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What is executive presence & how to develop it

Updated: Feb 26

Executive presence is a blend of confidence, personal style and communication skills that conveys authority and inspires others. Essential in today's tech-dominated business world, it's not a birth right, it can be learned.

People often come to me for help to develop their executive presence, but when asked what they mean, many struggle to define it. There's also a misplaced, wide-spread belief that you're either born with it or you're not. So, let's clear things up. For me, executive presence is a combination of personal style, communication abilities and confidence that conveys authority and inspires others. It's lighter than gravitas, (a weighty Latin word with unhelpful male overtones), more attainable than charisma. And it's a skill that can be learned.


Why does executive presence matter?

Three reasons:

  1. Uniquely human, it's something robots can't replace.

  2. People who have it make a better, longer-lasting first impression.

  3. It can help you advance professionally.

How is executive presence linked to career progression?

The link between executive presence and career progression is undeniable. Walking into and owning a room with authority and influence is likely to improve your career advancement opportunities because it signals that you trust yourself and have the confidence to take on difficult challenges and make crucial decisions. Your ability to convey executive presence will also set you apart when looking for a job or seeking promotion. First impressions form within milliseconds and influence our view of people for the long haul. They can even determine whether politicians get elected. In a world where tech is increasingly taking over human jobs, employers are actively looking for individuals with the confidence, communication abilities, and personal style to take on demanding leadership roles.

How to develop executive presence

To develop your executive presence, hone and blend the following four elements: 1. A confident, growth mindset 2. Open, expressive body language 3. Clear, articulate speech 4. Vocal warmth, strength and variety

If you're not sure how you come across, seek feedback. Being mindful of your capabilities, weaknesses, and emotions in the workplace will help you gain a clearer understanding of yourself. Acknowledge what sets you apart and use it to your advantage while taking note of areas that need improvement.

Fostering executive presence will help you build trust, rapport and respect with your peers, colleagues and superiors as well as motivate and inspire them. And, if you're looking for role models to emulate, check out Christine Lagarde, who, in my view, is a paragon of presence.

(Image courtesy of Brinacor, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde sits in a chair on stage at a public forum organized by the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley College. Lagarde made headlines for her declaration that economic "inequality is sexist." She makes a "Merkel-Raute" or "Triangle of Power" gesture with her hands.


The link between voice and executive presence

How you use your voice can have a direct impact on how you are perceived by others. Your vocal speed, pitch, intonation, loudness and tone, all play an essential role in conveying authority when speaking. An upbeat, positive tone of voice can even lead to a better share price.

A powerful business voice allows you to command attention and respect from those around you while expressing yourself clearly and effectively. Developing the right vocal techniques is key for any executive looking to project executive presence in their work environment or professional setting.

No matter what stage of your career or your role, anyone can develop their executive presence.

In my recent Make Your Mark with Susan Room® workshop for Imperial College Business School, I coached over 50+ experienced exec MBAs (technical leaders, project managers and analysts) to develop their confidence, presence, and communication skills. Here's what one participant had to say:

“A wonderfully engaging interactive session with Susan Room on confidence, presence and communication. Many immediately implementable practical insights, as well as longer term food for thought. Highly recommended.”

- Mark Jervis, Strategic Hardware Planner, Intel


To find out more about my workshops or how you can use your voice to develop your executive presence, please get in touch.

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