4 Tips to Refine Your Leadership Presence
What is Leadership Presence?
Leadership presence, otherwise known as “executive presence” is an elusive, yet, highly demanded quality in leaders. According to a recent survey by the Human Capital Institute (2020), most HR practitioners (81%) agree that it’s easy to spot executive presence, while more than half (51%) agree that it’s difficult to define what executive presence is.
In popular definitions, leadership presence has been variously described as a combination of credibility, confidence, emotional intelligence, “the ability to take command of a room,” and the ability to connect with your audience.
According to these definitions, your “presence” as a leader comes down to 3 factors:
- who you are as a leader–your character and competence
- how you show up–your style, appearance, and communication,
- your impact–your ability to inspire a sense of trust and connection from your audience.
At THG, we believe that you can cultivate your leadership presence by working on 4 important aspects of your communication: body language, eye contact, pace, and expression.
In this post, we will share a list of concrete tips around each of these 4 aspects to increase the impact of your leadership presence in both virtual and in-person settings.
1. Body Language
Whether we are on a Zoom call or presenting in a boardroom, our non-verbal cues communicate more to our audience than what we verbally communicate through our language. This means that when we communicate, we should be cautious to ensure that our words align consistently with the tone and message conveyed by our body language.
Our body language can also increase the effects of our words by adding emphasis, a perception of confidence, or openness to engage with the audience.
When you are presenting or communicating in person, be mindful of your posture and the range of movement with your arms and legs. Maintain an upright posture and keep your arms and chest open to the audience, while your feet are planted squarely and comfortably on the ground to avoid unnecessary pacing.
Keep your hands open by your sides and apart from one another to minimize fidgeting with your hands. This way, your hands can also be readily available for an appropriate amount of gestures to emphasize your message.
In a virtual setting (on camera), consider using more controlled gestures and avoiding extraneous movements. Due to factors like internet speed, virtual backgrounds, and the camera angle, your hand gestures may be less clear and distracting to the audience.
When rehearsing your presentation, try recording yourself in the virtual environment that you will be actually communicating in–keep the same virtual background and camera settings. Take a look at how your gestures show up in the recording and ensure that the impact of your full range of motion is captured without breaking or distractions.
2. Eye Contact
Eye contact is a primary way we create a feeling of connection with others while communicating. Despite eye contact being all around us in our daily communication, for many of us, when we are nervous or in front of a large audience, making eye contact can feel uncomfortable and even intimidating. If you experience this, here are some tips to keep in mind during your in-person and virtual presentations.
In-person: It’s important to sustain your eye contact for the length of an entire idea. Try to avoid scanning the room or darting your gaze from person to person too quickly. Abrupt eye contact can give your audience the wrong impression that you lack confidence or credibility. It can also distract our audience from being engaged in our message.
Even if you are in a large room, remember that the goal of your eye contact is to make a real connection. Approach eye contact step by step or person by person and remind yourself that less can be more. Even in an auditorium full of people, if you make a real connection with one individual, everyone can feel your presence.
Virtual: To create the feeling of “eye contact” in a virtual setting, it’s important that we look directly into the camera rather than the faces on the screen. At the same time, we want to avoid glaring or staring fixedly at the camera for the entire length of the communication–remember, our goal with virtual eye contact is to create the feeling of genuine connection that we experience in in-person settings.
Adjust the height of your camera so that you can gaze comfortably and naturally into the camera at eye level. In the virtual setting, the same rules of sustained eye contact apply: aim to hold your eye contact for the entire length of an idea, especially if you are relying on a deck on your screen.
It’s okay to refer to your deck from time to time but consider that unlike in person where your audience can see the notes in your hands or the podium in front of you, your audience can’t see the object of your gaze in a virtual setting. Their entire focus is on your face–which can
Pace refers to the speed of your overall communication and how clearly you articulate each word or message. In both in-person and virtual settings, consider the rate of delivery of your words and the rate of delivery of your ideas.
If you often receive the feedback that you are a fast speaker, try slowing down the rate of delivery of your words overall to a maximum of 150 words per minute and or taking 2-Mississippi pauses to check in with your audience, allow for interjections, and to control your pace.
If you tend to receive the feedback that you are a slow speaker, be extra cautious to avoid any filler words such as umm, uhh so, just, sorry, etc.
Finally, exploring the full range of your vocal expression can help you unlock your full potential as a speaker and presenter. When reflecting on your vocal expression, think critically about your volume, pitch, and tone. Ask yourself the following 2 sets of questions before your next communication opportunity:
- At what volume, from level 1 (being the quietest your voice can be) to 10 (the loudest your voice can be), will you deliver your communication? Why? Can increasing, decreasing, or fluctuating your volume add more emphasis, emotion, or dynamism to your communication for your audience? At what part of your communication will you increase, decrease, or fluctuate your volume?
- What pitch (the highness or lowness of your voice) and tone (ex. soft and empathetic, serious, formal, etc.) will you use for your communication, and why? Is this the most effective tone for your audience? How can you fluctuate your pitch to convey a different tone that will have a greater impact on your audience?
Strategizing about your vocal presence can also provide an increased sense of awareness about your audience. At the same time, it can help you explore the combination of your volume, pitch, and tone that feels like the “sweet spot”-- the most comfortable and authentic to who you are as a speaker and leader.
By refining your body language, mastering the art of eye contact, controlling your pacing, and leveraging the full spectrum of vocal expression, you're not only enhancing your communication skills but also strengthening the trust and connection you forge with your audience. Whether in a boardroom or on a virtual call, remember that every gesture, every gaze, and every word counts. Embrace these tips, practice them consistently, and watch your leadership presence shine brighter than ever before.
If you found these tips helpful, check out our comprehensive learning experience on Presenting as a Leader on the THG website. Additionally, our new learning experience Communicating in a Hybrid World can help you reflect on your communication approaches in the virtual setting and build a plan for developing more engaged hybrid teams.
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