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Top 10 Signs of Executive Presence

© xixinxing –

It may surprise you to hear that you don’t have to be outspoken to exude executive presence. I coach many introverts who have great presence. Their first step towards it was to gain awareness of 10 specific non-verbal and verbal cues displayed with executive presence.


Often, I ask clients to sit in a busy lobby and observe others by their walk, posture and dress. I ask them to guess what position these people hold in the organization. Soon my clients are skilled at recognizing these cues in others, and cultivating them for themselves.

Calm: 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. Figure out what it takes you to be calm. Is it being prepared?

Posture: Line up your ears and shoulders with your hips. Why? It will help you breathe more deeply, thus bringing more oxygen to your brain. Plus you will stand taller. To borrow an expression from dance, “Use your size.” Stand up straight and take up space. Fill even more space with hand gestures as you speak. If you are small, these things are even more important.

Eye contact: Ensure you always make eye contact before you speak, and that you manage your eye focus appropriately when communicating with more than one person — one thought per person. Ensure your facial expression matches your message.

Appearance: Choose your clothing and accessories carefully. Make sure your overall look fits the level of the position you aspire to, yet is appropriate for your industry and culture.

Intentional listening: 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, others will know that you are solely focused on them, and not distracted. You make them feel important.


Words: Not only is your content important, but the language you choose to deliver it will impact your credibility. Cut out the non-words such as “um,” “uh” and “so” because they detract from presence. Minimizers like “kind of,” “sort of,” and “this may not be a good idea, but…” also detract. When someone with strong presence speaks, others notice and take note.

Clarity: To exude presence, clear communication is fundamental. If your point is unclear, any hope of commanding attention is lost. Overly complicating things confuses others, while clarity drives action and there is elegance in simplicity. Invest in fine-tuning your own communications to be as straightforward as possible, and set the same standard for everyone within your organization.

Brevity: Being verbose kills presence. Just as it is critical to know what you want to communicate, you must be able to do it concisely. 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. Think of each word as costing you money. Be selective and choose words wisely.

Engagement: In order to gain influence and cooperation, it’s critical to engage others when communicating and make them feel comfortable. The best way to connect is to understand your own communication style, read others and adapt to others’ styles as appropriate.

Voice: To communicate confidence, your voice must have good pitch, variation and pace.

Isn’t more interesting to listen to a speaker who varies the highs and lows and does not speak in a monotone? Speed should be variable to keep it interesting; pause to emphasize key words. Women, be careful to speak in a deeper voice, as you will sound more credible. If your voice is naturally high, record yourself and play it back, working on lowering your voice. Model it after women who do have executive presence. Finally, don’t speak so fast that no one can follow you. The Six Minutes blog has great resources on this subject, based on the Toastmasters system.

Everyone can improve their executive presence. All it takes is reflection, practice and coaching. Coaching is critical because rarely do we get feedback on these topics and a good coach can make it safe to discuss these issues and help you improve.

Who do you know who exudes executive presence? Can you think of both an introvert and extrovert with these qualities?

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