The Secret Behind Improving Your Executive Presence? Be Yourself

I get this question from clients regularly: “How can I develop my executive presence?” This question, while I completely understand where it comes from, misses the point.  Let me explain this a bit further.

First, let’s start by defining the term “executive presence.”  What does it actually mean?  When I ask this question to my clients I usually get descriptions like “inspirational” or “someone that people want to follow.”  These are good, and I agree that they could be part of how we define executive presence.  

When I dig in a bit further, clients usually have someone in mind that they’re picturing when they think of executive presence.  Someone from their company usually–like an influential leader, an executive, or the CEO.  This is where things get off course a bit.

It’s not that the people that come to mind don’t have executive presence–they usually have plenty of it!  The issue is this: executive presence comes in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, mannerisms, social styles, and delivery.  Sure, there are commonalities in delivery that make people more impactful–things like pausing, making eye contact, and engaging the audience.  But the larger point is this–executive presence is about authenticity…And the ability to hold people’s attention.  

Stop and consider this for a moment.  You–however you naturally are when you’re feeling comfortable and confident–are perfectly suited for exuding executive presence.  You do it at times and you don’t even realize it.  

Think about a time when you’re amongst friends or close co-workers and you’re telling a story about something that happened to you over the weekend.  You’re not thinking about this, but you’ve got executive presence in that moment.  Why?  Because you’re using your authentic voice and mannerisms–you’re uniquely you–and you’re holding people’s attention as you tell a story in this case.  

Your “audience” is following along and visualizing your story as you speak. They likely feel an emotional pull–either mild or strong–based on what you’re saying.  

This is executive presence!  That’s it!  

“But wait, Tim, what about those other commonalities you mentioned before?”  Think about it this way.  If you are 1) using your authentic voice and mannerisms and 2) holding your audience’s attention as you communicate, you are 80% of the way there.  The other 20% is comprised of techniques that take practice, repetition, and sometimes even coaching.  I’m not ignoring or undermining these skills (and they are skills).  I’m just saying that when people seek out improvement in executive presence, they usually are chasing the 20% and neglecting the 80%.  

“OK, so now what do I do with this information?”

One, you reflect on your own communication.  Are you showing up authentically when you speak?  

Try this exercise–briefly record yourself speaking about a topic from work.  Review the footage (gasp!).  Trust me, it’s worth the uncomfortable feeling of watching yourself back.  Notice what you see and feel as you watch the clip back.  Do you sound like you imagine yourself sounding when you’re feeling comfortable and confident?  

For comparison, try recording yourself speaking about a different topic–something personal this time.  What do you notice when you watch this clip back?  

Usually we notice more warmth, energy and connection in the second clip.  If you notice this, it’s likely because you got yourself–without even thinking about it–into your comfort zone, or the zone you get into with people you know and trust.  

The takeaway here is to find ways to get yourself into this mode more consistently when you communicate.  When you do, people naturally tend to listen more intently than when you’re only focusing on getting your words out correctly.  Conveying a feeling is always the goal when communicating to an audience.  

So if you’re interested in making the highest impact change when it comes to your executive presence, look inward.  You’ve already got it.  Embrace it, explore it, and expand it.  And while you’re at it, start to explore the micro details (i.e. the 20%) that can improve your natural style even more.  Check out this article for more on that.  

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Hey, I’m Tim.

Tim Fortescue is an executive coach who specializes in leadership and communication development for teams. In short, he’s here to help you be consistently you.

The Testimonials

“In working with Tim, I refined my ability to connect with a variety of audiences. We built a structure that works for me, and it was fun working with him! That’s why I trust him to coach other leaders on my team.”

- Yamini Rangan

CEO at Hubspot


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