Much of how women (and men) are perceived as leaders is tied absolutely to the way they communicate. In a male-dominated environment, particularly at senior management level, it is imperative that women learn to speak up and demand their place at the table. Without killer communication skills, women will fail to distinguish themselves.
Enter Executive Presence….
If you are a woman and want to be a leader, executive presence is crucial as it is the only thing that will drive you forward.
But what is it exactly?
People often refer to executive presence as charisma or the X-factor, or they sometimes refer to historical greats who are famed for attracting popularity through their presence alone. However, none of this is helpful.
So, how do we begin to embody charisma when it’s such a vague term and could mean different things to different people?
Executive presence is an art, like negotiation skills or acting. It’s fundamentally about developing your own original voice. It’s an art because it is deeply personal and must be refined and mastered over time through experimentation, failure and repeated execution.
9 Practical Tools to Increase Executive Presence:
1. Embrace Your Unique Value.
Nail your mind-set. Do not go into meetings doubting your own value. Prepare in advance; develop your own unique perspective based on your individual, hard-won experiences. Then walk in knowing you are an asset. Without you, this company would suffer a great loss. Know that.
2. Be Self-Aware.
Nail your body language. A killer pitch can be destroyed by lousy non-verbal communication. Don’t slouch. Don’t wave your arms about like you are drowning at sea. Stand upright and poised. Breathe deep, slow and regular. Look people in the eye and genuinely engage. And be calm and purposeful with your hand gestures. All of this engenders trust. You look like you can handle anything. And you can.
3. Think Before You Speak.
Most people waffle on without a thought for whether they make sense or are saying anything truly useful. So, cut out the preamble and meandering piffle. Consider your ultimate objectives and choose your words carefully to meet your needs. Don’t hurry to deliver the message. Take your time, be deliberate, and say much less than you think you need to.
Take deep breaths, deep into your belly, both before and during your presentation. This will relax you, increase your poise and calm the jumpy mind. Also sigh before you enter any high-pressure scenario. It works, as a deep, gut-felt sigh gives you permission to let go of any pent-up tensions that may have built up. When you sigh away tension, you release both physical and emotional repression, even if just for a moment. And, as you let go, your mind clears, your body relaxes and you become more relatable.
5. Use the Power of Silence.
Silence is an incredibly powerful tool and should never be underestimated. However, most of us feel awkward in a silence and are thus compelled to fill it. When you dare to pause, it puts you more in charge because suddenly you’re not the one making so much effort to drive a conversation forward. By taking a more detached role, you give the impression of authority.
A well-chosen pause also allows the listener to digest your message. At the same time, you give yourself the opportunity to assess your listeners’ behaviour. When you do that, you can tailor your words and actions accordingly and you became a class negotiator.
6. Meaningfully Engage with your Audience.
Powerful communication is far more than one-sided delivery. You need to relate and engage with others. You need to make the audience feel like they matter to you. And you do this by asking questions, gathering feedback, listening to what your audience says, reading their verbal and non-verbal cues and discerning what response to choose in light of these complex factors. When you do that, you become a rare leader.
7. Assert Boundaries.
Know where to draw the line. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to assert boundaries and refuse to people-please. Not everyone will like you but you will be OK with that. To a degree, you have to stop caring about what others think, as no one gets anywhere in life wasting time on other people’s negative or destructive criticism. However, stay open to constructive feedback: just shut out all the rest.
8. Employ Wit.
Never forget your sense of humour. I’ve often heard women say they are afraid to be playful at senior level in case they won’t be taken seriously. Yet this can backfire, as people who take themselves too seriously are ironically taken less seriously by their peers. A study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humour.
Your sense of humour is a reflection of your wit and intelligence. If you feel you don’t have wit, it’s a skill that can be learned just like any other. Humour is also important to diffuse tension, as well-placed humour will be appreciated and respected.
9. Dress the Part.
I don’t believe in prescribed uniforms. Wear what makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter whether you decide to power-dress or wear a hoodie with glitter boots. Because, all that matters is that you wear what you wear with the utmost pride and confidence. It’s how you wear something, not what you wear, that is important; so, own it.
In the corporate world, there are obvious limits. You can’t wear an elephant suit to work as much as it would please you. Nevertheless, you can always find a way, no matter how small, to assert your individuality through your choice of dress. Be creative and imaginative.
The winning thread that runs through each of these tools is YOU.
Your originality sits at the core of your ability to communicate authentically and powerfully. So, continually nurture and refine yourself, your voice and your inner strength.
Executive presence is inherently a developmental process of daily emotional weight-lifting, a process of becoming your real self when it is easier and more tempting to run with the herd and jump on the bandwagon of mediocrity.
As Jungian psychologist James Hollis states,
“We are not here to fit in, to be well-balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, clunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.”
Amy Tez is founder of Radical Collective Ltd, a coaching and consultancy practice that delivers masterclasses on pitching, executive presence and killer communication skills. She has coached over 1000 Seed and Series A+ tech companies and shares leadership insights at www.amytez.com/blog