A recently divorced friend who was browsing her feed of prospects on a dating app said she liked one gentleman because of he exuded “executive presence.” I asked myself if the term “executive presence” is a measure of desirability on a dating site based on a static image, does that lessen the importance of those qualities in the business world? Has the term been overused and diluted as to render it meaningless? And how well can you gauge executive presence on video calls?
To satisfy my curiosity, I consulted a few friends who work at recruiting firms. I asked them: “What does executive presence represent when you screen candidates online?”
Mark, a global tech headhunter, said that it is means the candidate has poise, confidence, and gravitas. “They look and sound relaxed and smart.” Anne, who seeks out fundraising pros for national non-profits, told me that for men and women alike, “it’s a positive first impression that starts when they show up on the screen and carries through the entire interview and beyond.” And, Mike, a recruiter in the fintech space, said that it’s simply virtual charisma, the charm and warmth that transmits through video and leads to a face-to-face interview with the hiring company.
I was relieved.
I teach C-suite leaders how to project their authentic presence, personality, and expertise on Zoom and believe that today more than ever, executive presence is an essential component of success in the new normal of remote and hybrid teams.
How does the way you look, sound, and behave on the small screen boost your credibility and authority? The three recruiters agreed that executive presence unlocks the door to opportunity and that transmitting it is more important in virtual settings than in person.
“On video we look at people more closely than we would in person,” said Mike, the fintech recruiter. “If someone is unsure and lacks confidence, those qualities will be magnified on the screen.” Anne, the fundraising specialist, added that the more significant the career opportunity, the more important executive presence becomes.
The good news is that though executive presence is critical, it is neither magical nor mysterious. It is a skill, not necessarily a trait, that can be cultivated and built. Yes, some people are naturally more charismatically gifted than others, but with focus, practice and self-awareness, everyone can improve.
Here are five key steps to build your executive presence on Zoom or your preferred video conference platform.
1. Be impeccable with the way you look and sound.
Video conferencing is a visual medium. How you show up casts the first impression that others will have of you, and we know how difficult it is to reverse a bad first impression. The human brain processes visual and auditory data at an approximate ratio of 90 to 10. That is, if you are not optimizing your appearance, or the 90 percent of the equation, you are missing out. Appearance is just one of the four aspects of ASSETs, Appearance, Staging and Styling, Energy and Technology, which contribute to your executive presence online. The sound—your words and how your voice transmits—comprises the other 10 percent. But note that what you say and the quality of your ideas are success factors on their own.
2. Build your public speaking skills.
Public speaking is the foundation of leadership. People with great executive presence are excellent communicators. Invest the time in building strong oral communication skills and adapt them to the medium of video conferences. You need to be concise, focused, and highly connected to your audience to hold their attention and resonate. Avoid verbal fillers that clutter and tarnish your statements. Get to the point and make every word matter.
3. Become an excellent listener.
Many people forget that one of the most important communication skills is your ability to listen. People with great executive presence are exceptional listeners. They engage with their full attention, they ask great questions, and they use listening to engage others and explore significant ideas. The element of engagement is crucial to successful interactions on Zoom where the ability to “read the virtual room” often determines the effectiveness of a meeting. And there is an added benefit: The ability to listen effectively demonstrates self-confidence, another critical part of executive presence.
4. Articulate your personal mission statement.
One of the key ingredients of inspiring confidence is having a compelling vision— a well-conceived notion of what you are working to accomplish. What do you stand for? Why do you do the work you do? It should be appropriate in scale for your level of seniority. You should be able to communicate your vision flawlessly in any circumstance whether it is a self-introduction or a meeting with investors, employees, or other stakeholders. A robust, well-articulated vision is particularly valuable on video meetings where attention spans and patience are in short supply.
5. Learn to manage stress and performance anxiety.
How do you behave when the stakes are high? How do you respond to technical glitches and connection problems that are common on video calls? Do you project steady composure or do your body language, facial expressions, and voice telegraph nervousness? People with good executive presence present themselves as calm, even keeled, well-prepared and in charge, even when factors beyond your control go haywire. That demonstrates the confidence and poise necessary to assume progressive levels of responsibility in an organization.
Simply put, executive presence can be a make-or-break factor in high-stakes situations where your talents, expertise, decisiveness, and vision are on display. And, in the new normal of remote work and online meetings, this secret sauce of leadership takes on even greater importance.
And one more benefit of executive presence: it may well be the elusive quality that you seek in the perfect romantic match. Leadership yields many rewards indeed.
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