Executive presence: use your body for impact

A few months ago I had the opportunity to audit ExecComm’s Executive Presence and Communication Skills class.  While I am a graduate of Dale Carnegie’s Human Relations and Presentations program, I picked up several tips on using your physical body for impact.  As I am working with a client in a new leadership role who wants to make a big impression in a couple upcoming meetings, I thought I’d put these tips together here this week.

Ensure you are facing your audience in steady, open position. This means your feet and body are lined up straight toward the audience, and you are balancing on both legs, hip-width apart, as to appear straight, tall and confident. Many of us have a natural tendency to lean to one side, especially after standing for a few minutes. You may need to build your physical stamina for this one!  This also means hands out of pockets, arms uncrossed down at your side, and hands, unlaced. Yes, this means fully, open position. This can feel challenging until you read the second tip below.

Put your hands to work on furthering your message.  Let the theatrical side of you shine here. The idea is that you want your arms to mirror and add dimension to the ideas you are communicating. If you are speaking about making a big splash, let your hands visually represent the concept. Not only do gestures demonstrate passion and energy, they also support you in burning nervous energy.

Speak only when you are fully set up with technology/visual aids/flip charts; pauses are fine. It is tempting  to start speaking as you position the flip chart, transition slides, and/or flip a light switch.  Resist the urge! Silent pauses earn command. Begin when you can be fully present (physically and mentally) to your audience.

Review and digest each point on a slide/visual and then present with open body. We have all seen the presenter who turns their backs or faces sideways toward the projector or flip chart, limiting two way communication and also creating a poor, professional image. The idea with this technique is that you silently review what it is you want to say, and then deliver it facing forward to the audience (as opposed to the wall.)

Stand to the left of your visual aids.  This is because your audience will read left to right (if not reading Hebrew), and it’s helpful  for you in digesting and delivering the message. On a related point, it is distracting to the audience when a presenter stand before the slide and is painted with words! (Black out the screen/visuals when you want to talk front and center of room.)

Connect with individual audience members for at least 5 seconds.  This technique feels quite uncomfortable at first, but has so many advantages, so I hope you will try it. First of all, if you are nervous, the one-to-one focus will naturally calm you down and allow you to relate in a more personal way. In addition, this approach exudes confidence and connection to your audience, and despite what you might fear, will not “freak” audience members out. You may need to practice this technique with a timer and supportive colleagues to get comfortable, but I assure you, it will make a positive difference for you.

Put the tips to work:

  • When is the next time you will be presenting?
  • Which tip can you focus on for greater impact?
  • Who can hold you accountable and offer you constructive feedback on these tips?