What’s in a name?
Actually quite a lot if you’re a future King or JK Rowling.
JK Rowling’s crime novel published under the pseudo name of Robert Galbraith sold just 500 copies. Within hours of it being leaked that she was the secret author it rose more than 5000 places to top Amazon’s sales list.
Whilst most of us don’t have to worry about our position on Amazon’s best-seller list, we do have our careers and reputations to think about. The Centre for Talent Innovation in New York asked 268 executives what it took to get promoted – 26% said ‘executive presence’.
Think of executive presence a bit like your personal brand. If you’re wondering whether or not you have it consider:
- When you talk do people listen?
- Do you feel like you earn what you’re worth?
- Do people seek out your opinion?
- Do your co-workers and bosses use positive words to describe you?
If you’re answered ‘no’ to any of the above questions there’s some work you can do to enhance your executive presence.
Whether we like it or not, when people hear our name they instantly conjure up a mental image and opinion of us based on their experiences, impressions and interactions with us. What words would people use to describe you when they hear your name? Do you have ‘executive presence’?
What does Executive Presence mean? In short it’s about how you look, act and sound.
- Dress for where you want to be, not where you are. Whilst I’m not suggesting you carrying a briefcase complete with superman outfit, we can all sharpen up our image. It’s the first thing that people judge us on and whilst we know we shouldn’t do it we often do judge a book by its initial cover. Princeton University reports that it takes just a fraction of a second to form a first impression.
- Be polished. This means personal grooming – no scruffy stubble, chipped nail varnish, heels that need repairing, split ends. Iron your clothes. You don’t have to spend a fortune on designer gear, just take time to care for yourself.
- Appropriateness. There’s a time and place for slogan t-shirts and cleavages. The office isn’t that place. By all means have your own unique style. There’s nothing more depressing than commuting to work and feeling as if you’re just another suit drowning in a sea of grey and black. Of course you want to fit in – I regularly have to adapt how I dress depending on the industry I’m working in – I might be suited and booted one day, and in jeans and shirt the next. I take my cue from my audience and wear a slightly smarter, more polished version of what their dress code is. If in doubt I err on the smart side.
Tip: look in the mirror and say what you see. Better still get someone you know that will be honest with you and get them to objectively describe what they see and what impression you’re creating.
How you Act
- Confidence – fake it ’till you make it as they say. Even if you don’t feel confident you can look like you do. Practise sitting and standing tall. Walk and gesture with purpose.
- Make eye contact. Whilst you don’t want to stare people out you want to be able to look at people directly especially when you’re listening or making a point.
- Get a grip and have a good handshake. There’s nothing worse than a limp one.
Tip: Get back in front of the mirror. Look at the way you stand and sit. Are you slouched or standing tall? How can you improve your posture?
How you sound
- Be passionate. Putting someone to sleep with your monotone voice is not a route to having executive presence. If you sound interested in what you’re talking about, others will be interested too. Use inflection and change the tone of your voice.
- Slow and low. People who talk at a slower pace and with a deeper tone are perceived as having more gravitas. Trying to make a good impression often makes us nervous which in turns makes us talk faster and at a higher pitch. Take a deep breath in and out again. This will naturally lower the tone of your voice. Slow down your speech.
- Avoid filler words as they detract from your credibility. Filler words are words that we pepper out speech with when we’re not feeling confident e.g. ‘uhm, ahm, basically, okay, so’.
Tip: Do you want to sound more credible when you’re in a meeting or talking on a teleconference? Get someone to write down some topics on a piece of paper e.g. “sunshine” or “herbal tea”. Pick a topic at random (if you can talk about something that you know little about when it comes to talking about your area of expertise you’ll find it a dawdle). Your aim is to talk about this topic for 1 minute without using any filler words. Get your partner to time you and stop you when you use one of the banned words. If you use a filler word the clock goes back to zero again. It will help you slow down and talk fluently. If you’re too shy, try recording yourself on your phone and listen out for your fillers – bet you’ll find some.
Finally a thought on our public persona. We’re so much more accessible nowadays. My ‘international woman of mystery’ guise has been de-bunked in recent years due to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Family, friends, colleagues, my local barista all know what I’m up to and where I am. Think carefully about what you post – one careless tweet could undo all the hard work you’ve put in to developing your executive presence.
If you’d like some personal advice or would like to run a workshop at work contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Or you can follow me using the links below.