Executive Presence is a fuzzy term that’s often used to describe a host of soft skills and qualities, from body language to dress to emotional intelligence, deemed necessary for selling to the C-suite, moving up in an organization, or motivating a team or individual to adopt new ideas or behaviors.
While not a gender issue specifically, executive presence is especially critical for women who are still struggling to get a seat at the decision-makers table in many industries and organizations. In fact, executive presence has been estimated to account for as much as 28 percent of a woman’s success, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success.
For those of us in sales and leadership roles, executive presence can perhaps best be described as the ability to influence with confidence, credibility and clarity. Without the ability to successfully influence others, your sales or leadership career will be short-lived. Can you influence people without executive presence? Sure. But it’s like trying to make a jump shot with a weight belt on – it’s harder than it needs to be and you’re going to miss a lot of shots.
A handful of salespeople have approached me because their manager specifically said they need to work on their executive presence. But most salespeople and sales leaders are unaware that a lack of executive presence is at the root of their problem. They are much more likely to recognize their lack of influence in statements like these:
“I have a hard time controlling meetings.”
“I am more qualified than my peers yet they’re getting promoted before me.”
“My team acts like they’re listening to me, but they don’t take my suggestions.”
The good news is this: If you improve your executive presence, you improve your influence. Here are five ways where you can quickly and dramatically increase your EP – and your influence – in sales.
Five Ways to Increase your Executive Presence:
- Assume equal status. Authentic executive presence starts on the inside and radiates outward. Status, or the way you feel about yourself in relation to another person, affects everything from your body language (eye contact, gestures, facial expressions) to the sound, quality and strength of your voice, to the words you choose.
You convey status subconsciously to your listener before you even open your mouth. When you assume a lower status, your body, voice and words reflect that low status, and your listener treats you like someone with lower status. And vice versa.
To be treated as an equal, you need to assume equal status with your audience. Seeing yourself as a trusted advisor, subject matter expert or experienced leader is a vital first step to developing executive presence.
- Cut to the chase. Steve Jobs captivated audiences by slowly winding his way to a final dramatic reveal in his presentations. Abraham Lincoln led the country with long, detailed stories before finally making his point. But you and I live in a fast-paced world where clarity and succinctness is not just appreciated, it’s demanded, especially the higher you go in the organization.
How long does it take you to get to the point? Is your prologue to help the audience – or is it simply to make you more comfortable? Increase your EP instantly by cutting to the chase and starting with what’s of greatest interest to your listener. That could be a key issue, a benefit, or an insight. Whatever it is, get there fast – within thirty seconds.
- Move with purpose. Movement has a huge impact on other people’s perception so managing your executive presence means managing your movement. Many business people who try to emulate the seemingly casual wanderings of Steve Job’s don’t realize that Job’s movement was anything but casual. His presentations and movement were purposeful and planned down to the micro-second.
While you don’t need to plan out every move, your movement also needs to be purposeful and support what you’re saying, not compete with it. Your purpose can be simple, e.g., to connect with an audience member, or to write on a whiteboard. Whatever it is, tying your movement to a purpose will amplify your executive presence.
- Eliminate vague language. Be purposeful in your word choice as well. Decisiveness and confidence are key leadership traits and language peppered with vague words like “maybe, sort of, kinda…” communicates uncertainty to your listener. Get clear on your message and commit to it 100% by choosing strong, specific language.
- Speak with intention. What lies underneath your words – your intention – influences as much as the words you use. Think of all the different ways the words “I’m sorry” can be said. It’s meaning changes based on what the intention is. People who speak with intention are very clear about how they want you to feel about what they’re saying. Whether it’s excited, convinced, or reassured, strong, clear intentions produce strong emotions and passion in you – and strong reactions in your audience.
Women in Sales: Want to Unleash Your Executive Presence?!
I’m excited to team up with Women Sales Pros to help women in sales develop their executive presence and communicate with greater influence, and help companies promote women into leadership and grow revenues. For information on our Executive Presence for Women in Sales Workshops, coaching and sponsorship opportunities, click here.