Executive presence opens doors to the executive suite. That’s why we so often hear that you need it to get the job, win a promotion, close a deal, or inspire change. The following habits, skills, traits, and attitudes put you on the path to a strong executive presence that, in turn, increases your own credibility and career success. The “pass on” value can also increase the influence and promotability of those you coach.
To be persuasive and authoritative, develop a format to structure a clear, complete yet concise response. A good format: A) Overview your opinion or answer. B) Support your opinion with reasons, ideas, or facts. C) Add an example or illustration. D) Finally, recap your answer or opinion in ONE sentence.
This ability applies to your writing, presentations, and conversations. Anybody can babble on for hours. Those with impact have learned to synthesize information, present it concisely, and then leave it to their listeners to ask for appropriate details.
When you know you’ll be participating in an important meeting, discussion or personal conversation, prepare “talking points” ahead of time. Although you may not write them down, do your mental preparation. Decide things such as these: Should you try to make one strong point? How many points? What details to include? Is there a good example to illustrate the point? Rather than give the impression that you’re just “present” or “going with the flow” in important discussions, be the person who can bring others together and move them to the next issue or action.
On controversial issues, take a point of view. Being wishy-washy signals weakness. That doesn’t mean that you can’t “pause” a discussion or action until you or the group gathers more information. In those cases, your “taking a stand” may mean insisting on gathering more data or expert opinions. But passivity in a discussion leaves the same impression as “no comment” makes in a courtroom or TV interview.
Trust trumps speech. That is, if you say something, do it. Stand up, speak up, follow up. Practice the principles you preach. Consistency counts. Even if others don’t agree with your views, they expect to see consistency between what you say and what you do. If they hear you espouse certain values, they demand that you live by those values. To do differently destroys trust and respect.
Of course, tactical thinking serves a critical purpose, but strategic thinking sets you apart from the crowd. Lead others with strategic questions. Focus on why or why not when new opportunities arise. Consider consequences for the future. People with presence rarely rush to judgment—of people, situations, data. They make it a practice to listen first, to observe, to collect and assess information.
When conversing with executive leaders, confidence counts. It says you believe in what you’re saying. To that end, stand, gesture, and move with energy and intention. Stand in the “ready” position (on the balls of your feet, which are squarely beneath your shoulders). Make your gestures bold: up, out, big, firm, and content-specific. Avoid body language that says, “I’m nervous”: Jerky or aimless gestures. A furrowed brow. Pacing side to side or foot-shuffling back and forth.
Often in an attempt to appear relaxed or “laid back” during a meeting with their executive team, people fail to project their voice. Instead, they mumble or lower their volume to a one-on-one level—even when talking to a larger group. While an intimate conversation is appropriate from time to time, a projected, energetic voice grabs attention and typically carries more authority.
Vary your voice to avoid a monotone. Consider your volume, pacing, pitch, inflection, pausing, and tone to create credibility and connection. A lower, rather than higher, pitch typically connotes authority and expertise. Speaking too quickly reveals nervousness. Allowing word-fillers (hmm, uh, ah, so, like) to creep in also reveals nervousness.
Be authentically “in the moment.” Never be afraid to add spontaneity to your agenda—even in the C-suite. Welcome witticisms from others. Unless you know others have ill-will behind any humorous remark directed at you, develop the ability to laugh at yourself. Light-heartedness is the language of leadership and confidence.
Don’t wait for them to approach you and introduce themselves. Likewise, make introductions between others who may have a common interest. Be the connector or liaison to help other people get things done together. With such a habit, you’ll become known as the person “who knows everyone” and whom “everybody knows.”
Learn more ways to increase your executive presence in Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader.