Your Executive Presence (When you Don’t Wear Black Turtlenecks)


Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs raised the bar on public speaking and executive presence for all of us.

Even acclaimed Irish actor Michael Fassbender felt unequal to the task of portraying the legend in the film, Steve Jobs, telling his driver on the way to rehearsals:

“You should slam it. It should cause a break and it should get me out of this gig.”

 So you’re not an actor. You don’t (always) wear a black turtleneck.  And you don’t have weeks to spend obsessively rehearsing for every speaking engagement.  Is it still possible to exhibit the executive presence necessary to win over important clients, rally the troops, or engage a large audience?

The short answer is “yes.”  After all, if you’re alive and taking up space, you have presence.  The question is a matter of degree and expression.  Do you have enough presence to command the attention of two people, or two-hundred?  And how long can you keep them engaged?  Ten minutes?  Two hours?  Without the tools to develop and expand your presence upon demand, your confidence and effectiveness fly out the window in new or high-stakes situations.

Don’t try to be Steve Jobs (Please!!)

It’s tempting to simply copy the behaviors of other successful-looking or sounding people.  Steve Jobs’ iconic style built on a lifetime of public accomplishments, launched a mountain of misguided advice, books and articles on how to move, speak, or pause just like the master himself.  Unfortunately, this has resulted in some excruciatingly painful moments being played out in conference rooms and on business stages across the world.

Authentic presence starts from within and radiates out.  Merely copying certain mannerisms and delivery styles without embracing your own unique style will ring patently false to your audience and not deliver the results you want.

What is Executive Presence?

Executive presence is made up of literally dozens of verbal and nonverbal signals.  In those first few seconds your audience is making critical decisions about you, like:  Are you confident and credible?  Honest and trustworthy?  Interesting and relatable?  Once you start to speak your audience continues to adjust their assessment.  Do your words match your tone? Are you connecting with your audience? Can you think on your feet?

This sounds like a lot to master, but  fortunately, you can develop, enhance and focus your own unique executive presence once you understand some simple concepts.  Below are two verbal and non-verbal techniques that leaders I’ve worked with have found helpful:

2 Techniques to Develop Your Unique Executive Presence

  1. Break Out of Business Mode:

    Jake was ecstatic when his success as a salesperson catapulted him into a leadership role in his organization. But he soon found that his low-key style did not translate effectively when speaking to groups. He struggled with nerves and failed to inspire from the stage.  Most people don’t speak with as much energy or personality in business as they do in their personal lives. They tend to fall into “business-mode” – an ineffective flattening of tone and energy.  Jake thought it would make him appear more “executive.”  In reality, business-mode turned his words into mere background noise.  While business mode is appropriate when reassuring a top client, it is the death knell for most speaking events.

    To break out of business-mode, Jake learned to stretch outside of his comfort zone by going (as we actors say) “over-the-top.”  By practicing at a level that was much bigger than his normal state, Jake was able to channel his nerves into positive energy and inject more personality into his presentations.  Soon, Jake was able to speak on stage with greater confidence, passionately express his vision, and get others on board with his ideas.

  1. Use What You’ve Got:

    Amanda is a smart, quiet executive at a start-up who found herself in the spotlight once her company received funding.  After speaking to an audience that barely looked up from their smartphones, Amanda’s supervisor told her she lacked executive presence.   For the next event, Amanda tried mirroring the frenetic style of high-energy speakers she’d studied. She bounced from one side of the stage to the other.  She  practically shouted at her audience and over-emphasized every other word.  Afterwards, her voice was raw, she felt like a phony, and the audience appeared more confused than engaged.

    Amanda discovered firsthand that presence doesn’t necessarily mean “bigger and louder,” and simply mimicking a set of physical behaviors typically fails miserably.  However, by focusing on her own strengths, and learning to amplify them for any situation, Amanda grew more comfortable in her own skin and was able to hold an audience in rapt attention – without wearing out her vocal chords!

After years of communicating in business-mode, or trying to be like  Steve Jobs or the executive next door, it can be challenging to find your true voice and style. But with practice, you can become an impactful, influential speaker with the executive presence necessary to communicate with greater confidence and success.

Want to Unleash Your Executive Presence?!
If you  need to communicate with greater confidence, presence and influence in high-stakes scenarios like, selling to VIP’s, motivating a team, presenting at a conference, to a board, or on- camera,  contact me for a free consultation.   

Photo courtesy of:  
BagoGames  Steve Jobs Review – The Human Drama of Apple’s CEO

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