5 Tips to Develop Your Executive Presence

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

So, you want to feel cool as a cucumber under pressure, confident and poised when speaking in front of your senior leadership team (or any group), and project subject-matter expertise.

This is what it means to have ‘Executive Presence’, which is essentially the ability to inspire confidence in those around you. When you have it, your team says, “I want to follow her!” Your peers trust you and think, “She’s the go-to person!” And your leaders think, “She’s definitely the next up and coming leader.” They might even think you can take their job, but in a good way.

Executive Presence is often talked about in terms of how others perceive you. It can seem a bit vague and elusive, as if it’s something you either inherently have (or don’t have), like a personality trait. But that’s not true; there are lots of skills you can practice to improve and develop your Executive Presence.

In essence, Executive Presence starts with projecting confidence. First, let’s take a look at what confidence looks, feels and sounds like; then you can start practicing the skills that create Executive Presence. Soon others will start to see you have “it” (even before you might actually feel it). And the more you practice, the easier it’ll get and soon you’ll feel you’ve got it!

1. Build Self Awareness

Do you know how others perceive you now? Are you picking up on social cues?

When talking to someone, body language accounts for 55% of the overall message, with tone of voice at 38% and the words at only 7%, according to researcher Albert Mehrabian

If you want to communicate your message clearly, it’s essential to consider your body language as much as your words — and get it right.

To convey, “I’ve got this and I’m trustworthy”, here are the essentials:

  • Stand upright.
  • Breathe deep, slow and regular breaths.
  • Don’t sigh or fidget.
  • Look people in the eyes.
  • Use your hand gestures with intent. This video by Vanessa Van Edwards can help you make the most of your hand gestures.

If you aren’t sure how others see you, build your self-awareness muscle by asking colleagues whose opinion you value to give you feedback on how you’re perceived.

I remember working with one client on interview preparation. Whenever there was a tough question, she would roll her eyes. She unconsciously did this when stopping to think, but it came across as if she was annoyed with the question. She had no idea she was doing this; no one had ever told her. It’s important to get feedback about your body language and any habits that might send the wrong message.

Then practice, practice, practice — and do it while asking yourself these questions:

  • What key message or impression about myself do I want to leave?
  • How am I acting that message out?

2. Know Your Stuff

If you want to be known as a subject matter expert, you need to do your homework and know your stuff!

When presenting to a new group, find out more about who they are. What is their biggest issue or on their mind the most? Show them you understand where they are coming from and how you can help.

When going to staff meetings within your own organization, know what will be on the agenda and prepare ideas or remarks that will add value. Speak in meetings regularly with insight that offers meaningful contribution.

And if you don’t know something, don’t fake it. People have more trust in someone who says, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”, than in someone who gives bad information.

3. Make Connection

Being the social animals that we are, it’s not surprising that we like people who are similar to us, even it’s just a perceived similarity, as this study shows.

One way to tap into this perceived similarity is to match the environment. This can be done by matching the volume, pace, and energy of the person or group. Your volume should be loud enough so that everyone can hear you, but not shouting. If the group is a boisterous type, then match the same level of energy and pace of speech. If you aren’t accustomed to changing your volume, pace or energy level, practice with a friend (it can be quite fun!).

If you’re someone who doesn’t like small talk, you’ll be relieved to know that there is no such thing as small talk; it all matters.

When being considered for a new role or promotion, you’ll be judged on how well you get along with clients and other team members. This demonstrates how well you can connect with all types of people, so use that time by chatting wisely and making a meaningful connection.

In conversation, actively listen to the other person. Ask follow-up questions and show an interest so the person feels heard and understood. If you have no idea what to say, prepare some open-ended questions or share an interesting, relatable article you read recently.

No matter what you’re discussing, be authentic. Being who you really are will create more ease in your presence, which will be sensed by others.

4. Look the Part

Looking the part means dressing in a way that matches the impression you want to leave. This might mean wearing a professional business suit if it’s appropriate for the environment. But a corporate look can backfire in situations when it’s more appropriate to dress casually. Be aware of the environment and match your appearance accordingly — and then maybe step it up a notch.

It’s important to present yourself with style and on-trend with fashion. You don’t need to be a fashionista, but you do need to dump the jacket with huge shoulder pads. A put-together look with a clean and organized style communicates how you function at work, as well.

5. Know Your Value

Executive Presence isn’t about faking it, being arrogant, or kissing up to the top level of the organization. It’s more about owning your power and knowing your value — then embodying that power and value in your presence, wherever you go.

If you need help naming your value, write down 100 accomplishments and things you do well. You’ll probably be surprised how many of these you have forgotten or don’t acknowledge. If you get stalled, ask a friend or co-worker for their help.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to show up who try to sabotage your success with comments or actions that say, “You aren’t worthy.” Often the saboteur is our own inner critic. When this happens, remember that a saboteur’s aim is to purposefully destroy and do damage. This person’s opinions and words are not real, even if they feel very real.

You are worthy. You add value. And you need to share this value with your organization and the world for it to be a better place.

Don’t let valuable opportunities pass you by. Step into your power and know you deserve the success that you’ve earned.

Do you need help developing your leadership skills, including Executive Presence? Do you need help figuring out what type of leader you want to become? If so, I’m here for you.