There are some people who command a room simply by entering it. There's a look, an air of confidence that signals to others that this is a person of stature, of importance.
Some call it "executive presence," and it is not easy to command by merely dressing the part, though that's important. And it is most certainly not when someone overpowers a room by being loud or creating a commotion. In fact, a strong executive presence requires qualities that may surprise you. Executive presence is inextricably linked to effective leadership so that a leader needs to understand it.
What is it?
Strong leaders frequently emit an aura - that "x" factor that people notice and are influenced by. This aura is often referred to as "executive presence."
"Executive presence is substantially about self-confidence. Such an executive projects a calm, steady demeanor - someone who is warm and cordial, but not a back slapper," says HCA CEO Ted Bruccoleri. "They are good listeners, perceptive and articulate, speaking in clear and direct ways. They are supremely self-assured, but their confidence is displayed in a quiet more nuanced way,"
HCA Partner Cathy Lange, who heads the firm's executive coaching practice, says, "Executive presence is achieved by building a rapport with colleagues and gaining their trust. And an important part of that is effective communication."
It's not simply an issue of how to present to a large group. More important may be the ability to connect with people one on one. That's where the effective listening comes in. You need to read your audience, especially an audience of one. Understand how they communicate and how they might react to what you say.
Other Important Tips
When you do speak, be mindful of today's phenomena of shorter attention spans. People want to understand the gist of what you have to say, and the best way to do that is to be brief and concise. To be compelling you needn't be overpowering. You should have key facts ready to support your ideas but don't spill them out all at once. And when you are challenged, you must remain cool and collected.
Think and present strategically. When making a case for an initiative, link your organization's strategic goals to the matter at hand. Cite facts but not too many. Most importantly, detail the expected return on investment, and above all, tell a story.
And remember that being assertive does not mean being aggressive. When trying to persuade people, you must have and exhibit your emotional intelligence.
"Make a decision in advance on how you want to be perceived," says Lange. "When talking, remember to stop, breathe, think and then act."
First Impression Counts
Physical appearance and behavior may sound shallow, but initial impressions are undeniably critical to the image someone establishes. Here's what to do and not do in smaller encounters, according to Forbes magazine:
- Dress conservatively and neatly; quality clothes can make an indelible impression.
- Personal grooming is essential; an unkempt look detracts.
- Make continuing eye contact during conversations.
- Listen, display a sincere interest.
- Present a firm handshake.
- Don't fold your arms; it signals a lack of openness.
- Slightly lean in during a conversation but respect others' private space.
- Don't fidget or look away from your conversation partner.
- Smile, be cordial and enjoy the moment.
Improving your Presence
Steps for self-improvement:
- Perform some self-analysis: how do you stack up on the "EP" scale?
- Emulate co-workers and other leaders whom you admire ; analyze the traits and behaviors they exhibit to earn respect.
- Determine your personal style and personality: which of the "EP" behaviors can you successfully adopt?
- Work the new skills into your daily work life...and practice, practice, practice.
- Talk to your supervisor or mentor and have them observe you and provide feedback.
- Consider an executive coach if you are at a career stage where "EP" is essential for your success and development.
And, finally, research articles and books. "One of the most important books on executive presence," says Lange, "is Managing the Moment: A Leader's Guide to Building Executive Presence One Introduction at a Time by Lisa Parker.
In the end, mastering the art of executive presence is as much about how you relate to people as it is what you say. Inspiring others with a steady, sincere and empathetic demeanor defines great and memorable leadership.
To learn more about Human Capital Advisors, visit their website, or email Cathy Lange.