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Executive Presence: Is It Too Late To Be A Born Leader?


Leslie Dickson

 Posted by Leslie Dickson


Executive Communication SkillsI read an interesting article yesterday by a fellow author, Sally Williamson in Training Magazine.  In researching her book The Hidden Factor: Executive Presence, she surveyed some 400 C-level executives.  Her findings will ring true to you, I’m sure.  89% said executive presence is a factor in career success, and 78% said the lack of it can slow your progress.  And what about leadership?  A full 85% of the executives she interviewed stated they believe executive presence is a crucial trait. 

Here’s something that may surprise you – and it’s good news.

98% of the executives confessed they weren’t born with presence.  They had to learn it, practice it and build that skill.  Moreover, 65% say executive coaching can help a leader develop presence and 55% believe leadership programs help.

Ok.  We know we need it...

And we want it and we can learn it.  But let’s take a minute to be sure we understand what “it” is.  Executive presence isn’t an act you put on like a costume.  It’s understanding and harnessing your own qualities, behaviors and communication style to authentically engage others while conveying confidence, power and credibility.  

Wow. That sounds complex and intertwined and deep.   Feel overwhelmed? Stay with me and you won’t.

There are physical attributes to executive presence

We all recognize them the moment a leader enters a room.  Body language says a great deal -- taking a strong, balanced stance conveys competence.  A clear, dynamic voice is persuasive.  Deep measured breathing aids both and keeps the speaker centered.  That’s a powerful feedback loop – when you stand strong and speak clearly, an audience is predisposed to persuasion.  That, in turn, helps you feel calm, focused and more able to listen, think and respond powerfully.

If you stop with the physical appearance...

You’re not going to have the success you want.  Executive presence is more than an “act” you put on to impress people.  A colleague of mine puts it this way:  “You don’t want to be the person who comes into a room and says, ‘I’m here.’  You want to be the kind of person who walks into a room and others say, ‘He’s here.’”

This kind of impact doesn’t come from a quick fix.

At its core, true executive presence is a more powerful way of seeing yourself and the world, which enables a more effective approach to engaging it.   The process of building that more meaningful level of executive presence requires an “inside-out” model, as we say at VoicePro.

The process starts with understanding communication styles.

Different people have different approaches to communication, and those differences can lead to misunderstanding…that robs personal power…that leads to conflict and ineffectiveness.  An executive needs to understand his own personal communication style.  At VoicePro we use the Disc Behavioral Assessment and also videotaping to help participants set that baseline.

Next, the in-touch executive develops the ability to identify the communication styles of others, so she can adjust her own behavior to others, engage them, understand them and shape communication skills to balance desired outcomes with audience needs, even in a “think-on-your-feet” situation.

Now for the full disclosure...

There’s no quick fix for executive presence and no short cuts.   Think about it, though -- would you want it any other way?  Real executive presence must be authentic.  That requires adjusting your world view, practice and mindfulness. It demands commitment to seeing people and situations differently and then behaving accordingly. 

So do you have what it takes to be better?  The vast majority of top executives think you do.  So do I. 


Image by  Lawrence Whittemore

Practice-Makes-Perfect Business Presentations


Carolyn Dickson

Posted by Carolyn Dickson



Business communication skillsHow do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. At least that’s how the familiar joke goes. And it’s not just for musicians – who do, in fact, practice their scales every day. Baseball players go to the batting cages. Painters do sketch after sketch before they start a work in earnest. Racecar drivers take practice laps.

Here’s where I hear you mumbling to yourself, “Yeh, but those are high level skills. We’re talking about…talking. I do that every day. Do I really need to practice that?” Yes. Really.

Now you’re thinking, “But all the really great presenters are laid back…talking off the cuff.”

I agree…almost. The best speakers seem like they’re having a conversation just with you. Nothing stilted, very relaxed. Check out some these great speeches housed on one of my favorite websites, TED - Steve Jobs, former UCLA coach John Wooden, even Bono. “They look like they’re making it up as they go along,” you say. My response: that’s how you know they've practiced.

The most compelling speakers know that practice serves a valuable purpose on so many levels. Let’s take a look at some of them.

  • Practice helps you test your material. Is it too long? Are your explanations clear? Are you getting to the point or rambling? Maybe you’ll change out some cold facts for an unforgettable story. Or see a place to offer a demonstration instead of a PowerPoint slide.
  • Practice helps you know your material without memorizing it. Nothing makes listeners zone out more than what feels like a 10th grade memorization exercise. When you see a great movie, the actors are living the lines, not reciting them. That applies to you, too.
  • Practice puts you in control. If the projector fails, if your notes get out of order, if a marching band starts playing in the hallway…you’ll be able to stay focused because you know what you’re saying.
  • Practice lets you “be yourself.” Do you sound like you’re reading a scripted, written document or having a conversation? Practicing allows you to relax, breathe deeply, keep your mind clear. Someone will ask a challenging question – and you won’t get ruffled. You’ll notice confusion on your audience’s faces, and you’ll brainstorm an idea on how to clarify it on the spot.
  • Practice lets you have a bigger idea. There’s a great video of Bobbie McFerrin (Composer and performer of Don’t Worry, Be Happy) on TED that illustrates how our mind thinks in music. He has the audience improvise a song with him instead of explaining the science. And it communicates so much more than the words of the panel of neuroscientists that share the stage with him.

How you get the most out of your practice? Try this advice.

  • Practice out loud. Really. Don’t just read over the text or review your notes. That’s cheating. Stand up, say it loud. There’s a great scene in the movie Elizabeth in which Cate Blanchett as the young British queen goes over and over a speech she’ll be giving to advisors who don’t think she’s capable of ruling. As she practices, she truly “finds her voice” – ways to persuade, disarm, amuse and captivate even her critics.
  • Practice without looking at your slides. Don’t let them become a crutch. In fact, we recommend that you limit your use of slides as they can become more of a distraction than an assist.
  • Practice being imperfect. Get truly comfortable with your material, so a stumble or missed paragraph doesn’t become a disaster. You just walk your way through it.

Looking for more ideas on great presentations? Check VoicePro’s workshops.

Image by i_zhorov

Let Passion Be A Communication Skill To Forge An Emotional Connection


Carolyn DicksonPosted by Carolyn Dickson



passionate communication skillsLast year I had the opportunity to attend an open house at the International Culinary Arts & Sciences Institue (ICASI) in Chesterland, Ohio. It was a horrible night–snow, snow and more snow, made worse by wind gusts of over thirty mile per hour. In a word, it was nasty! The last thing I wanted to do was venture out on a weeknight in such lousy weather.

I’m here to say, the evening was worth the discomfort for one reason alone. Passion! I was able to experience passion on many levels that evening; the passion the staff and chefs at the institute had for their work and their students, my daughter’s passion for the possibilities of becoming a baker (not to mention a Food Network star), and my passion for the phenomenal flourless chocolate cake that was set in front of me and that I gobbled down with gusto.

It was easy to understand the zeal with which I attacked the cake. And I know of my daughter’s passion to enter this work because of the long talks we’ve had and the excitement with which she has shared her hopes and dreams. But how did I recognize the passion of the staff? After all, I hadn’t met them before. For all I knew this was just a job to them. They had been forced to brave the weather, just as I had. And surely, after all the times they had been through this exercise, their ardor would have cooled.

Not so. With every word, with every move, and with every interaction they had with the students and with the audience, their exuberance rang out loud and clear. Their voices were strong and vibrant. Their faces lit up with a light that can only come from the inside. They were alive physically, their movements sure, and their gestures open and genuine. I could easily picture everything they described. They made a strong personal connection with everyone in the audience, willing to share their passion with all who were willing to listen. The result? I want my daughter to experience what they have to offer. And, even more important, my daughter wants what they have to offer (and she is NOT an easy sell)!

When we speak of passion at VoicePro®, we refer to the many implications it has on the effectiveness of our communication skills with other people – conveying genuine authenticity, making an emotional connection with the audience, being able to “ditch” the script and have a real conversation, helping others experience what you want them to experience because you see it as real – in your head and most importantly, in your heart.

The next time you go before a group of people to speak, find the passion for your subject within you. Take the time to connect with it. Ditch the script, Speak from your heart and, like the staff and chefs at ICASI, inspire your audience to join you in your pursuit, whatever it may be.

Image by segismundoart
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