The 3 Keys to Executive Presence for People Leaders

By PeopleLeaders | People Leaders Podcast

The 3 Keys to Executive Presence for People Leaders PL

‘Executive presence’. We hear the term a lot, particularly in leadership circles. But what exactly is executive presence? And how does one develop it? At People Leaders, we refer to those with executive presence as having an authentic, confident and poised sense of self that makes a positive impression. In this post (and this podcast) we've boiled down the concept into three key areas of expression: How you look, How you speak and How you act.

While this may seem simple – and going through the strategies below, you’ll see it really is – if you can increase your competency in each area by just 5%, you can step confidently into your own executive presence and begin to master this elusive but essential art. And here's a template to help you work through the process.

#1. How you look – You CAN judge a book by its cover

Look around at the senior people you admire. How do they present themselves? You’ll soon realise that packaging does matter. It’s not about physical attractiveness – it’s about professional appearance and grooming. When you look neat, tidy and presentable you already have a head start at making a positive impression. If you’re not sure whether you look well-groomed, ask someone you trust for feedback.

#2. How you speak – your voice reflects how you feel and think

Plenty of people have an issue with public speaking, but just speaking in general can also be a cause for concern for some. If you know this is an issue for you, there are several areas you can work on to cultivate stronger characteristics in your speaking voice.

Tone of voice. When we’re anxious or unsure, we often speak at a higher pitch with upper inflexion at the end (which sounds as if we’re not quite sure of what we’re saying). Alternatively, we mumble and eat our words. Confident speakers generally have a lower pitch that carries resonance and falls at the end of a sentence. (Note: The Australian accent naturally tends towards an upward inflection.)

Pace. When we’re nervous, we tend to speed through what we’re saying. The interesting thing is, when you slow down, you actually have more time to think! Try taking a deep breath and speaking thoughtfully with deliberate pauses. This will help you think through what you’re about to say and give the impression of composure and self-assurance.

American consultant Alan Weiss made a Harvard Business School presentation on the power of language (watch it here on YouTube). In it, he explains how mastering language is critical to influencing others. One of his tips is to increase your vocabulary by choosing a new word from the dictionary weekly and using it in your communications. This, he claims, will increase your expressive capabilities, pique your listener’s interest, and build your executive presence.

#3. How you act – It’s not just what you say, it's how you say it

Research shows that more than half of all communication takes place nonverbally. When we speak, people aren't just listening to our voice, they're interpreting our body language too. Hand, head and body movements reinforce our verbal message and when they’re not strong or worse, when they are are misaligned, it can negatively affect the way we’re perceived.

Body language. Amy Cuddy’s fantastic TEDx talk and book Presence summarise how we can use 

nonverbal signs and signals to communicate more effectively. Cuddy explains that when we expand ourselves physically, we feel more powerful. Standing in Superman or Wonder Woman pose makes us feel more expansive, and when we feel more expansive, we think more expansively.

Have a think about how you stand when you’re communicating with people. Check in with yourself and ask, ‘Am I open? Am I sitting or standing up straight?’ Is my tummy tucked in? Are my shoulders back and down? Am I smiling? Am I making eye contact?’ Make these small adjustments to your body language and they’re guaranteed to boost your sense of self and executive presence.

Gestures. Gestures are a powerful form of nonverbal communication. They clarify and support your words just like visual aids. Have you ever noticed how good speakers instinctively dramatise their ideas through gestures which stimulate audience understanding and rapport?
Gestures should reflect your thoughts and feelings, so don’t suppress the impulse and let them arise naturally. Be careful not to overthink them either – nothing is more attractive than authenticity and forced or awkward gestures will have the opposite effect.


We can all build up our executive presence by taking care of how we express ourselves through appearance, speech and behaviour. These are simple things that can help us at a physiological level. Bear in mind, the real secret to executive presence is belief in yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. Reflecting on your strengths and abilities will help you cultivate your self-belief and many of our other posts and podcasts can help you with this important process. In the meantime, we hope to have given you some ideas as to how you can strengthen your executive presence and influence others perceptions of you in a positive way.

We’d love to know what you think about the idea of executive presence. Please feel free to share your thoughts. 

The 3 Keys to Executive Presence for People Leaders. ‘Executive presence’. We hear the term a lot, particularly in leadership circles. But what exactly is executive presence? And how does one develop it? #leadership #performance

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