Executive presence is the elusive quality that helps you weave a spell over the room before you’ve even spoken. Hard to identify but easy to spot when it’s absent, presence is a blend of charisma, energy and gravitas. Together, these values represent your authentic brand of communication and leadership. By trusting them, and trusting yourself, others will trust your judgements.
When people value your opinion, they are willing to accept your recommendations and decisions. Trust comes from depth of character. There are no shortcuts. In trying to be ‘professional’, you end up diluting your personality. Rather than trusting your authenticity, you end up sacrificing it.
Our eLearning Learnflix course on Executive Presence shows you how to rely on what leadership expert Suzanne Bates calls the ‘three dimensions of executive presence’ – style, character and substance. They can be broken down into manageable bite-size chunks that can be learned and developed with practice. Rather than disappearing in a puff of smoke when you most need it, executive presence will become a core feature of your personality that you’ll always be able to rely on.
Together, your body language and tone of voice present the clearest signal on whether other people can trust you. Controlling the tone and volume of your voice, and adjusting body language, posture, eye contact and gestures, will help you stay in command under pressure.
In the 1990s, scientists discovered so-called ‘mirror neurons’, described by Oxford psychologist Dr. Cecilia Heyes as ‘the key to social cognition’. Research suggests that, whether we are performing an action or simply observing it, these brain cells fire in the same way. Humans are wired to learn from and be affected by the people around them. Think of the last time you were with someone who was in either a good or bad mood — and the effect it had.
Keeping this in mind, if a person’s high energy and mood are contagious, it will inform the audience how they should feel about a subject. Similarly, low energy and a subdued mood will have the opposite effect. Facts might speak for themselves, but they’re not always easily heard. If you don’t sound interested in them, your audience won’t be either.
Of the three dimensions of executive presence, arguably the most important is character. This is the sum total of you, your values, beliefs, talents and formative experiences. These intangible qualities make you uniquely you. They motivate action and make work and life meaningful. Style can feel easier to master but without the solid foundation of character communication may be hollow and uninspiring.
Clues about your character lie in your accomplishments. They don’t determine your worth but are evidence of your talents, qualities and values. By listing your achievements and the inner qualities they sprang from, you can find a readily available source of confidence based entirely on your character. Understanding it, and being true to who are, will help you nail your sense of authentic presence.
Having developed your authentic style, and understood the character you know yourself to be, you need to have something to say. The substance of your message is made up of the facts, ideas, and experiences you choose to share. This relies on an ability to connect with people using social and emotional intelligence. It’s important to carry your audience with you. To speak with conviction, you should believe in what you say and believe in the people you’re saying it to (…or at least appear to).
On entering a room, executive presence sets the tone. Hold on to it with storytelling skills that capture your audience. By structuring your story in a way that is engaging and inspiring, you will influence your audience and inspire them to act on your message.
Securing your personal brand
Executive presence contributes to your personal brand, which lingers long after you’ve left the room. Personal brand is the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind when others think of you. It’s what you stand for – the values, abilities and actions that others associate with you. The stronger your executive presence, the stronger your personal brand.
Ultimately, executive presence is associated with integrity, the one thing only you control in any situation. You can check up on whether you’re upholding your values by reflecting every now and again on whether you’re acting in line with your beliefs. If you find you’re working contrary to them, it’s important to address this quickly. Your reputation and self-esteem are at stake. This is because at the heart of integrity is honesty, the unvarnished truth that underpins executive presence and which is plain for all to see.