By Joni Lindquist

You know it when you see it.  However, it’s difficult to define.  People who exude confidence command a room.   I’ve coached several clients who have moved into VP or C-level jobs and know they need to enhance their executive presence.  For others, they won’t advance due to lack of executive presence.

Executive presence includes your words, the way you carry yourself, and most importantly, it’s the perspective that others hold of you.  While you can’t control others’ perceptions, you can work on these 5 tips to enhance your executive presence:

  1. Look the Part. Unfortunately appearances matter.  We all know someone at work who wears clothes that look like he slept in them. Rumpled is not a good look for business.  Casual work clothes have made the “what to wear” more difficult these days.  The best advice I can give is to wear clothing that is appropriate for your company’s culture.  Notice what the leaders in your organization wear and model your dress after them.  Also, if you are in the community or meeting with clients, dress in “business wear” instead of casual.   At minimum, your clothes should be nicely pressed and fit you.  I was always told to dress for the level or job you want.  Now in the 1980s that meant skirt suits with the bow tie for ladies – remember Melanie Griffith in Working Woman?  So glad that look is out.
  2. Strong Body Language. Walk tall and with a purpose.  Don’t hunch over – stand up and sit up straight.  Don’t slink into a meeting room – stride into it. Good posture communicates confidence.  Plus it’s better for your well-being!   I recently worked with a client who was working to improve her executive presence and she started walking tall, with shoulders back and with a good stride and pace.  This in turn gave her confidence, which reinforced communicating confidence.  Sit tall at meetings, lean forward when interacting with others.  This may sound silly, yet it’s important.  Use your hands to communicate key points.  Remain open when others question your ideas, avoid crossing your arms in a defensive posture.
  3. Powerful Talking. This is not about using big words.  In fact, I heard recently a statement that if you can’t explain a complex topic simply to others, then you really don’t know the topic well enough.  Be natural and authentic and use words that portray confidence.  For example, use phrases like “maybe we can” or “I think maybe” or “What if we do”… sparingly.  Instead, use phrases like “I strongly recommend” or “here is my plan” or “my advice is.”  Use speech to make a point or to summarize various viewpoints while in meetings.  Also, avoid rambling.  This can be hard for those of us who are naturally gregarious and love to talk.  Learn to make your points crisp.  If possible, number your points to make it easy for listeners to follow along.

When doing formal presentations, practice and practice and practice.  Get feedback on your presentation by some respected colleagues before presenting.  If you get nervous, lean into that nervous feeling.  View it as a sign of adrenaline.  World class athletes talk about having a low level of nerves prior to some of their biggest games.  I worked with an executive who would get nervous prior to presenting in front of large groups of employees and be disappointed with herself.  I suggested she stop beating herself up about being nervous and instead view it as a positive sign that will help her give a great presentation.  It worked!

  1. Active Listening. This requires energy and commitment.  The best leaders I’ve been around were active listeners.  They typically start by asking really powerful questions to create a different perspective or lens.  Then they listened.  You won’t look like much of an executive if you answer the wrong question.  I see this happening all the time because the individual didn’t listen carefully and instead was focused on his or her reply.
  2. Leverage Your Strengths. If you love talking in front of groups, offer to do presentations or the larger parts of team presentations.  If you tend to be more quiet and reflective, use your active listening skills to summarize the major points in a meeting.  We all have a coworker who doesn’t speak up frequently, yet when she does everyone listens and she seemingly always gives a hugely valuable observation or recommendation.

Executive presence is more art than science.  By following these tips above, you’ll be well on your way to exuding talent and confidence.  To discuss other ways to improve your executive presence, schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Joni Lindquist –, or call (913) 345-1881.