Karen Hough

By Karen Hough

Executive Presence is Seen, Not Said: 3 Techniques to Improve How You Show Up

Executive Presence is Seen, Not Said: 3 Techniques to Improve How You Show Up 150 150 Karen Hough

Presence, and how we are perceived, is much more about what is seen, than what is said. As a leader, it’s about how you show up – in every situation.

You have 7-30 seconds* to make an impression. Every time you enter a room, every time you greet an employee, every time you meet a client, the brains of the people watching you are making hundreds of subconscious decisions. And your body language is practically shouting at them. Isn’t it time you brought intention to those interactions?

If one more executive says, “It takes me a few minutes to warm up, but then I’m good,” I’m going to scream. They’ve just squandered the most important seconds of impression they can make. And research has shown that people decide whether or not to like or trust you (in those precious first 30 seconds) based mostly on your body language**. That research also shows that if there is a disconnect between your words and your body – like when you’re saying “Everything is fine!” but you’re looking nervously at your watch and your shoulders are tense – people become even more uncertain about you.

At ImpovEdge, we develop CEOs and their teams to help them see the whole picture of what they are trying to communicate. Focus on these three techniques, and you can instantly add greater confidence and presence to your persona.

1. Get Set Before You Get There – Don’t “warm up” on the people you’re leading. If you’ve come from a stressful meeting, take the time alone to breathe deeply a few times, smile and relax your face, and stand tall again. That “reset” will help you to bring the energy you intend to your next interaction. It also helps you to get your head and tone straight, so that it is appropriate for the setting and the subject matter.

2. Slow Down and Stand Tall – When people hurry, their rushed movements tend to hunch them over, and their pace gives off a sense of stress. Some of the best leaders I’ve seen move through space, through groups of people and through their day without that frenetic energy. If you pull your spine and head up, it immediately allows you to breathe more deeply and move more confidently. You can still exude energy and get a lot done. By adding this focus, and slowing your movements and responses, it brings a sense of thoughtfulness and gravitas to your interactions.

3. Make Eye Contact – There is nothing more appealing than attention. When a person turns away from their screen, looks at you directly, and connects with eye contact, we feel important. By intentionally making eye contact with people, you deepen even the shortest interactions and strengthen the other person’s sense that you are confident.

Focus on being intentional about the non-verbal aspects of presence to strengthen your communication. The more you bring the most authentic, confident and focused you to any conversation, the more people will trust and want to work with you.

(*A Neural Mechanism of First Impressions, Nature Neuroscience, by Daniela Schiller et al. 2009)

(**Nonverbal Communication, by Albert Mehrabian, 2007)

Karen Hough is the Founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, one of the top 1% of women-owned businesses in the US, an Amazon #1 bestselling author, recipient of the Athena Award and the Stevie Award for Most Innovative Company, and a Yale grad. 

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