Keys to Executive Conversations: Executive Presence—What It Is and How You Get It

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Executive presence is not a new trend. It’s always been a critical skill for top executives.

What is executive presence? 

Defining executive presence is a gray area because for many it is the essence of leadership. It isn’t a technique, but an embedded skill that becomes a personal trait which gives you power and influence over others. 

Presence isn’t something you give yourself. It is something you earn from those around you who come to respect your right to speak and your ability to lead. Some have called it an “earned authority.” 

And although it’s not a new skill, it is a relatively new skill gap. While historically leaders have possessed a lot of presence, young managers and the new generation of leaders seem to lack it.

Why? I’ll offer three theories. 

  1. Visual image. Over time, as the corporate environment has become more relaxed and casual, so have many of the workers in it. The more relaxed dress code has drawn a more definitive line between managers with presence and those without.

  2. Training. While the concept of executive presence is being assessed in leadership and high potential programs, it isn’t being coached until much later. The results would be better if a young manager had the opportunity to establish impressions, rather than being the leader who has to change them.

  3. Practice. Most importantly, young managers don’t spend as much time giving presentations as they used to. A critical part of presence is commanding a room. As communication has become more of an email trail than a critical conversation, managers may move up the ranks without a lot of on-the-job practice at presenting themselves and their ideas. 

How do you get executive presence? 

Executive presence is perception. Managers and executives gain it through awareness and coaching. As you think about developing presence, here are the three core areas to consider: 

  1. Physical presence: This concept deals with everything physical about you. Visual image plays a role, but it’s also how you carry yourself, your posture, your stance and you overall body image.


  2. Vocal presence: In order for me to believe you, you have to sound confident about what you’re saying. Voice inflection, projection, articulation, variety, and power all play a role in your presence. As remote presentations and meetings have grown in popularity, managers are judged by voice impressions alone and have to be able to convey confidence and credibility with their words.


  3. Core presence: Executive presence is also a core desire to connect with people. Core presence goes beyond the voice and body choices of an individual and focuses on interpersonal skills that engage others and lead to that “earned authority.” 

So, how critical is executive presence? Close to 90 percent of top leaders we surveyed for our recent book, The Hidden Factor: Executive Presence, said presence is a key factor in getting ahead in an organization. And, we believe that makes it a skill gap worth closing.

For more on the keys to effective executive conversations, read my previous blogs on the importance of creating a clear message and takeways and developing a compelling message.

About the Author

Sally Williamson is president and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates. She specializes in executive coaching and developing custom workshops for groups that focus on improving spoken communication skills, ranging from formal presentations to everyday communication, as well as selling situations.  She coaches interpersonal communication skills, helping individuals improve their executive presence and overall impressions; [email protected]

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