Executive presence is how we show up everyday – from the boardroom to the living room. It’s our ability to inspire confidence, engender trust, and let others know we’re reliable and capable. Our executive presence determines opportunities and opens doors. It influences how people evaluate us and make decisions about hiring us or promoting us, often when we are not even in the room.
Understanding executive presence is as simple as knowing your A-B-C: Appearance, Behavior and Communication. Our appearance is not only about how we look but also comprises our body language. Our behavior includes three key components: empathy, composure and confidence. Developing effective communication requires the ability to read a room, speak with clarity, and deliver messages concisely.
So how do we go about enhancing our executive presence?
First off, self-awareness is key. Leaders with strong executive presence are always aware of these ABCs. They understand what they want to convey and how to convey it, while also being in tune with how others perceive them.
Here are five things they do well and what you can do to improve your own executive presence:
#1: Adopt positive body language
Your body language is a silent but powerful communicator. In other words, your posture, facial expressions, and gestures convey volumes about your executive presence. So, what does positive body language look like? There are 3 keys:
Good posture – typically standing tall, shoulders back - not hunched - and back straight
Open position – this means a relaxed look with arms and legs uncrossed and fists unclenched with open palms
A smile and good eye contact always indicate receptivity and engender trust
I recommend practicing in front of the mirror to become more conscious about how you come across. For more about how body language can shape who you are, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk.
#2: Listen first, react later
This is important for developing a connection with the other person and is considered a leadership trait. To be a better communicator, listen without distraction and multitasking to truly understand what the other person is saying. Epictetus once said, “Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”
To improve your listening abilities, don’t think about what you’re going to say - rather, listen to truly understand where the other person is coming from. When the person is done, recap or summarize what the other person said so you can demonstrate that you understood what they’re saying and can then add your perspective as needed. Happy listening!
#3: Become intentional about your appearance
Most people never put a lot of thought into what they wear. Yes, we get influenced by the weather and seasons, but how many times have you thought about your day and the people with whom you will interact.
By learning to dress for the audience and the occasion, you become thoughtful and intentional about what you want to convey about your own self and the type of impression you want to create. So choose your presentation with care! This includes not only your clothes, but also your accessories, hairstyle, fragrance, and grooming. My tip to clients is to think about the person that you need to be in any situation - then dress, groom, and accessorize in a way that helps you mentally step into that personality.
#4: Communicate with clarity and conciseness
Verbosity kills executive presence. If you cannot convey your message effectively in 10 words or less, you’re losing your audience. This is especially critical in today’s technology-driven world where attention spans are constantly decreasing.
Here’s a simple exercise that will make you self-aware about your verbal skills. Pick a topic – for example, how would you introduce yourself at a networking event. Record yourself for 30 seconds using your smartphone. Then playback and listen for how long your sentences were, how many filler words (ums, ahs, likes, etc.) you used, and whether you effectively conveyed who you are and what you do.
#5: Watch yourself on camera
The best way to assess your presence is to record yourself on video. You don’t need costly and bulky equipment - our smartphones are valuable tools. Similar to the above exercise, record yourself but this time observe your body language, facial expressions, your energy levels, and your movements. You’ll be amazed at the feedback you give yourself.
Executive presence can be learned. You don’t have to be born with it, but you must work at it. Self-awareness is key. Once you begin to observe yourself and understand how others perceive you, you can begin to take small steps to address each element of appearance, behavior, and communication. Be open to feedback but don’t judge yourself too harshly - remember to have fun with this!
Priya Gopal is an executive coach and image consultant who works with entrepreneurs and professionals to develop strong skills in the areas of leadership, communication and executive presence. Through customized training and coaching, her clients have demonstrated high-impact results and strong professional growth.