By Janine Castro
What is executive presence, other than a very trendy term that has infiltrated into the business lexicon? The best, short definition that I’ve run across is “a strong personal brand” (Susan Bates). Executive presence is hard to break into components because it is more than a sum of its parts; however, there is general agreement that it is a culmination of appearance, confidence, and voice, but above all, it is authenticity – the quality of being trustworthy and reliable.
General wisdom is that executive presence is developed over time and can be learned, but personal attributes vary widely. Interestingly, giving presentations is one of the primary methods recommended for the development of executive presence. Speakers do not have the luxury to develop executive presence over time – they must make the most of their few minutes on stage, and even more of the first few seconds when they take the stage.
Imagine a typical scientific conference where each speaker is allotted 20 minutes. You are comfortably seated near the front of the room, notebook in hand. What do you notice as the speaker walks towards the dais? Body mass and posture are all that you can determine from a distance, but as the speaker nears, you are able to view their clothing and facial expression. If we accept the widely held notion that over 70% of our communication is non-verbal, we now “know” quite a bit about the speaker, or at least we have made a series of judgments. Are they well-groomed and prepared or fidgety and nervous? Before the speaker even reaches the lectern, we have made a whole series of assumptions, and we have established our expectations.
Once the speaker takes position in front of the audience, are they engaging and command attention? Do they make eye contact? Is their voice strong and confident? Are they prepared and do they instill confidence? These are all traits of executive presence – the ability to grab attention, hold attention, and convince the audience that they should listen. The speaker is authentic.
One of the many benefits of improving your speaking skills is that you are also increasing your executive presence, and increased executive presence results in more opportunities for advancement and recognition. Remember, you only get to make a first impression once.