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5 Steps for Cultivating Your Executive Presence

Executive presence isn’t a characteristic limited to executives. Anyone, at any level, can learn how to refine and elevate their executive presence. Why? Because your competencies and learned skills will get you the job, but it’s your executive presence that will get you promoted.


Executive presence is significant at this moment. With organizations continuing to navigate returning to the office or a hybrid work model, employees that project confidence, professionalism, and adaptability will set themselves apart and get noticed. It can be the lasting impression you leave on colleagues that make decisions about your career. Remember, many decisions about your promotability and career options are made when you’re not in the room.

Presence & Confidence

Executive presence is often associated with an ability to inspire confidence in others. Confidence is perceived by how you speak, act, listen to others, and carry yourself.

For building and refining your executive presence skills, focus on five key areas.

1)   Observe Yourself

To accurately observe yourself, you want to understand how others perceive you. Step back and think about two sets of circumstances.

First, consider daily interactions where you assume a leadership role. Leadership roles can be any instances from running a project to publicly recognizing a colleague’s work to planning a social gathering. Look for opportunities that replicate these circumstances.

Then, think about how you act and react under stress.

Stressful situations are highly memorable to others. If your response to stressful situations needs improvement, consider how you want to be remembered and write down the characteristics you want others to see, and not see, in you.

If you have a mentor or trusted colleague, ask them for help in understanding how others perceive you while you are under stress.

2)   Communicate with confidence

The easiest way to communicate confidently is to lose the junk words. Ban “um,” “like,” “you know,” and “so” from your vocabulary. There is no faster way to lose an audience than cluttering up your speech with these words. If you’re on Zoom or in-person, pay attention to your eye contact and speech patterns. Brush up on your public speaking skills through professional development opportunities and apply the lessons in everyday conversations. Every time you speak is an opportunity to practice your public speaking skills.

Ask colleagues, supervisors, and mentors for feedback and advice on what you do well and where you can improve.

3)   Listen well. Ask questions

Listening well is the flip side to communicating well. If people perceive you as a good listener, you will boost your executive presence while projecting humility and confidence. Asking questions, particularly open-ended questions that begin with How, What, and When, reinforces that you are actively listening. Here are some you can incorporate right away into everyday conversations:

How can we…?
How can I…?
What did you…?
What do you think?
What should we do first?

In meetings, build on the ideas of others using “Yes, And” and avoid “No, But.” Here’s what it sounds like:

Yes, And – “That’s an idea we haven’t explored, and we can use that to….”
No, But – “That’s one idea, but I think the direction we want to go in is….”

When people feel heard, they are more likely to seek you out as a trusted, collaborative partner.

4)   Personal narrative

Confidence comes through when you answer questions clearly, especially questions that pertain to you and your career. Always be ready to articulate your career vision. Write talking points on what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. Think also about how your goals benefit the company. The ability to articulate goals and vision inspires confidence among those making decisions on your advancement.

5)   Build your network

An essential part of any career advancement is whom you know. Becoming a known entity with colleagues and senior executives in many different departments creates memorability. Expanding your network outside of your working area shows others that you are confident and curious. When opportunities arise, if you are known to many, you are likely to be considered.

Your executive presence precedes and follows you throughout your career. Being seen as an invested, curious, and confident team member and partner will open new opportunities.

Article written by Marti Fischer, Career Advisor, Speaker, and Author.

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