ATD Blog

Leading Through Visual and Verbal Presence

Thursday, October 8, 2015


This post is the third in a series on creating leadership identity. 

Do you dress the part of a leader and professional? What does your physical presence exude? In addition, do you treat every communication, spoken or written, as an opportunity to showcase how well you organize your thoughts and articulate yourself? Do you sound like a leader? 

Let’s delve into the impact you make through your visual and verbal presence. 

Look the Part 

You’ve heard it before. The first time people meet us, they form a judgment about us with lightning speed, much of that based on our appearance. Research shows that 55 percent of our initial credibility comes from how we look. 

That’s a little intimidating. It’s humbling to think that before people even evaluate the substance of our message, they are making quick judgments about us based on our visual presence. 

Even if you’re a skeptic of statistics, it’s smart to pay attention because this part of human nature—the continual evaluation of the environment and the people around us—can help us become better leaders. We subconsciously filter information as we accept what we perceive as credible and release the rest. And yes, this “credibility filtering” mechanism initially includes paying close attention to how others present themselves, visually and verbally. 


When it comes to visual presence, a little fine-tuning can enhance your leadership identity and pave the way for others to truly value the substance of your message. I’ve found that working on these outside attributes can give us momentum for the work that we’re doing on the inside. 

As a leader, your visual presence includes the obvious: dressing for the part. You’ve reached an executive level, so don’t risk being mistaken for an intern. That means stepping it up a notch. Ensure that your clothes are tailored, and don’t forget the finishing touches

Some more-subtle cues also contribute to your leadership identity. These are cues we may never pick up on, unless we’re paying attention to them. Cues like: 

  • the seat you take at a conference table. Whenever I attend a meeting, I make sure to select a seat that allows me to see, be seen, and contribute. If I’m leading the meeting, I take the head seat.
  • your gestures and animations. Are your gestures and animations appropriate for your message? For example, I know some people who deliver tough messages with a smile. It’s usually a subconscious way to soften the message or an attempt to alleviate awkwardness; instead, it negatively affects your leadership credibility.
  • eye contact. Making eye contact conveys your confidence, expertise, and sincerity. Always make and maintain confident eye contact, especially when introducing yourself. 

Speaking of Leadership

Think about your last week at the office. You probably:

  • sent and received a minimum of 100 emails a day
  • sent and received dozens of voicemails
  • took many calls in your car on your cell phone
  • were on multiple conference calls and webinars, and attended daily meetings
  • commented on various social and professional sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter
  • instant messaged, texted, Skyped, and Google Voiced. 

In today’s business world, the methods, speed, and sheer volume of communication can be overwhelming. The one thing all of the above communication methods have in common? They are completely second nature. And because they’re second nature, we rarely see them for what they are—opportunities to be strategic and showcase our leadership identity through our verbal presence. 
Your verbal presence combines many factors:

  • how you organize and articulate your thoughts
  • the tone, pitch, and speed of your voice
  • the clarity of your message, both in content and punctuation
  • your ability to be concise and on point
  • your ability to use the language of your business and industry. 

Verbal presence is about both the substance and the packaging of your message. Here are a few simple devices you can use to turn your spoken and written words into a leadership advantage. 

When Speaking 

TAPS is a formula you can use to quickly communicate your thoughts in almost any situation:
  • Take a breath and pause. Taking a breath helps you physiologically and mentally. This public speaking trick works wonders, especially when you’re put on the spot. And while it may seem like a lifetime to you, the other person won’t even notice that quick second of silence.
  • Assess and select one point to make. The key word here is one—a single point, not several points. This is a critical mistake I often see people make. This part of the formula requires you to be decisive, which is another essential leadership trait.
  • Provide support. This is where you can elaborate a bit, sharing two to three supporting pieces of information for your point. Again, keep this brief. The human brain stores only a few pieces of information at a time in the short-term memory. Your ability to be concise also conveys your confidence.
  • Summarize. If necessary, add a quick summary statement after you provide your supporting comments. If you are asked follow-up questions or for more information, it’s an opportunity to share even more of your expertise. 

When Writing

Below are some tips to stand out with written communication, especially email. A few assumptions you should make:

  • Your message is sandwiched between dozens of other email messages.
  • The recipient is likely reading your message on a mobile device.
  • The recipient will open it, scan it quickly, and close it in less than 30 seconds. Then the recipient will decide if it merits a reply. 

With those assumptions in mind:

  • Create a short, substantive subject line.
  • Use a brief opening sentence to set up the body of the message.
  • Make your point right away.
  • Use two to three short bulleted statements or phrases for any supporting information.
  • Summarize with your request or call to action.
  • Review the message before you hit send.
  • If the message warrants, specify when you’ll follow up. 

Look for the next article in this series to dive deeper into the next building block: leadership habits.

About the Author

Amy Franko is a leader in modern selling. She helps midmarket organizations to grow results through sales strategy, advisory, and skill development programs. Her book, The Modern Seller, is an Amazon bestseller, and she is recognized by LinkedIn as a “Top Sales Voice.”

Franko serves as the immediate past chairperson of the board of directors for Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland, a top 25 nonprofit in the Columbus, Ohio region. Under her leadership, the council launched a $16 million transformational STEM workforce initiative that has received significant support from the business community.

Her book The Modern Seller is an Amazon bestseller and was also named a 2018 top sales book by Top Sales World. Download a free chapter at

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