What IS Executive Presence?

My research into this question has found when Senior Leadership talks about the concept of presence they are talking about three distinct and related dimensions:

    1. What people see when they look at you—your ability to demonstrate poise and confidence.
    2. What people hear when they are in conversation with you—your ability to create trust and psychological safety.
    3. How people feel about themselves when they are in your company—your ability to encourage and inspire them.

The right mix of these three skills sets signals that an executive is authentic, inspirational, a great collaborator and can drive business results.

PRESENCE_ What people see when they look at you

Can I improve my Presence?


During my keynotes and seminars I suggest people start by doing a self-assessment against the three dimensions of presence (above) to judge how robust their presence currently is.

For the dimension of What People See ask yourself:

      • How aware am I regarding the quality of my energy as I enter a room?
      • Do I eliminate distractions when interacting with others? For example: turning away from my computer when speaking on the phone? Putting my iPhone away during business meetings?
      • Can people see when I’ve ‘lost my cool’?


For the dimension of What People Hear ask yourself:

      • Do I speak too little, or perhaps too often, in group situations?
      • How frequently do I interrupt others to get my point across? Or, how frequently do I keep my opinion to myself and not speak up at all?
      • How well can I adjust my message to match the needs of my listener?


For the dimension of What People Feel ask yourself:

      • How well do I build strong lasting relationship based on trust? Or, am I transactional in my relationships? Do people come and go through my life based on when I need them for something?
      • How well can I gauge the emotional response of others to my communication? Can I adjust accordingly?
      • Would the people that work with me say that I project optimism? How much optimism do I project day-to-day?


Once you get a clear picture of your strengths and areas of improvement you can begin to make consistent changes to your behavior that will increase your presence. For example: Practice making it a point to put your electronic devices away when you are having conversations with colleagues.

How might I be sabotaging my presence without even knowing it?

Not Rehearsing

The most common self-sabotage is not setting aside enough time to think about HOW you are going to deliver a message or presentation.

It’s not enough to have spent time crafting a well written PowerPoint presentation or playbook. What people see when you speak to them impacts how they will receive your message.

      • Rehearse what you are going to say out loud at least once before a high stakes meeting or conversation. Pay attention to your tone of voice and level of enthusiasm about your topic.
      • Make sure you smile as you welcome people to the meeting.
      • Remember to take pauses as you transition between different thoughts or ideas.
      • Be prepared to set your agenda aside and go with the flow of conversation.


In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Gossip destroys trust. Gossip adds unnecessary complexity to communications. Gossip devalues all of your relationships. Whoever you are gossiping with now knows that you are the kind of person that talks behind other people’s backs.

Instead, stop and T.H.I.N.K. Ask yourself: is this information…

     T = True?

     H = Helpful?

     I = Inspiring?

     N = Necessary?

     K = Kind?

Additionally, set clear boundaries with colleagues to let them know you don’t gossip. If someone launches into an insensitive piece of news about another person simply ask: Why are you telling me this?

Psychologists report that this questioning technique works because it disrupts any self-serving motive from the gossiper. Once they’ve responded you can then easily say: “You might want to discuss this with him/her personally.”

Executives who have powered up their presence don’t gossip. They understand that what people hear has a lasting impact on their own reputation.


Every job in every industry has some element that doesn’t run as smoothly as we’d like. We all encounter problems that frustrate us. Leaders who have powered up their presence understand that what people feel, when they hear complaining, is demotivated.

Additionally, complaining leads to more complaining. When you complain about a problem you are giving others permission to complain too. Instead, offer solutions to the complications you encounter.

Power Up YOUR Presence

Spend some time this week observing yourself interacting with your team, colleagues and customers.

      • What might they be seeing when they look at you?
      • What do they hear when they speak with you?
      • Most importantly, how might they feel about themselves after they been in your company. Inspired? Or scolded?

Fine tune your self-awareness on these three dimensions. Then take small steps to improve. With a little practice you can power up your presence and improve your overall impact at work.