What is Executive Presence and Why is It Important?

You’re sitting in a meeting room, surrounded by peers and senior executives—half of whom are nose down in laptops and iPhones, firing off last minute emails and texts. The other half are chatting and distracted.

You have a slight sense of tense anticipation for the meeting that’s about to happen. It’s likely you’ll be asked to speak and, for whatever reason, you find it hard to express yourself fully in front of this group.

Public speaking has never been your favorite activity, and it’s always toughest in front of senior leadership.

Your breath is short, there’s tightness in your chest, and just the slightest sense of dread.

The door opens, and in walks your CEO. She is smiling, and cracks a joke that makes the room laugh. She sits down without any notes in front of her and acknowledges those in the room. Immediately, the room is quiet and attentive, waiting for her to speak.

When she begins to talk, it’s as if she’s speaking naturally, without much effort at all. But what she says is clear, concise and lands with the participants in the room.

“I wish I could be more like her,” you think.

You watch how she moves, what she does with her hands.

You try to will away the nervousness inside, try to stop thinking about being nervous.

You try to will yourself to just "be more confident", or try (unsuccessfully) to improve your confidence in the moment.

You begin rehearsing what you want to say over and over in your mind before it’s your turn to talk.

You tell yourself you should be better at this.

It’s not always the case that a leader exemplifies Executive Presence. But when they do, like the CEO in the story, you know it. Rather, you feel it. And, for most people, you want it.

Unlike, learning a behavior—i.e., what to do with your hands when you talk, or how loud to speak, etc.—understanding Executive Presence is a matter of experiencing it inside yourself.

Executive Presence is a way of expressing the natural, authentic sense of calm power latent in every leader.

It is the art of leading in the present moment.

When a leader exemplifies Executive Presence, they can command and quiet a room without saying a word.

Often we are overwhelmed with the nerves of public speaking—whether it’s on stage, in a meeting, with senior leadership, with the people who work for us, industry peers, etc.

But a leader who embodies Executive Presence understands that it’s not about shaping yourself to be a different kind of person in order to lead.

Rather, it’s about relaxing into the present moment, enjoying it, even. It’s about having the confidence to listen to the points of view in a room, responding appropriately, and speaking from the heart.

It's about being more yourself.

Even as you read this, let your arms relax. Feel the breath moving unencumbered through your belly. Let yourself drop in to an inner sense of the feelings in your body. Let your feet rest heavy on the floor. Sense, in yourself, a kind of vital energy that inspires and motivates your work when you are at your most passionate.

What if you could be this relaxed surrounded by a room full of senior executives?

What if you could be as effortless in a meeting as you are with your friends?

What if you could express that vital, inspired passion in the heat of high pressure situations?

Executive Presence is calm. Calm communicates confidence. There is no need to dominate the room because your body is not threatened when it is calm.

You enter into a sort of intuitive flow, trusting you’ll know what to say when to say it.

Executive Presence is not necessarily yielding, either. When appropriate, you are willing to share disagreeing points of view.

You are willing to express what is true for you in the present moment.

Because you are grounded in your own inner strength and presence, you are not handing your power over to the reactions of the people around you.

Think of it this way: imagine walking down the street and coming across a stranger in the midst of a panic attack. What happens to your body? What kind of feelings do you feel when you encounter someone who is themselves experiencing threat?

In the same way, a leader who is tense, dominating and controlling is causing those around them to perceive, consciously or unconsciously, a threat. This kind of tension or fear is contagious.

When a leader understands and embodies Executive Presence, the reverse is true. People feel calm in their presence, more likely to share their true thoughts and feelings.

Ultimately, we trust Executive Presence. We sense an openness when a leader speaks and leads with this quality—one that is all too rare.

It is not the behaviors or what they say, but it is more about their “being.” Who they are being is relaxed and effortless, confident and fully expressed.

It’s like the French phrase “je ne sais quoi”—an idea we often associate with a certain, hard to describe something that is attractive to us. It’s not about the behaviors we exhibit, it’s less tangible than that.

It's who we are "being" in the moment.

This is the importance of Executive Presence. It’s a starting point to really great leadership, great public speaking, and great overall communication.

When we are calm and in tune with our natural internal power and presence, we can speak and lead with an authenticity and poise that cannot be learned—because it’s already there waiting for us to unleash.

 

About Justin

Justin Follin is an Executive presentation and performance coach/consultant. He specializes in working with public speakers, visionaries, performers and organizational leaders to 'up their game' in front of any audience. His unorthodox approach combines mindfulness, leadership development training, improvisational exercises and executive coaching tools to transform his clients’ abilities to inspire and lead. His work helps speakers and performers connect with audiences, better articulate core messages, and shift their ability to deliver big impact, dynamic presentations in high pressure situations. In a short amount of time, Justin’s clients experience far greater freedom and ease on stage an off--many overcoming long standing public speaking or stage anxiety in a matter of weeks. Along with his private consulting work, he is a communications and marketing lead for a global leadership and management consultancy as well as a singer, songwriter and bandleader in Austin, Texas.
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