When I set up a coaching engagement, I try to get to know my clients pretty quickly. I ask their developmental goals, we pour over their 360-degree assessments, and discuss their personality, values and motivations. I also talk with their boss to get that perspective. Many times what I see on paper – the strengths, behaviors, courage, innovation and intelligence – just does not come across when I’m with the client in person or on the phone. What’s missing? Executive presence.
Filler words crowded out his brilliance
The first client looked great on paper, but I realized that he used a lot of filler phrases (his favorite was “you know”). In one phone coaching session, I counted 50 of them in 20 minutes. It was less noticeable in person. When I brought it to his attention, he was very surprised and immediately wanted to fix it.
What did the filler words tell his associates about his professional presence? I bet they felt he was unsure, too casual, and not articulate. Maybe they avoided him completely because they found him annoying.
In my first job out of college, I’m grateful to have had a communication class where we were videotaped. I was horrified to see and hear all the “ummms” filling the space of my communication. I learned that the best way to stop using these non-words or other filler phrases is to just pause and breathe. These techniques helped my client as well.
What is your face telling the world?
Another example of showing up one way and looking different on paper was a client who had an awesome resume. Great results, action verbs, quantifiable projects launched and completed, creative problem solver, continuous learner – everything I read told me this was a leader who truly takes charge.
When I met him, however, he came across with low energy; his posture in the chair was meek and passive, and he looked unengaged. I felt that the success I read about in the resume must have been someone else’s. Why? Because he did not show up confidently. The good news is that through working together, he gained confidence, engaged more, prepared better and actually started driving the conversation. This told me he wanted to get something out of our coaching.
Over time, he learned to check his expression in the mirror often and learn what his face was telling the world. Preparing better for conversations, interviews and networking meetings gave him more confidence, and helped him come up with stronger words and stories to tap into when answering common questions.
We worked on posture while standing and sitting, the value of a strong handshake and the importance of eye contact. The more we practiced and the more he experimented with his network, the easier it all became.
Leaders take up space
Finally, I worked with an executive who was very capable. She had an engineering degree, a strong career of leading through change, and each year she took on tougher projects and turned out great results. Yet, her boss felt she came across as less than powerful. “She was not ready for the boardroom,” he said. We worked on how she could take up more physical space in the room, get better voice control to sound more powerful, and trust her gut.
In addition, we worked on listening skills, which helped her gain support while working through tough issues with her stakeholders. Simply reframing the issue and asking better questions gave stakeholders more confidence in her thinking.
She was not meek. She had brilliant ideas that just needed to be communicated powerfully for all to follow. We simply added new behaviors to her toolkit that gave her more confidence. This showed up as greater executive presence to others.
It may not be fair that we are judged on these things, but perception is reality. What perception of your executive presence are people getting from your communication, body language and demeanor? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.