As I mentioned in my previous post, my first step in my journey to executive presence is self-reflection. I recently asked our field marketers to self-calibrate their skills in each of the tools in our tech stack. So it’s fitting for me to honestly self-calibrate my executive presence.
I think I’m self-aware enough to know my weaknesses, but this exercise is for me to take the time to truly reflect on myself. Not in the sense of “Ugh…I wish I were wittier. How can I be witty?”; more so sitting with myself and thinking through how I approach certain situations and why.
I found this article, 7 Traits Of Executive Presence, The Key To Winning People Over, and felt it would be useful in my self-calibration. For each trait, I wrote down – on paper – where I succeed and where I fall down. Surprisingly, as I went through this, trends started to emerge about what makes me tick. I’m putting the abridged version of that exercise here.
Composure: Self-awareness and understanding others are essential components of executive presence. The ability to control your emotions, recognize emotion in others and manage your response to them is key.
I have to have the last word more times that I like to admit! Especially when I’m fired up. To me, that speaks to a need to improve how I manage my responses when certain emotions arise. However, on the flip side, when someone is honest with me, about myself or otherwise, or shares their vulnerability with me, I like to think that I stay composed and objective.
Connection: It’s critical to engage others when communicating and make them feel comfortable. The best way to connect is to understand your communication style challenges, how to overcome them, and how to read and adapt to the style of others.
This was a hard one to be honest with myself about. When I am (or think I am) the expert on a topic, I sometimes unintentionally talk down to people. This has never been my intent, but it comes down to the saying “people may forget what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel”. And I think I’ve made some people feel not so great. On the flip side, when I’m close to someone it’s easy for me to make a connection, and meet them where they are in terms of communication style.
Charisma: People who embody executive presence have the ability to draw others to them. This is often achieved through strong listening skills and an ability to stay “in the moment.” As a result, the people with whom you are communicating know that you are solely focused on them, and not distracted by the many other things you could be doing at that moment. They matter to you.
I am the least charismatic person I know. Unless you take me out for happy hour, then I’m a blast. 🙂 But in all seriousness, this definition of charisma doesn’t read as extroverted or a good joke teller; this feels achievable for my introverted self. How many times have I (or you), multi-tasked during a phone call? The person/people you’re speaking with can feel that. When someone makes you feel that they have your undivided, sincere attention, they feel that, too.
Confidence: One key aspect of executive presence is to communicate confidence both in what you say and how you say it. To appear confident, good posture is essential. Next, eye focus is critical. Ensure you only speak when making eye contact and manage your eye focus appropriately when communicating with more than one person — one thought per person. Ensure your facial expression matches your message and that your voice has good pitch, volume, and pace. And of course, you must look the part. Choose your wardrobe and accessories carefully.
I have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde relationship with confidence. Sometimes, I can speak intelligently and confidently for hours – I can present to hundreds of people and feel energized. In other situations I’m a complete clam. During this self-reflection exercise, I realize that the moments where I’m the expert in the room on a topic, I feel 100% confident and cool. The moment where I have to speak to a topic that I’m not 100% sure about, I flounder because I begin to second guess myself.
The “in the room” comment was revealing to me, as I was reflecting. Why does it matter who’s in the room versus what the topic is? For example, if I’m talking to a room of sales reps about social media, I’ll own the joint. If you get me in a room with 20 Fortune 500 social media experts…not so much. If you put me in a room with non-dancers and ask me to talk about Samba, I’d have words for day. Put me in a room with a bunch of Samba dancers…crickets. This tells me that I have to be 99.9% sure that I’m in situations where it’s difficult for the audience to question my expertise. I really do need to become a better BS-er.
Credibility: Not only is your content important, but the language you choose to deliver it will impact your credibility. Filler language such as “um,” “uh,” and “so” immediately detract from presence. As do minimizers like “just,” “sort of,” and “this may not be a good idea but…” When someone with strong presence speaks, others take note, and there is no doubt of the conviction behind their words.
I have credibility when it comes to my area of expertise, but my delivery could improve. I’ve actively tried to avoid minimizers in business communications for awhile, though fillers are a weakness.
Clarity: For you to exude presence, the ability to clearly communicate is fundamental. If your point is unclear, any hope of commanding attention is lost. Ask yourself, “What is my message in 10 words or fewer?” If you can’t articulate it to yourself you are not ready to communicate it to others.
Conciseness: Being verbose kills presence. Just as it is critical to know what you want to communicate, you must be able to do it concisely. Once you’ve delivered your message and validated it briefly, reverse back to others by asking, “What else can I share with you about this idea?” This way you stay on point and only expand on a topic with the content that your listener needs.
I’m combining clarity and conciseness, because they’re very similar. There’s something called “the curse of knowledge” which is the concept that the more you know about something, it’s harder to remember what it was like to not know said thing. In my quest to try to avoid the curse of knowledge, I tend to over-explain to the point that the person I’m talking to loses interest or is completely lost! I need to work on being succinct in certain situations and verbose in others (small talk is my nemesis).
So now that I’ve laid all of these weaknesses out for the world to see. I’m going to tackle each, one at a time, starting with Composure…