Having Presence and Impact is one of a few critical success factor for mid to senior level leaders. For many, possessing what is often referred to as executive presence, helps to engender competence and trustworthiness in the eyes of others. This in turn, increases their chances of being regarded as an influential player within their organisation. Indeed, recent research quoted in Forbes Magazine shows that senior executives rate ‘executive presence’ very highly – They believe it accounts for up to 26% of what it takes to get promoted.
Whilst it is tempting to believe that having presence and impact is a gift bestowed upon us at birth, many psychologists believe that these qualities can in fact be learnt. Simple changes can be made to our mental and behavioural habits – allowing us to feel more confident and communicate with more impact.
Presence and Impact can be broken down in to three parts:
- Speaking up – How you use your voice
- Showing up – How you look and how you use your body
- Stepping up – Your attitude and mental state
This is a dynamic model – Each of these three elements can have an impact on the other. For example, if you stand up straight and your voice will sound different. Similarly, by standing up straight you can change your mental attitude too (and more interestingly, this can create a positive feedback loop as your increased confidence can in turn create a more confident voice and posture).
There are many methods to help you heighten your presence and impact. Below are a few tips on how to improve your mental state - how you ‘show up’:
Know your material. The best public speakers, stand-up comedians and TV journalists will tell you that there is one critical factor above all others that increases confidence – Practice! Even those speakers who are the most adept at ‘talking off the cuff’ are often only able to do so because of the confidence that extensive preparation and practice has given them. When you are communicating in a public setting you need to be attuned to the needs and reactions of your audience, if you are too busy thinking about what you are going to say next you can become easily de-tuned. Additionally, knowing your material allows you to listen more clearly in the moment and it also gives you an extra confidence boost to know that you have prepared well.
Use mental imagery. Practice does not always entail a physical rehearsal, it can include mental rehearsal too. Professional sports men and women have long increased their confidence on the big day by harnessed the power of mental visualisation. Before taking a penalty, a striker might play and re-play images of themselves kicking the ball in their minds. A gymnast might mentally execute a difficult landing in her mind, putting herself in that very moment time and time again, long before she starts her routine. However, we often forget that it can also be useful to look backwards. For example, to build confidence we also might want to mentally take ourselves back to a place of past success – a presentation that went very well, or a particularly powerful speech we delivered. Just reminding ourselves that we have done something well in the past might give us the confidence to do it well again in the future.
Use your authentic voice. When we are required to step up, some of us can be easily derailed by a deep and profound belief that our faults will somehow be exposed. This is often accompanied by a feeling that we must do everything we can to make ourselves less vulnerable. For example, we may find safety in ‘sticking to the script’ or referencing lots of data that is difficult for anyone else to dispute. Yet according to the Professor Brene Brown at the University of Houston, vulnerability can in fact be a powerful tool to engage and inspire. Don’t be afraid to reveal information about yourself – tell stories, share jokes, offer personal insights. Also, as you do this, allow yourself the permission to be less than a perfect speaker. After all, being authentic may be more important to your listeners than being polished.