otherwise "out to get" players and staff members for the most minor of misdeeds. For example, you're head judging a Pro Tour Qualifier, and an uncertified judge candidate comes in wearing khakis instead of black pants. Do you send him away and not allow him to judge until he has the correct attire? Answers may vary vastly from judge to judge, but keep in mind the positive and negative consequences of both answers. You want your staff to look professional, but there is a chance that, if sent away, this judge candidate may no longer want to become a certified judge.

It is difficult to determine the exact amount of professionalism that is appropriate for a given situation. Professionalism varies a lot based on personality and style, but there are still some definitely suboptimal courses of action.

Apparent Attitude

The last aspect of presence I'd like to discuss is more subtle than the first two and less easily applied to a linear paradigm. Apparent attitude is what people think your intentions are. Do they think you care about the players having a good time? Why do people think you judge? Questions like this are difficult to ponder alone, as so much of it is tied up in what others see. Ask for specific feedback on how others view you. You may be surprised how different your internal motivations are from the ones others perceive.

If people think you don't care about the game and the players, they will neither like nor respect you as a judge. Now, I hope we all care about the game and the players, but we have to remember to show that. If you appear stressed, overworked, and generally wishing you were elsewhere, it may seem as though you don't care. Watch out for this; you may not realize you're doing it.

On the other extreme, you may appear to enjoy that DQ investigation a little too much. Maybe you've never done one before and you're excited to have the experience, but consider what the player you're disqualifying thinks of your enthused grin. Even if it isn't true, he may still feel that you're disqualifying him for your personal enjoyment and that you care more about asserting your authority than running a smooth tournament. Your staff may also be put off by a seemingly over-controlling or power-hungry attitude.

Particularly with attitude, you have to remember how you appear, not just what you feel. Presence is about how others perceive you, especially when it comes to attitude.

The guidelines I have laid out here are by no means law and should be applied with judgment. No one has ever mastered presence, and the road to improvement is endless, whether you're level zero, one, or five.

If you take nothing else from this article, take this: The next time you evaluate someone's presence, be specific and tell him exactly how he did well and exactly where he struggled. Use examples. If it helps structure your feedback, use a set of main ideas like the ones presented in this article to guide your critique.

Also remember not only to tell him what needs improvement, but how to improve it. Saying that "you need more confidence" is unlikely to make someone a better judge. Sharing with them how you overcame the anxieties of learning to judge stands a greater chance of doing so. Presence is a complex and ubiquitous issue for judges, so keep sharing your thoughts!

Diane Colley, L2