The Three Communication Channels of Executive Presence
February 20, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

Man giving a presentation

The concept of executive presence has lately captured the imagination of the business press. When I did a Google search on the term, it came back with more than two million hits.

This article in Business Insider (the first hit from my Google search) suggests that the seven aspects of executive presence all begin with “c”: composure, connection, charisma, confidence, credibility, clarity, and conciseness. This may be a tour de force of alliteration, but — like most alliteration — it seems to be straining for effect. 

At Communispond, we have coached a lot of executives for television appearances, high-stakes announcements, and crisis management. Here is what we have learned about executive presence. First, it only exists when there are others there to perceive it, which means it is a human interaction. As an interaction, it consists of three channels of communication.

1. How you look. Appearance is the least important element of presence, and it is also the simplest to master: attend to your posture, grooming, and fitness. If you have reservations about your appearance, start a physical training program. This may involve hiring a personal trainer, committing yourself to a sport, or joining some kind of club or group. No matter how you decide to get fit, however, stick with the training for at least ten weeks, which is about how long it takes for a new behavior to become automatic. You probably won’t see real benefit in terms of your appearance until your workouts become second nature. But deciding to look good is a lifelong commitment. Pay attention to your diet, but don’t go for fads. Most people find when they get truly fit with a training program, weight takes care of itself.

2. How you act. Exemplary demeanor is a result of your confidence, composure, and sincerity. Ironically, much of that comes from attending to how you look by getting fit (see item number one). Fitness can lead to relaxation, lower stress levels, and better sleep. All of these can contribute to a more dignified, authoritative way of carrying yourself. But it’s not just physical. Attend to your sense of perspective. Deep down, you probably have a very good idea of what is important and what isn’t. Don’t allow yourself to be stressed by what isn’t important and keep your focus on what is. Economy in the expenditure of energy is an essential aspect of grace, and you should strive to act gracefully. 

3. How you speak. In day-to-day interactions, be clear and concise in what you say. Like it or not, much of executive activity consists of selling your vision. Know peoples’ values so you can appeal to them. Know yourself so you can be honest. This may call for serious introspection and reflection. Beyond the day-to-day, when giving a presentation, be prepared, keep your sense of humor and your humility, and practice, practice, practice. Take videos of yourself practicing and review them to find ways to come across better. Consider using our smartphone app, ProSpeak®. There are versions for iPhone™ and Android™ devices. The app offers tips for creating effective presentations, but what makes it unique is its ability to coach you in the critical areas of voice, energy, and stance. 

It is true that some people seem to exude executive presence naturally. But that doesn’t mean it is either magical or ineffable. Pay attention to how you look, how you act, and how you speak, and it can be yours.