Thank you, Lauren, for this guest blog!
In an effort to convey “executive presence,” many people adopt an attitude of rigid aloofness or inaccessible stand-offishness. The idea is to demonstrate that they are unfazed and unrattled by anything that emotions don’t come into play when it comes to their work and business.
The problem with this tactic is that it puts up a wall between the speaker and the audience, cutting off the emotional connection that is so important for getting people to really sit up and pay attention.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but a key factor in executive presence is the demonstration of a deep degree of caring, commitment, and interest in whatever it is they are speaking about. People like to follow people who care about the same things they do. It is that emotional investment that indicates their leaders share their values and will have their interests in mind when taking action. When emotion and caring is communicated, the listeners become ‘on board’ with the speaker, will take what they are hearing more seriously, and are more likely to agree with what the speaker is saying.
Watch recordings of leaders and business moguls who are popularly thought as having executive presence; they show a surprising amount of emotion in their speeches. What they are also doing is controlling and managing that demonstration of emotion. They show how they are feeling while still keeping a firm grip on themselves. This lets them maintain their expression so they demonstrate the right kind and level of emotion for the situation. Their executive presence is actually enhanced by their emotional communication. While they are willing to show us their strength of feeling, they control it in such a way that also shows that they can act rationally under stress or pressure.
The emotion you do want to convey is best described as intensity. Facial expression, particularly centered around the eyes, is especially effective. When we use a penetrating stare rather than keeping our eyes downcast or half-lidded, the strength of our feeling is quickly communicated.
A key to developing this intensity and expression is to spend time thinking about the content of your speech or upcoming meeting and analyzing why it is important to you. How does it matter in your life, in your family’s lives, in the lives of your employees and co-workers? What does it mean to your business? What effect does it have on your company and stakeholders? Then, answer these questions out loud while watching yourself in the mirror. Play around with your expression until you are outwardly demonstrating the inward significance you just found.
This kind of analysis and practice takes time, yes, but it pays dividends in terms of being able to convey that elusive ‘executive presence’.
Give it a try: what speeches, talks, presentations, or meeting do you have coming up? What are the issues you need to address? Why do they matter so much, and how can you convey that importance through the way you speak?
Lauren Sergy is a speaker and a public speaking coach in Edmonton, Alberta. She helps professionals and entrepreneurs become better speakers and communicators so they can pursue their goals with strength and joy. You can find her and read more of her articles at http://laurensergy.com.