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Do You Have Executive Presence?

Do You Have Executive Presence?

BY Michelle McQuaid

When you walk into a room at work are people naturally drawn to you? When you sit at a meeting table do others ask to hear your thoughts? When there’s a decision to be made do people seek our your ideas?

If you’re wavering in your responses chances are you’re missing what researchers have found is an essential component to getting ahead at work – executive presence. Reported to account, on average, for 25 percent of what it takes to get promoted, understanding how to project confidence, stay poised under pressure and be authentic are clearly skills worth having.

But if you’re not quite there yet, what can you do to cultivate a more positive presence at work?

What Is Executive Presence?

“Studies have found that in the first seven seconds of meeting you people make 11 judgments about you,” explains Shannon Polly, a corporate communications trainer who specializes in applying positive psychology approaches.

“Are you someone to approach or to avoid? Are you friend or foe? Do you have status and authority? Are you trustworthy, competent, likable, confident? These interpretations are made at lighting speed so you want to do all you can to make them work in your favor,” Shannon suggests.

To achieve this, researchers suggest channeling an effective executive presence is a dynamic mix of three things:

  1. gravitas (how you act),
  2. communication (how you speak) and
  3. appearance (how you look).

“This isn’t about faking it until you making it,” she cautions. “Rather, the goal is find authentic ways to express the intention you have when it comes to your interaction with others.

But just how do we pull this off? In this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I asked Shannon what we can do to have a more authentic and positive presence at work.

How Can You Have A More Positive Presence?

Shannon recommends trying these tested, practical steps:

  • Know Your Intention – We know our non-verbal signals have a huge impact on how we’re perceived, yet when we’re preparing for meetings or presentations we spend 99% of our time on the content and maybe 1% on what we’re going to wear, how we’re going to act and what we’ll will sound like when we speak. Take the time to get clear on your intention for each interaction. Is your intention to inspire? Is your intention to educate? Is your intention to comfort if it’s a difficult situation at work? How will you embody this intention in the way you dress, move and talk?
  • Let Yourself Relax – Fear of public speaking is bigger than a fear of death in most people so it’s important to calm down your nervous system before you go in to a meeting or a presentation. The most effective way to do this to breathe slowly and deeply. It calms down your heart rate and it lowers your tone of voice. You can try an app like “Breathe To Relax” or take the advice of researcher Amy Cuddy who suggests striking a Wonder Woman pose (stand up straight with your hands on your hips, feet in a wide stance and head held high) and breathing slowly for two minutes to lower your cortisol levels and increase your testosterone.
  • Engage Your Batter’s Box When You Speak – Think of your batter’s box as the area from your shoulders out to your hips and down to your waist. As you speak this is the area where normal gestures will naturally flow from normal speech so you can convey authenticity. Of course if your company’s just won a $3 million project, it’s fine to go outside of your batter’s box to display your excitement at the outcome.
  • Build On Your Strengths – Make the time to reflect on or even ask for feedback about what worked well in terms of how you presented yourself. This will help you discover your strengths – the things you’re good at and enjoy doing. Studies suggest that building on your strengths – rather than fixing your weaknesses – is the best way to improve your confidence, performance and wellbeing all of which impact your executive presence.

If you took these steps before your next meeting, how could it shape your colleagues perceptions?

For more from Shannon on how to apply positive psychology practices at work visit and check out her positive storytelling video.

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