5 Strategies To Enhance Your Executive Presence

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:

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  • 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

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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!

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#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

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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.

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#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!

Self-Leadership: Turning Stressors to Strengths

Today’s world requires a great deal of personal and professional self-leadership. These are indeed disorienting times, and some find themselves simply overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, whether at home or at work. You are not alone. If you find yourself withdrawing from daily activities, being irritable more often than not, or engaging in avoidant strategies, it is time to mobilize your strengths for healthier outcomes.

Here are the major themes I have been hearing from clients over the past months. See if these are themes that you can shift from a stressor to a strength:

Stressor 1: I feel alone.

I hear this more and more from individuals. It may not be surprising given that we live a very mobile lifestyle, and many must relocate for professional reasons. Our demanding lives and the disintegration of community – such as knowing neighbors or being part of a church or club – reduces contacts more. In a 2011 study, the average American had three friends they could confide in. When this study was completed again in 2016, that number dropped to 2 friends. This does not mean we are becoming less social as a species, but perhaps we are engaging less with our community and hence find fewer emotional supports to lean on.

Strength: Proactively cultivating connection.

As social animals, we need to be with others and feel part of a group. I often ask my clients who report that they feel alone, “when was the last time you invited friends over for dinner or extended an invitation to someone for coffee?” Many cannot remember the last time they did so in a non-business-related framework. Another question that I ask is “what sort of organizations do you support or are you a part of?”

If feelings of loneliness is a stressor for you, create a list of 7 passions (those aspects of life that you look forward to engaging) and 7 interests (topics which you would like to learn more about) and challenge yourself to work towards these passions and interests more often. Be inspired and extend yourself to an activity or an invitation and savor some connection.

Stressor 2: People seem easily angered and upset.

It doesn’t take much to get a pulse on the stress and anxiety on a commute to and from work. I see higher levels of frustration and anxiety in family, friends, clients, and myself. We simply are always going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing.

Strength: Build activities that promote resilience.

There are many counter-measures to the increasing heated feelings we carry around. The three major ones I find immediately useful are exercise, meditation, and downtime with friends and family (and please take that vacation time you have accrued at work).

As a first step, complete the North Stars exercise: reflect on your 7 core values (philosophies or values) that guide you in life. At a quiet moment, ask yourself what is important to you. Then look at how those values are showing-up in your daily life. For example, if you put “nature” as a value but have not taken a hike in years, it is high time to do so.

Stressor 3: At times I feel hopeless or helpless to making change.

We all need a space that creates a respite – a place to retreat and recharge. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or complicated: the library, a walk in the park, or a coffee shop can provide such opportunity. Hopelessness and helplessness are the major drivers of anxiety and depression. Without a sense of a chance for change or options to change, human beings suffer.

Strength: Adapt to change in life.

In a rapidly changing world it is critical to adapt. Assess approaches that are useful for you to keep and jettison that which is no longer helpful. Resistance to adapting to new circumstances runs the risk of going “extinct.”

Taking a healthy step back provides an opportunity for greater perspective that is often lost when life is demanding. Try to get an aerial view of your options and opportunities, often best done in consultation with trusted people in your life, and then enact constructive adaptive change.

Conclusion

In leading change for oneself or others, it is critical to continually recombine our “DNA.” Look at the stressors in life and see how another perspective may allow you to change something destructive to a constructive outcome. This requires deploying your strengths in order to undertake the challenging task of change. It also requires engaging in self-care in order to manage the disequilibrium that change requires. Change is possible and new normals will emerge, but it requires ongoing adaptation to not only survive, but also (and most importantly), thrive.