Fact: 80% or more of your communication is non-verbal
At some point in your life, you are going to be asked to make a speech, conduct a meeting or make a presentation and as much as you prep and plan – getting in front of a group of people can be a daunting task. You not only have to captivate your audience’s attention but just as important is coming off powerful, polished and precise. This is a skill that many executives pay a hefty sum of money to perfect but one I plan to share with you all of you today.
So what exactly is this term “executive presence” mean and is it something only executives can obtain? The short answer is no. Anyone can exude executive presence regardless of whether you are C-Level professional or a College Student.
Let’s begin by demystifying what this really means. Many times I get people asking me, “isn’t this really about inner confidence?” – my usual reply is that possessing inner confidence is definitely critical and in large part a huge driver for being able to step in front of room of two or two thousand (plus). But it’s also important to remember that public speaking is only a small piece of the pie when it comes to possessing executive presence. But since we’re on the topic, here is a little fun fact.
Public Speaking is the #1 fear of people, more so than death itself.
In fact, at any given time according to StatisticBrain.com – 5% of the worlds population ranging in ages from 5 – 50 suffer from the fear of speaking to others. That’s quite a high number but shouldn’t be that surprising when death ranks #2. That said, it does bring us back to what exactly is “executive presence” and how does one go about obtaining some.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, they summed up “executive presence” like this:
Ultimately it boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.
It further gets to the heart of the matter which is, “can anyone develop executive presence?” – the answer is yes but it will come with some work to do on your end. The first piece according to the article:
- One must possess a baseline of self-confidence and a willingness to deal with the unpredictable situations that go with the territory at the executive level.
Here are some proven methods to get your executive swagger on the next time you have to enter and hold a room:
THE GRAND ENTRANCE
Entering a room for the first time is critical in setting the tone and stage for how your audience will perceive you and then ultimately listen (or not listen) to you. Before entering, make sure you take a moment to run a mental checklist:
- Be Bold. Many people walk into a room timidly because they don’t want to appear presumptions or self-important. No one likes arrogance but people respect and appreciate an heir of confidence so they can be reassured that their time won’t be wasted. Walk in with a pep in your step. Remember, you’re supposed to be there, so act like it.
- Hold Your Breath. Okay not to the point of turning red or gasping for air but rather take in a deep breath to expand your lungs and hold for a bit and then exhale upon saying hello or introducing yourself. This is an old stage trick many use but few discuss. By doing this, upon exhaling – you draw more blood to your face giving a more lively (and quite possibly) confident appearance.
- Don’t Slouch. Enough can’t be said regarding having good posture. We live in a world of technology which typically requires us to be hunched over but this is not the time for diminishing your physical presence. When you enter a room, don’t walk in with your shoulders slouched and your head facing down like a toddler who knows they did something wrong. Show your confidence by walking in with your back straight and your chin up. Try not to stick your chest out too much or else it will look like you’re posturing arrogance and over compensating for something else. Just maintain your natural and correct posture. Do this and you’ll add inches to your frame and increase your presence in the room.
- Do your homework. Specifically around the room in which you will be speaking. Familiarity puts our mind at ease – in fact “certainty” is one of five natural brain cravings we are hardwired to have at any given moment. If you don’t have the opportunity to check out your surroundings beforehand don’t worry, I’ve got something for you. According to one expert, the simple act of moving a few things around on a table or desk upon entering the room will send a message to your brain that you have (some) control over your surroundings. This could be a subtle as rearranging a few items in front of you.
THE BIG SHOW
Okay, you made it to the stage (or meeting room) without any miscues. Nice work – now it’s time to dial in your presentation skills so you don’t lose your audience. Before you open your mouth, make sure you take a moment to run a mental checklist:
- Make eye contact. Any book, expert or not-so-expert will tell you that a simple way to increase your presence in a room and your connection with other people is to look them in the eye. Eye contact is key to creating a connection with people. You should be engaging, but not overbearing. Don’t stare a person down non-stop. You’ll just creep them out. Look into their eyes, while occasionally flitting yours to the sides of their head and then back. One good tip is to divide your audience into sections, establishing eye contact with a few people in one area (around 3-5 seconds per person) and then moving on to the next. But remember, moderation is the key—never breaking eye contact can be just as awkward as never making it at all.
- Check your tone. Nobody wants to recall the famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when you are the one speaking. In fact, using that as a perfect example of what not do is spot on. Inflection when speaking is a must. You have to change pace from time to time to keep your audience engaged.Here is a great tip I saw online:• Practice using rhythmic builds. This is when you repeat the same words, in the same place, in three different sentences. For instance: “We have to strive for excellence in execution. We have to strive for excellence in service. We have to strive for excellence in profitability.”Done correctly and effectively, it can create sound patterns that rise in intensity – making both yourself and your presentation resonate while coming off passionate and powerful to your audience.
- Mind your gestures. Gestures should relate to the message and not be a focal point or distraction of the speaker – said another way, make sure you know where your hands are at all times. I say hands because that is what most people cue in on right from the beginning. Use your hands to create a visual image of the concept you’re trying to communicate. The key is to make sure to keep your gestures within the physical framework of your body so as to not distract your audience (or appear as if you are hailing a taxi) .Gestures can be great vehicles for displaying a powerful presence while projecting articulation, but they must be used intentionally and strategically in order to be effective. The same rings true for walking, pacing or jogging in place (and yes, I saw this once and it wasn’t pretty). Aimless wandering will lose your audience fast so when in doubt keep your movements within a 3 foot radius. How you show up physically sets the tone in which people will react to you and your presence and impact your audience. Start noticing your own body language so that you can begin establishing a strong executive presence.
- Avoid…um…awkward pauses. Begin to notice and stop staying things like “um” and “you know?” and “you know what I mean?” and “like,” and any other variations of this type of babbling. Another critical verbal landline to watch out for is the tendency to “up talk”– that is, don’t end declarative sentences or phrases with an upward inflection, like a question. Lastly, just in case you thought I might have forgotten, some other phrases to avoid at all costs are, “…at the end of the day,” “to be honest,” “In my opinion,” and personal least favorite – “with all due respect…”. Be authentic and know it’s okay to pause to reset and gain your presence but don’t stop.Here are few more quick tips to remember:• When asserting your ideas keep it short, simple and clear. When in doubt, less is more.• When you are silent, be present by active listening and staying off your devices because people are watching the behavior you are modeling.
• Listen like it matters because it does.
• When asking questions, keep them on topic or message, short, and oriented toward “what” and “how” and certainly not “why,” and toward the future or present, rather than the past
- Be confident not arrogant. Arrogance and executive presence simply don’t play well together. Sure there are many powerful executives out there who people listen to when they speak but if you asked those same people whether they would work for them, follow them or even agree with them – I think you may be surprised by what you find. When you’re perceived as arrogant, you’re trying too hard and over compensating for some insecurity. Others may read it as overbearing and insecure. Either way you are sure to lose your audience if you take on this persona. Instead, if you really want to engage your audience – then focus on them. People want to feel loved, appreciated, and important. We’re drawn to people who show an interest in us. People are like mirrors. When we shine a light on a person, they reflect that light back on us. If we shine a light on every person in the room, we end up being the brightest one there.
I truly hope that after reading my article you have a better understanding of what executive presence is and how you can begin to possess more of it the next time you walk into a room and have to speak other individuals. When in doubt, remember that being nervous is normal and human and the very best of the best from presidents down all sweat from time to time (you just don’t see it). When you are speaking, don’t worry about what you just said or if you chose the right word—be in the moment. The key is to have you body, voice, and words in sync at all times in order for your message to get through most effectively. Lastly, nothing can replace taking the time beforehand to prepare yourself for that meeting or presentation.
People who deserve their seat at the table don’t have to buy it at every meeting but they may have to work to keep it.
When it comes to your executive presence, do you “Purr” or “Roar” when you enter a room? The floor is yours.
Not-your-typical Personal and Executive Master Certified Coach.
Joshua Miller is a creative and impactful leader. His career experience has spanned both the advertising world and the world of leadership and organizational development. In advertising, he was responsible in delivering campaign strategies for Fortune 100 companies. Now he innovates and delivers results when supporting executive talent development and change management for the same clients.