Feel the Authority, Be the Authority

Speaking with an authoritative voice can be a real challenge, no matter who you are. Sometimes it can feel like walking a tightrope. If you go too far one way and end up sounding meek, you lose your credibility. Leaning too far the other direction can leave you sounding angry or irrational. It’s necessary to find that perfect balance of calm, yet firm speech to assert your authority and get people to listen.

The question that plagues speakers is how to achieve that balance. Which physical and vocal cues will help to demonstrate your authority to a person or group of people? There are a few different things you can do – some physical and some vocal - to demonstrate authority. Let’s start with your voice!

Vocal Authority

1.      First, harness the power of a strong pause. Learning where to put a pause in a sentence will make people listen and take note. If your sentence is short, try adding a strong pause halfway through your sentence. An example would be, “Let’s go to the meeting (pause) right now.” For longer sentences, try two pauses in similar places in order to get your point across. Pausing will also eliminate those word fillers.

2.      Emphasize the last words before the pause. This is where the tightrope walk comes in. You never want to sound angry when you’re emphasizing a word, so avoid just making the word louder. Instead, make an effort to place vocal emphasis on the word by raising the pitch, holding it out longer, and making it louder. Remember to stay calm, cool, and collected and drop your pitch at the end of your sentence.

3.      Use clear pronunciation and keep your tone even. When I say even, I don't mean monotone. We need vocal variety! Make sure you’re keeping your demeanor level, but still placing emphasis on important words and points. Speak clearly and naturally.

Physical Authority

1.      Own the room. Whenever you’re speaking to a group of people, make sure that you walk into a room like it’s yours. Meekly entering a room, making self-deprecating jokes, or acting nervous is a way to immediately demean your authority. Be a strong presence in the room by keeping your head up, making eye contact, and sitting toward the front of the room if you’re in a meeting. 
Check out our video on harnessing the nervousness.

2.      Power pose! Stand in a way that makes you feel powerful and authoritative. Make sure you try it out at home before you get up in front of a group of people, but it’s much easier to give off an aura of authority when you feel physically strong.
Check out our video on posture.

3.      Avoid pacing while talking.  Your audience will see it as a distraction, much like you'd be distracted by someone sitting next to you shaking his/her leg.  Moving naturally, on the other hand, brings energy to what you are saying. Just move in a way that is natural to you, the way you would if you were talking to a friend.

What other ideas can you suggest? Please comment below. 

Stand Tall to Convey Power and Confidence

When preparing for a presentation, sermon, or an interview, many of us focus on “What am I going to say?” When we attend networking events, we worry about our elevator speech.  We often neglect the most important part ….our nonverbal communication! Body language influences how people perceive us. Many times, it’s not only WHAT we say, but how we LOOK when we say it.

How we walk into a room, stand in front of the audience, sit at a desk, or wait in the waiting area conveys volumes to the observer. Amy Cuddy, from The Harvard Business School, researched this area, and discussed high-power and low-power poses’ effects on our brain chemistry and confidence (1) Check out her famous TED talk  

Posture is often the first feature that is noticed. Standing or sitting posture shows the observer your confidence level.

Watch yourself in a mirror or on video.

Are you slumped forward, as if the world is carried on your shoulders? Hold your head high and keep your shoulders back. You will immediately signal confidence. Imagine you are a puppet on a string and the string maintains your proper alignment.

For those who love technology, there is a feedback device called Lumo Lift that gives you tactile reminders when you begin to slouch. I have seen rapid changes in my clients who use this device. Check it out.

Here are some tips for good posture:

  • Keep your feet planted on the ground 6-8 inches apart. One foot can be slightly in front of the other. However, do not cross your legs while standing or stand with one hip thrown forward. These postures can undermine your image of power and confidence.
  • When standing, point your feet towards the listener to show active engagement.   
  • Allow your hands to rest at your sides so you can gesture naturally. Avoid hiding your hands behind your back or in your pockets. Crossing your arms over your chest often implies that you are closed off. Fidgeting, holding your hands or arm, or touching your face while talking becomes a distraction.  Honesty, openness, and sincerity are conveyed when the audience can see the palms of your hands.
  • Watch how you hold your head. A head tilt is not as powerful, but may be used intentionally to show active listening. As your turn your head to look at the audience, turn your complete body. This squared-off posture projects power and involvement with the listener.   

As a rule, keep your heart facing the audience or your conversational partner, and sit or stand tall. Whether you are six feet tall or four foot eleven, your posture sets the stage to project a positive and powerful image!

Contact us to learn more about effective communication skills.


1. Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. "The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-027, September 2012.