We all know when we see or hear someone who exudes “executive presence.” It’s not just that they exemplify good grooming or fashion sense, or even that they have highly developed intelligence or street smarts. More than that, their executive presence comes from a sense of confidence and clarity of thought. Others recognize the quality in the way the person walks and talks. It’s a kind of controlled forward momentum.
True leaders project that they’re going somewhere and are confident others will follow. But before they’re able to connect with people on this level, they must first learn to perfect the communication skills that polished business speech demands, refining the ways in which they conduct meetings, give presentations, network and meet with clients, and ensuring those skills are balanced and support each other.
To develop executive presence, you first must be able to execute simple and subtle changes to the pattern of your speech delivery. Learning to control your body language, your breathing, your pace and your pauses will signal to your audience that you’re in control. Combine these techniques of effective public speaking and step into the mental zone that emanates executive presence.
Recognize the balance.
Never discount what vocal balance can do for your confidence and your sense of presence in a conversation, meeting or presentation. “Vocal balance” is a feeling of being well supported with forward momentum and relaxation. It’s your vocal apparatus working at peak efficiency. The ease and fluidity of your body language becomes the gauge that indicates your increased level of comfort and confidence. The ability to start and stop and add inflection becomes second nature. You can adjust the projection of your voice based on a variety of circumstances. Your pace is measured when driving home a point and sweeping when caught up in the excitement and passion of your message. Knowing how to connect your breathing, your gesturing, your intonation and your projection will give you the sensation of being in balance. None of these aspects of speech technique are isolated. A good public speaker connects them all together seamlessly.
Ride the wave.
Being physically prepared is the foundation for being mentally and emotionally prepared for whatever challenges may come. It begins in the body — that’s what makes it ooze with authenticity. Connecting to your body through deliberate breathing, varied gestures, compelling facial expressions and good eye contact will connect you to your true perspective and allow you to walk the walk and talk the talk. The feeling of being physically prepared can be summed up by the phrase, “I’ve got this.” It will boost your level of confidence, the delivery of your message and determine whether you have executive presence.
Learn from the experts.
Make it a habit to learn from the best. When you’re in the presence of a truly great speaker, look for the ways the person incorporates the various skills that go into public speaking. Pay attention to the person’s breathing, posture, gestures, facial expressions and measured pace. At first it may seem as though there’s nothing happening out of the ordinary. But, when you break it down, you’ll notice how the separate techniques are deployed in a smooth, solid and connected fashion. All of the parts work together to make a cohesive, engaging presentation. When you know what to look for, you can take note of how true experts engage the different facets of their speaking expertise and then you can begin to utilize them yourself. Make a point to look for the following:
- Deliberate breathing
- Full and varied gestures
- Varied intonation (pitches are high and low, rhythms are fast and slow)
- Purposeful and sweeping cadence
- Appropriate eye contact
- A clear, concise summation of the message (repeated often for emphasis)
These essential components of good speech technique can be hard to notice when a speaker has mastered how to put them all together. Oftentimes the magician is so good that, even when you know to look for the sleight of hand, you still become lost in the brilliance of the show.
Master the pause.
Any good speech coach (and any good musician, for that matter) will tell you that the very best speakers know how to “play the silence in between.” Becoming a master of the pause in speech requires good diaphragm regulation, synchronized gesturing and confidence in applied inflection. Deliberate breathing is the difference maker. The interesting thing is that listeners really do pay attention to a deliberate gap in your spoken words. They perk up, anticipating what you’ll say next. The subtle utilization of the pause is a wonderful way to keep your listeners’ attention and add gravitas to your message. Maintaining attention requires controlling the gap of silence so that you don’t look like a deer in the headlights. The perception should be that you’re giving your listeners space to process what you’re saying and make a connection to the concepts you’re conveying. Pausing effectively requires that you focus on two things: Starting and stopping your airflow using your diaphragm muscle, and learning to hold your gesture through the silence. The decision to pause for effect is mental, but the execution is purely physical.
Explore the edges.
You can boldly set off to explore and experiment with intonation and gesturing knowing that you have a base of fundamentally sound speech technique to return to. When you know how to start and stop and how to push forward in a relaxed way, you have the tools to take on whatever may lie ahead. Truly dynamic speakers have a sense of knowing where they want to get to while still sharing the experience of arriving there for the first time.
Practice regularly to fully master these techniques. Expecting to be polished and effective only when you’re on full display is like expecting to play golf at a championship level while only playing once a week. Don’t stop challenging yourself to be more committed, more relaxed and, ultimately, more compelling.