Your (Executive) Presence is Required
In 2012, the Center for Talent Innovation published a now-famous study about executive presence. The study, based on interviews with thousands of people, concludes that executive presence depends on getting three things right: appearance, communication, and gravitas (itself a set of behaviors). “How you look, how you speak, and how you act turn out to be critical to your success,” the report concludes, “at every step in your career journey.”
Now, in her latest book, Presence, Amy Cuddy takes this a step further and shows us how our bodies lead and our emotions and minds follow. Remember that leadership pose she showed us in her first TED talk? Do that and you immediately feel more gravitas, and your audience does, too! The same is true for sitting up straight and leaning in at the table in a meeting, or on the phone when no one can even see you.
The Center for Talent Innovation was clear that gravitas is partly natural and partly developed. Yes, some people are born with an inclination to communicate more effectively, with a prettier face, and a knack for speaking up at just the right time in the right way, but much of this is studied and learned. This is true for how you use your voice – if you want more gravitas, you will have to work at it. The muscles we use to speak now were designed to help us swallow and breathe rather than to communicate. As natural as it seems to you to use yours to speak, it took you two years or more to learn to do that. If it doesn’t do what you need it to do for you, you can create a better, more supportive voice. A review of vocal habits led me to create the following list of skills to develop for more EP. Warning! Most require practice, and all require awareness.
- Speaking with presence means aligning your words and delivery with a sense of purpose and intention. A clear sense of intention will help you better align your delivery with your message and avoid aimless chatter.
- Speaking with presence means using more “mask resonance“. Clearly, if you want others to hear you, much of your vocal presence depends on the resonance and registration of your sound. Developing the best resonance involves exercising as does developing a fit body. People with EP usually know this and work at it.
- Speaking with presence means breathing deeply and using your breath to project your words. Again, vocal fitness follows overall fitness. Learning to breathe involves developing and using your core more effectively, too.
- Speaking with presence means pausing more. Yes, I know that you want to speak up more, but gravitas can be found in the silence as well. Give people space to take in what you say. Add pauses to punctuate your ideas, too.
- Speaking with presence means eliminating words that diminish your gravitas such as “kind of,” “sort of,” “hopefully,” “um,” and “you know.” If you’re on gmail, there’s a plug-in called (love this!) “Just Not Sorry” that will help you sort out the chaff from the gravitas. Doing this with your mail is a good way to practice doing the same in your conversations.
For more on this topic, please see my post, Would it Help if I Sounded like a Man? 5 Techniques for Quiet Talkers.
And here’s a piece on getting rid of public speaking anxiety from Jack Milgram – Public Speaking Tips.