Executive Presence: What Is It and How Can I Build It?

Developing and Displaying Your Executive Presence

Ever been in a meeting when an executive with real leadership skill walks into the room? Everything subtly changes. Voices quiet, smiles widen, backs straighten, and anticipation is heightened. That effect is less about title and more about the qualities others perceive in this executive. In the business world, those qualities loosely fit under an umbrella called “executive presence,” and while we may have trouble defining it, we all know it when we see it.

Many assume you’re either a natural-born leader, able to elicit that kind of a response in others, or you’re not. Those with strong executive presence however know this “soft skill” is no accident of personality. Those with executive presence understand the need to develop and display their leadership qualities so that they are obvious to ALL. For executive presence to have that kind of effect, it has to be obvious to even those who don’t work with you day-to-day. So what are the qualities we’re talking about when we speak of “executive presence” and how can we all hone and display these in the workplace, regardless of title?  Keep the following tips in mind when building your executive presence in the workplace.

Confidence
We all know leaders are supposed to be people with confidence, but it’s how they display that confidence that matters most. After all, many executives are supremely confident in their own opinions while getting it absolutely wrong!  Those with real executive presence display confidence not by insisting they’re right, but by soliciting the opinions and views of others and clearly valuing those opinions, regardless of outcome. An executive who can look someone else in the eye and truthfully state, “I’d really like to hear your opinion on this,” is someone everyone can appreciate. Confidence is not about having all the answers, it’s about knowing how to get them. If you’re someone who lacks confidence, give yourself every tool you can to change that. Be the FIRST one at the meeting and give yourself time to settle in. Think about how you’ll speak up, and then prepare to do so.

Clarity
Someone who displays executive presence is someone everyone can understand.  Being clear isn’t about “dumbing it down.” It’s about lifting up your key points so that ALL can understand them and be motivated by them. Leaders are those who have the ability to make even the complex understandable and to do it in a way they know will resonate with others.  Being persuasive isn’t about citing a long list of statistics until you’ve worn your audience down, or displaying how smart you are. It’s about tailoring your communication precisely based on what you know about your audience, their needs, and the best way to motivate them toward a conclusion.  Think “I know what you care about,” instead of “Here’s what you need to do.” You can help others get there as well by offering help to a struggling colleague: “So let me understand your point. You’d like us to move ahead while we’re resolving this issue, so we won’t fall behind?”

Authenticity
There’s a reason you’re speaking to others. Whether you’re in a meeting with co-workers or briefing the boss, or interacting with clients, others are going to form ideas about you and your abilities. Regardless of the reputation you’ve built, or your accomplishments or resume, people are going to have their own opinions of you. We all have a good deal of trust in our ability to do so through interactions, no matter how brief or seemingly unimportant. If you want others to believe you’re someone with leadership ability, someone worth listening to, stay authentic. Show people who you are and what you’re capable of, rather than trying to mold yourself to what you think others want to see. Those with real executive presence are those who are authentically themselves and show it.  Think “This is how I’d like to get there” rather than, “What do I need to do to get there?”

Remember, executive presence involves a large range of leadership qualities regardless of whether you currently have a leadership title.  Clear away the barriers that prevent people from seeing you as a leader. Show them you are one.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

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The Three WORST Pieces of Advice Given Presenters

And how best to ignore them

Ever hear the one about picturing your audience naked to overcome your fear of presenting to them? How about the one about practicing in front of a mirror? Anyone who has ever tried either of those well-meaning tropes knows how futile they are. Deluding ourselves that we can calm fears by laughing at our audience, or that we can convince them of anything by faking authenticity, is worse than a waste of time.  It prevents us from using our greatest power as presenters: our true selves.

Nothing is quite as powerful as watching and listening to someone who is passionate about what they know and knows how to share it with an audience they know how to connect with. So what other well-meaning advice can we ignore as we build those powerful presentation skills? Try ignoring these “how to’s” and substituting some genuine skill builders.

Worst Advice:

Memorize Your Presentation
Now this one sounds reasonable enough on the surface. After all, much of our fear about presenting is wrapped up in our fear of looking foolish in front of others. Some of that comes from our fear of drawing a blank when all eyes are on us. If we memorize our presentation, that won’t happen, right? Perhaps, but what will certainly happen is that we’ll be taken out of “the moment” as we put all of our energy and attention on recalling the least significant portion of our presentation: the literal words. Suddenly, we’re not focused on the immediate reaction we’re getting from the audience or on making sure we’re connecting with them. We’re focusing instead on making sure the words keep coming. That sets the bar too low: surviving the presentation until the end isn’t your goal. CONNECTING to your audience is.

Instead: Know Your Presentation
Focus on the essence of what you’re presenting: namely your key messages. This is what’s most important for your audience to understand. If the worst happens and all of your materials and notes disappeared, how would you summarize what you came to say?  Put those bigger ideas up front and build your presentation around them. Your audience won’t likely remember all of the supporting details, but they should remember your key points. Worry less about repeating the exact words you intended and more about making sure you’re connecting. If you see heads nodding, react. If you see puzzled looks, don’t just plow through. Stop and make sure you’re not rushing ahead of your audience just to fill space. Slow yourself down and make sure you really see your audience and gauge their reactions. Remember, no one knows what you were supposed to say, so don’t let a pause or different phrasing than you’d planned throw you.


Use a Lot of Bullets

For some reason, lots of presenters think they can take a long, dry presentation and suddenly make it come alive if they can just add enough bullets to the screen. Ever sit through one of those presentations where the bullets don’t in any way indicate an abbreviated point? Heck, they may not even indicate a point! Here’s the thing: TEXT ON A SLIDE IS NOT A VISUAL AID. There is nothing about text that makes it more understandable, or illustrative, than the spoken word, by itself.

Instead: Put the Visual Back in Visual Aid
Are there actual visuals that would help illustrate your points? Can you bring in relevant charts, graphs, photos, illustrations to help your audience “see” your points? If you must use bullets, greatly reduce them and the words you use. Your audience didn’t come to read and they didn’t come to listen to YOU read to them. (Hint: if you use punctuation in your bulleted information, you’re using too many words.)


More is Better

Ever sit through a presentation that’s a product of many hands? More detail, more slides, with the presenter intoning something like…”..and here you can see again..…“ or “this is just yet another example of…” Yes, you want to prove your key points. Data does help you do that. However, information overload may quickly confuse your audience and actually mask your key points.

Instead: Pointed is Powerful
Limit your backup points and secondary data to your “best stuff.” Ask yourself whether any given slide is necessary, why, and what might instead be moved to handout material. Remember, this is ORAL presentation. That means it’s necessary for presenters to pay attention to higher messages, with just enough information to lend strong support. Remember, you are the presentation, so stay center stage.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Communicating With Power: A New Year’s Resolution

Getting Past the Myths of “Women Can’t”  

Remember “Mean are from Mars and Women are from Venus”? Family therapist John Gray was hardly the first to insist communication problems are gender-based. In fact, Gray’s pop-psychology tome of the early 90’s simply gave way to decades of popular psychology about the supposed female deficit communicating from the executive suite.

For many women trying to climb the corporate ladder, the takeaway unfortunately has been that communicating “like a man” would be essential to success. A whole marketplace of communication training now exists, based on the notion of fixing” women’s supposed lack of professional communication skills.The only thing wrong with the concept is that it’s bunk.

Even if you don’t believe the research debunking gender communication differences in the brain (i.e.one of many studies such as the  Purdue study finding gender differences even in interpersonal communication smaller than differences between individuals , or a 2015 brain scan study debunking the popular notion of gender brain differences www.newscientist.com/article/dn28582-scans-prove-theres-no-such-thing-as-a-male-or-female-brain/),  it’s hard to set aside widely held notions of a female disadvantage in workplace communication skills.

The healthier reality I’ve observed in coaching hundreds of executives to success, is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the communication problems of the sexes.

There’s nothing actually gender-specific about confidence or clarity—two essentials for powerful public communication. The ability to maintain eye contact or to speak thoughtfully using direct and powerful language is gender neutral. Certainly it would be difficult to correlate gender to the ability to speak with conviction and passion—all hallmarks of powerful and persuasive communication.

What I see instead is an array of common communication problems. Highly successful executives of both genders often have trouble knowing what to leave out, how to explain complex ideas without overwhelming an audience, how to motivate, how to project confidence, how to communicate powerfully and portray authenticity. Both male and female executives often complain when seeking help about not having a “natural” talent for communicating, by which they mean, it fills them with anxiety (particularly when the stakes are high). Of course nature and talent aren’t what’s called for here; preparation and hard work are.

The good news is powerful communication is about the clarity of the vision; not the gender of the visionary.

It’s about the power of the message, not the sex of the messenger.

The truth is, women aren’t a special class of disabled communicators, nor are men who don’t feel masters of the skill, somehow ‘naturally’ lacking.

Presenting and public speaking are acquired skills and the real truth is anyone can improve. Anyone can learn to be a powerful and effective public communicator for their ideas. Anyone can learn to let others see them at their authentic best. So whether you get professional coaching (ahem), or opt for informal feedback on your own, resolve to get there. Commit to showing yourself at your absolute public best. It’s too important for your own career success to perform at anything less than at your most powerful!

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

TPG Included in TechSpeak Guide

TPG’s Aileen Pincus contributes to business communication best seller

(Washington DC) — “VALLEYSPEAK-2017,” a light hearted look at Silicon Valley jargon, includes a contribution from TPG on the use of elevator pitches. The book is intended to guide people through the stumbling block of jargon that could interfere with those seeking to communicate in the nation’s leading tech hub.

“Valley Speak-2017” by Rochelle Kopp and Steven Ganz has been named the eLit Gold Medal Winner for the year and is available on Amazon.

TPG’s President Aileen Pincus was interviewed on best practices for business communicators and for tips on avoiding the jargon that blocks clear and powerful communication.

For more on VALLEYSPEAK, visit http://www.siliconvalleyspeak.com/

Briefing How To’s : Tips and Techniques to Deliver A Briefing Worth Listening To

Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.

Briefing isn’t just another word for presentation. A briefing is designed to point the listener toward “precise instruction or essential information” according to Webster’s definition. In practical terms, that means the essence of your job as a briefer is to facilitate some kind of action.

That means the first thing to ask yourself before putting together your briefing is why you’ve been asked to give it. You can’t develop your key points if you don’t know how or why this information is going to be used, or exactly what piece of information you gather will be the most useful to the person you’re briefing. The essential work for any briefer is in the preparation and in knowing your audience, what he/she or they might need, and then delivering it. If you want to hit the mark with every briefing you deliver, follow these best practices:

START AT THE END
You can’t brief well if you don’t know where you’re heading. Remember, this is a talk with a specific purpose, designed to deliver essential information for a decision maker. What’s the conclusion you’re going to reach? Get that up front and build your briefing from these “messages.” Don’t keep your target audience waiting and wondering what all this adds up to. You want to state your case and then spend the bulk of your time proving it by adding the essential information that led you there.

KEEP FOCUSED ON THE WIN
Remember this isn’t about everything your target audience needs to know. It’s about the ESSENTIAL things he/she or they need to know NOW in order to make a decision. Stay focused on the WIN, What’s Important Now. That means you want to distill your information to a few key points and back those up with your best verifying information. Then let the person you’re briefing guide you to any more detail in the question and answer portion of the briefing.

STAKE A CLAIM
This is no place for a wishy-washy, “on the one hand-on the other hand” type of dissertation. Briefings, remember, have a particular purpose. Don’t wait for your target audience to ask you, “So what’s your conclusion?” or “Which of these options do you think is best?” The whole point is to state a case and prove it. If your target wants you to talk about a different option, that’s fine as well, but be ready to make your case either way. You’ll have to stick your neck out to be a useful briefer. This isn’t just a random collection of information you’re delivering. Even if the best you can do is a briefing that concludes “we need more time” or “we don’t know yet,” make sure it’s clear why this is your conclusion and stand behind it.

REMEMBER TO BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING
Never deliver a briefing with conclusions that you don’t believe yourself. This isn’t acting. Your usefulness to a decision maker demands credibility. Make sure you can deliver that to the best of your ability, in every briefing, every time.

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.