6 Tips For Developing Executive Presence

While attending the SHRM Annual Conference, I attended a session led by Author and Communications Expert Dianna Booher titled “Creating Executive Presence: Communicate with Confidence in the C-Suite”.


As an Executive Coach who works with leaders to improve their skills and grow in their careers, it’s not uncommon for me to work with an otherwise successful leader who just doesn’t have the charisma or “it factor” that some are blessed which naturally compels people to follow them.

Thankfully, all hope is not lost, and Ms. Booher’s session provided some great tips about how changing some of the physical aspects of one’s delivery style can make an immediate and noticeable difference in communicating with confidence, style and substance.

What Does Executive Presence Look Like?

To demonstrate her point, two members of the audience were invited up onto the stage to give a 60-second presentation about a project they were currently working on to the audience of several hundred.

Following their short speech, Ms. Booher took each person to the side of the stage, and provided just 30 seconds of coaching. Then, they were asked to deliver their presentation once again using the tips she had provided.

The first brave volunteer walked up to the stage with confidence, but once she faced the crowd and began to speak, she seemed to sink into the back of the stage and spoke very softly. When her time was up and the brief coaching was provided, she tried again. This time she looked out into the crowd, walked to the front of the stage, and shared her project once again.

When asked for feedback on the difference in the two presentations, audience members commented that the speaker was perceived as more confident, strong, engaging – and even “more beautiful”. (Huh? Not sure about that one.)

The second volunteer shared a brief story about the need to get in better physical shape in order to begin playing tennis with his college age son, so they could spend more time together. While sharing his story, he was casual, smiled and stood right in the center of the stage looking out across the room at the entire audience. He seemed comfortable enough, but after 30 seconds of coaching, he walked strongly to the left of the stage, poke about his challenge, moved to the right of the stage, and shared his plan to succeed. He also sprinkled in a few bits of humor during his delivery that engaged the audience in his story.

Once again, the feedback from the audience was that his second presentation was strong, confident, funny and focused. Unfortunately for him, no comments about his physical appearance, but we definitely liked him.

6 Tips To Demonstrate Executive Presence

So what were some of the secrets shared with the audience volunteers in 30 seconds of coaching that made such a difference? Booher’s tips included:

  • Use random, sustained eye contact with several members of the audience. Focus on a few people here and there while speaking. “If you’re looking at everyone in the room – you’re looking at no one in the room”.
  • Make sure that your body language is strong and confident in order to project that with your tone – because your voice always follows your body language.
  • Before you start to speak, stand up and stand still for 5 seconds. Doing so will make you look very much in control.
  • When addressing a large group from a stage – walk out: stand still for 5 seconds, then start speaking by making eye contact with one person in the far corner of the group to the left, and then one person in the far corner of the room to the right.
  • Gesture from the shoulder rather than from the elbow or the wrist because these types of moves make you look more powerful.
  • Use your space purposely. Stand still. Make a point. Move as you transition to the next point. Then stand still, make a point, move, etc.

Based on the impromptu demonstrations shared in the session today, it was easy to see how implementing these tips into your speaking style can make a difference in how you’re perceived by the audience.

The really good news is that you’re not out of luck if you’re not born with “executive presence”. Like most things, with intention and practice, it can be developed!

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

11 thoughts on “6 Tips For Developing Executive Presence

  1. I can’t image being on stage as a volunteer and try to present to so many people without any practice or powerpoint presentation. I need to work on all the bullets you mentioned above 🙂

  2. These are very good tips and I would like to add one more. Become familiar with the stage and the room before the audience arrives by getting up there and practicing movement and eye contact.
    By the ay you’ll find some helpful free tips on how to handle TV interviews on my brand new website. http://www.authenticcommunicationtraining.com

  3. Very good tips….I might add it is important to breathe naturally and use good voice command (body language tip). Better a little too loud than too soft when addressing a large group. It also helps to start with a little humor if possible to loosen everyone up a little.

  4. Great tips that every speaker can benefit from following. We have all seen too many presenters that have great information to convey, but do it in a way that is self defeating.
    We recommend that our clients put their message into story form. The human brain is hard-wired to listen to stories. An interesting story delivered with strong presentation skills is a winning combination.

  5. Found this via a Twitter link – Excellent tips! Wish I’d seen this before I delivered a marketing plan development training event I did this past weekend, but will gladly fold them in to my next outings. Thanks so much for sharing these – useful to ANYONE who is presenting in any form of a public forum.

  6. I definitely need to work on my gestures. The suggestion to make the movement come from my shoulder not wrist is really helpful. Sometimes I view videos of my talks and I think, “Why am I flapping!?” Great post!

  7. Regarding that first volunteer, the comment that she seemed “more beautiful” after some brief coaching is actually easy to explain. Women with obvious self confidence and expertise, tempered with the right shade of humility, are simply more appealing to men who are at a similar status level in terms of expertise and authority. Granted, the men at that level must also show their self confidence and authority with the right level of humility, lest they become better known for their ego and chauvinism. In science, it’s not common to have a room full of men at the top of their fields of expertise – as often as not, there are women with intelligence and confidence and authority in vital cooperative and collaborative roles. A man who is secure with himself won’t feel threatened by the women at a similar or higher level of accomplishment – that threatened feeling is where the notorious male ego and chauvinism often arise as an overcompensation. A man who is secure with himself would rather work with (and live with, and marry) a woman who feels and acts his equal, rather than one who slips into a inferior role on the basis of traditional (read: outdated) assumptions of authority.

  8. I have just returned to work after attending a two-day freshman orientation event with my son who will be entering college next fall. The quality of the various presentations varied from the excellent bullet points (and other great comments) offered above to standing rigidly at the podium placed at the right (most diminutive) corner of the stage while ending every sentence with a slight rise in vocal pitch as if reading an endless list. The former was talked about by everyone for the remainder of the event while the latter was the event moderator whose information, important to the well running of the event, was often forgotten or missed altogether by the audience.
    This proved to me once and for all that the importance of what I have to say will forever be judged by the way I say it.

  9. These are great points. I once took a class on public speaking (years ago) and many of these points were part of the instruction and they really do work… as explained in your description.
    Simple to do, easy to forget but will reap excellent rewards.
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. IMHO, the biggest tip someone in HR can develop to improve their “Executive Presence” is to actually do two things:
    a. Know what they’re actually talking about. It sounds cliche’, but it’s the bottom line. This means that you understand critical business concepts instead of categorizing them away as “meaningless business jargon.” (Things like “competitive advantage”, “net present value” and “market segmentation” actually mean something and are not the products of a self-inflated ego).
    b. Understand that “Executive Presence” has nothing to do with giving a Powerpoint. Most people don’t retain anything beyond the first 3 slides, so make them count 🙂 The rest is just filler and banter because only 1% of the audience will be able to tell you what you were talking about beyond 7 minutes in.

  11. What is presence? Where does it come from? Great content or great delivery or both?
    I came up with 12 tips to speak as a leader – number 1 being “speak with an intent to move people to action”. I think the quality of executive presence is highly connected to dealing with an individual who projects that they are on a mission, there is a change in the world that they wish to effect. The rest of the 12 are here: http://www.conorneill.com/2009/08/12-tips-for-public-speaking.html
    Great post.

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