Advice needed: Tips on cultivating executive presence (especially when communicating verbally)

Hi Elphas!Would love some advice on cultivating executive presence. I feel my verbal communication is often not effective (not organized) and not commanding enough. Not looking to cultivate a macho/power pose, but want to have a genuine way of communicating that commands respect, shows quiet confidence, and shows an executive presence.UPDATE: Folks, thank you so much for your advice!
Hey anonymous! Thanks for reaching out.First things first, it's awesome to hear a) that you know what you want (and what you're looking to achieve) and b) that you have a sense of what may be holding you back.However ineffective or non-commanding your verbal communication is at the moment (something that I can neither confirm or deny, given that I've never heard you speak), the clarity of intention and level of self-awareness that you're displaying demonstrates that you're well on the way towards cultivating the executive presence you desire.You've got this. It's within you already. (Read your post for proof!) Now it's a question of dismantling anything that may be holding you back from fully embodying your authentic and abundant strength, power and grace. Some things that have worked for me:- Whenever you doubt yourself, feel conflicted about how to respond to a situation and/or find yourself undermining your own power and inner wisdom, take a step back and ask yourself what your future/best self would do, and do it.- Trust yourself. Listen to yourself. Back yourself to a hilt. When your self-worth is rooted in compassionate self-love, you naturally exude quiet confidence because how you feel about yourself isn't dependent on how others respond to you. In turn, this becomes a virtuous circle: whether people like or dislike you-as-you, you naturally command respect -- perhaps (also) because you don't tolerate anything else.- Do not tolerate people disrespecting or undermining you. We attract what we are ready for -- and, by extension, what we settle for. You know what you want. You know what you deserve. Go out and get it! And let it come to you, too. Trust that it will. Be patient with yourself as you evolve. Better days are on the horizon. Good things are coming. I believe in you! Love and solidarity.
Hey there! Love this question. This is something I've been working on too - here are the tips that have really helped me. 1) Speak slowly when you are Slow down your speaking speed by up to 30 or 40%. It will feel unbearable at first, but it will also give you time to carefully select your words, ensure that you're speaking what you want to, and also give you lots of powerful presence. 2) Practice every single day. If you can, ask everyone to give you feedback on any speaking you do. It's the fastest (and least comfortable, haha) way to get better. The question I ask is, "What's one way I could have been more effective in [that meeting]?" 3) Record yourself giving a presentation or leading a meeting. Listen to it and notice what your trigger moments or words are. Is it when you don't know what to say, when you feel intimidated, when someone is cutting you off, etc? What are the words that you use to fill gaps (um, like, err, sounds)? Once you identify your patterns, you can start to notice them. Hope this helps!! You got this!
Good for you for wanting to grow! A few tips:1. Record yourself and notice your verbal tics, like saying "um" or "like" a lot, or other phrases you tend to repeat consistently. Eliminate or at least greatly reduce those.2. Notice your cadence when you speak. Do you talk really fast? Really slow? have long pauses in the middle of a sentence a lot? Notice how top executives and experts on TV speak and mirror them.3. Watch yourself on Zoom (or other) videos. What's your posture? Are you slouching? Are you paying attention, looking down at your phone a lot? Or are you maintaining eye contact with the speaker or group? 4. Take notes so you can follow up intelligently afterwards.I hope these help!:)Joan
I love the suggestions already shared and only have one more to offer. If you struggle at all to think about what your future/best self would do, think of someone you admire who has that executive presence and act like them. The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman is a good book that explains how this has worked for others. Beyonce leveraged her alter ego of Sasha Fierce and that helped me understand that even the best in their fields have used this method to become a better version of themselves. You're on your way!
Love this, Gretchen! Thanks so much for sharing. This is a great point too.
1) Don't be afraid to take up space. 2) "Pronounce the period" When you end a sentence, pause where the period would be instead of continuing in a run-on way. 3) Acknowledge what other people are saying rather than focusing solely on your own contributions. 4) Give people "hooks" - have a few stories or topics to mention about yourself that anyone can hook into to start a short conversation. It makes it easier to build rapport. 5) If you have an initiative that is critical to get across to your team repeat the idea over and over and over and over (and you'll get tired of it, then repeat it some more) until they repeat it back to you. Then you know it has gotten through.
Happy to give a free coaching session about executive presence with one of our Coaches. email me at suzanna@hellocareer if interested. Thanks to all!
I recently gave a workshop on women having confident conversations in the workplace, and these were some highlights:TIPS TO BE MORE POWERFUL IN YOUR COMMUNICATIONS• Prepare in advance• Pause and breathe to build confidence• Be authentic• If you are worried about being interrupted: before you start talking, preview what you plan to say and stipulate when it’s okay to break in. This often stops the interrupter before he or she starts.• A similar strategy: "I have three suggestions that will take about a minute to explain..."• Amplify the messages of others (especially if you are in a more powerful role) and give credit where credit is due• Use microaffirmations (like nodding your head in response to what someone is saying and backing them up publicly when they offer an opinion or suggestion)• Speak with a confident tone and volume• Be an engaged listener (not just a person waiting their turn to speak…)• If you're having trouble gauging the room, err on the side of speaking too early rather than too lateINDICATIONS YOU COULD ENHANCE THE POWER OF YOUR COMMUNICATIONS• Apologies (when we didn’t do anything wrong)• Up-tone at end of sentences (implying question when there is not one)• Hedging: “I’m not sure but…” “I feel like…”• If interrupted, try not to say, “I’m sorry, but I’d like to finish,” or even, “Please let me finish”—which gives the subtle impression that you’re asking permission• Record yourself. If you hear a lot of “um,” “you know,” “like,” “so,” “right,” “sorry,” “actually,” “I’m not sure, but…” “kind of,” or “sort of,” try practicing to reduce these in business conversations• Please, please don’t say “I’m no expert but…” If you don’t know enough to speak on a topic, then be an engaged listener. If you do know enough, then don’t sell yourself short!Also, this is an interesting read: How to Speak Up in a Meeting, and When to Hold Back from Harvard Business Review (
There's lots of amazing advice and guidance here. Out of interest, what have you tried in the past? And what has/hasn't worked?
Hi @beckystephens7! I can say it's work in progress since I first realized a couple of years ago that I don't have executive presence.Successful applications:- I think my strength is my self-awareness; I'm aware of some of my problem areas. So that's the first and most important step.- I am able to successfully slow down most of the times (*see below); I used to be full-speed without pauses.- Now due to the pandemic we're remote, but in pre-COVID times I used to sit around the center of a table (in conference rooms).- Preparing for meetings is a must (using notes/bullet points (when I'm able to))Areas where I'm struggling with:1) * I still struggle communicating in group settings. The history is I had experienced workplace bullying in the past. The entire team used to gang up on me, and I was so traumatized at one point, I was unable to speak in group settings (trust me our subconscious will do anything to keep us safe) - literally not be able to speak (even though I knew what I wanted to say). It's better now. I'm able to speak but when I'm in the presence of heavy-weights, I will tend to blank out or lose my chain of thoughts without notes. Or I'm all over the place. Again this portion is better too, I really have to slow down my breathing and speaking then I can be in control. Preparing for meetings and having notes helps. But impromptu speaking in groups is still something I'm working on. Note I have done a lot of public speaking and still do, easily, but group settings are completely different. 2) The other area which detracts from that executive presence is due to a need to be nice and likable. I think it comes from my childhood - be a nice girl. This was a very recent realization, so something I can start introducing changes immediately, now that I'm aware.Also, I'm going to start applying the awesome advice shared.
Thank you for sharing! I've experienced the same challenges! I'm a great public speaker and 1:1 communicator so the anxiety I got from group meetings was perplexing. You sharing the bullying experience completely opened my mind to this also being the case for me. I was so cornered at my last role I let it shake my confidence and energy. I would rush through thoughts just to get my point across before I got cut off, leave meetings feeling ineffective, and overall was angry at myself for not being "powerful" in my role. This thread is the advice I needed to get that boost in confidence back. Really appreciate you starting this conversation!
Thank you so much for sharing. We work in professional development and after trying so many different strategies with our teams, we now understand the importance of breaking down those larger (sometimes scary) goals into manageable actions. I love how you've distinguished between practicals steps (i.e. how you prepare notes) and the deeper-rooted beliefs which may stop new behaviours forming. Your post is incredibly encouraging to read.
Hello Anonymous! Thanks so much for posting and as everyone said- congratulations on looking for more growth! It is something I am also working on everyday so I hope I can share a bit of advice / wisdom1) Wear clothes that make you feel like you own the room - for instance: my signature / power outfit are blazers and/or capes which immediately make me feel very confident2) Open up your chest and stand tall, and take a deep breath in that process (But do it quietly ie. no like in yoga class haha) - by opening up your chest you will immediately feel the power3) Your gaze: if you speak to an audience pick someone to lay your eyes a couple of times (this can be a friend, a loved one who is there to cheer you on) the rest of the time move your eyes and focus on people's heads (so you don't have to look at anyone's eyes but people will have the impression you look at them) 4) Make sure your body is forward looking ie. don't have it half turned or smth, you are not the weather person, you are commanding the room and everybody is there for you5) Use your hands, now I speak a lot with my hands (yes I am Cameroonian we speak with our hands lol) so I had to tone this down a bit but it is a great way to show passion, energy and most importantly mastery of a topic which is what you are - an expert at whatever you are talking about 6) Take breaks - when you make compelling points, do take breaks to let it sink, if you feel comfortable repeat that same point to emphasise the importance 7) If you are engaged in a Q&A never say a flat out "I don't know"- now I am not saying it is not okay to not know smth- what I am saying is that if you genuinely have no idea what the question is asking " you can say smth to the effect- this is a very good question and frankly it is not something i have come across/I have been too familiar with, however what I will say is from experience xxx"so you are providing alternative details that are related to the question but you have admitted before that since you have not been too familiar whatever you are sayign is to be taken with a grain of salt. People generally appreciated that you've at least listened to them and taken the time to think of an answer on the spot.Here are a few of my personal tips / that have worked well for me ! Keep us posted :-)
Important question and lots of great advice. Some additional tips:General tips:- Mindset is key: If you walk into a meeting feeling nervous, it'll show up in your verbal and non-verbal communication. Alternatively, if you walk in with confidence, thinking "I got this!" then you'll come across strong and less likely to get thrown off if someone disagrees with you. Preparation helps with confidence - great that you're already doing this- Drop the words "actually", "just", "quickly", "sorry". We often use these words as crutches. Unless, of course you're using them in the appropriate context :) Presence in a virtual setting: - Frame yourself: Your head and shoulders should be showing. If only your head is showing, you're too close. If most of your body is showing, then too far.- Look engaged: Even when you're not speaking, pay attention instead of browsing other tabs- Clear voice: Make sure you have a good mic (apple headphones suffice)- Eye contact: Look at the camera, not at your screen. This takes practice b/c we naturally look down to see the people we're talking to but then you're not making eye contact with them- Simple background: Make sure your background isn't distracting.
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Hi! The single thing that helped me most was to write down what I planned to say. It helped me structure/clarify my thoughts. A few principles:- Write everything down, then cut it down to the bare minimum. Say only that. - Be ready for follow-up questions, but don't say *everything* upfront- Do what you need to be comfortable and confident (for some it's comfy clothes, for some it's doing makeup well and looking good)
Hi, everyone's advice is amazing. Two things I would add - (1) the whole practising speaking is great. Join toastmasters - it's super dorky but helps a lot on learning how to speak effectively and off the cuff. Basically at a toastmasters meeting, you get a topic and have to speak on it for one minute. You learn some structure to how the whole sponanteous speech is a structured thing...and it's where you can fail with no repercussions. It's free. It helped me so much and there are probably several local chapters where you are. And (2) some breathe work before meetings etc. the 2:1 thing where you breathe out FIRST for 6 and then in for three. Do it 5 times. It will get you more settled.
The best advice I received was to start with your conclusion. Executives don't have a ton of time, and appreciate concise communications that get the point across quickly.If it's written communication, I usually start with a TLDR (too long, didn't read) 1-sentence summary and notes below. That way I get my high level point across, and it's up to the reader whether they need to know all the nitty gritty details.I've also been advised to timebox requests, with increasing urgency. So if you're making an ask of someone to share their feedback for example, ask: "Could you commit to reviewing this by end of day Thurs?" If no response, you can follow up with: "I'll assume you're OK with this proposal end of day Thurs. Please share your feedback before then, if any." I wouldn't suggest doing this for external communications, but it certainly works when you're trying to align internal stakeholders.