Everyone has a friend or colleague who can walk into a room and light it up. They're charm personified. That type of executive presence is invaluable in the business world, but many people lack the skills and confidence to correctly apply it. Addressing this has become a big industry, with people hiring business, personal and relationship coaches. That's because the odds are often stacked against them.
“Eighty percent of people who are given feedback that they lack executive presence are not provided with tools to address that,” said Carol Lempert, an executive coach and former actor, in her 2018 Dreamforce breakout panel. “People think it's a genetic lottery, you either love it or you don't,” she said “But that's not true. Executive presence is a skill-based framework.”
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“The first skill is being able to have a deep breath—that calms the nerves and gives you the vocal power and energy to get out into the room,” she said. The same practice applies when making phone calls. You might be on speakerphone with twenty people, so your voice needs to have enough energy for all of them. When conversing with people remotely, more attention needs to be paid to your vocal variety. An expression can be shown through pitch; a low pitch is somber and a high one is more excited. Vocal pace is also a factor—don't speed up just because you can't see them, she warned. Pauses can also add an element of mystique.
—Carol Lempert, executive coach
When talking, be sure to move your hands, Lempert said. It might feel unnatural, but it's important. It's also important to think about what people see when they look at you, Lempert stressed. For example, if you tell a work committee that you're excited about a new project but your face is expressionless, there's an incongruence. “If something doesn't match what you see, then there's doubt,” she said. This can't be faked, so just let your genuine feelings shine through instead of repressing them and people will respond in kind.
Eye contact is also key, especially when addressing a crowd. For example, if you're giving a keynote to a number of people, think about it as talking one-on-one, she advised. Make eye contact with one person and then move to a different person. The people around that person will feel included. “Eye contact makes that human connection,” she said.
“What do people hear when they're in conversation with you?” Lempert asked. “Are they interested in what you have to say?” It's common practice to ask people questions to engage them, but there's more to that. Follow-up questions to your original question may increase your personal likeability. There's an important distinction to be made here, Lempert explained. It's not about how people feel about you when you're speaking with them, it's how they feel about themselves in your presence. “Do they leave that interaction going, ‘Wow, my day is going better.’ or do they leave it feeling crummy or nervous?”