In the work I do coaching some very smart individuals, people ask me how they can improve their communication skills so they can get noticed for promotion. Some ask for help on appearances, others for improving their presentations, and still others on their networking and political skills. Everyone seems to have their own opinion about what it takes to stand out as a leader.

“Executive” or “leadership presence” are terms applied to those who have what’s necessary to come across as strong candidates for promotion. But everyone seems to define it differently. It’s the “je ne sais quoi” ingredient that can mean the difference between getting promoted or not. I’ve been reading about how leading authors explain it.

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a noted expert on workplace power and influence, does an excellent job defining what goes into creating a strong leadership impression. 

You can have the experience and qualifications of a leader, but without executive presence, you won’t advance. Based on a nationwide survey of college graduates working across a range of sectors and occupations, Sylvia Hewlett and the Center for Talent Innovation discovered that EP is a dynamic, cohesive mix of appearance, communication, and gravitas. While these elements are not equal, to have true EP, you must know how to use all of them to your advantage.

In my recent series of blog posts on power communications, I wrote about how important it is to become aware of unconscious cues in conversations. In Hewlett’s book, she covers some really key practical tips on how to polish your communication skills. I’ll share some of them here:

  • Ditch the verbal crutches. Everyone’s got them. We repeat phrases automatically, like “like,” “you know,” “basically,” “bottom line,” and on and on ad nauseum.  Tape yourself if you can. You’ll find the ones you use. It’s filler stuff we use while we are thinking about what to say. Instead, allow yourself to pause. Moments of silence can be used to give importance to what you say.
  • Broaden your small talk repertoire. “How ’bout them Knicks?” If you’re a women working with mostly men, you’ll learn to banter intelligently in ESPN-ese. But don’t try to be one of the boys unless you genuinely watch the games. Instead, find topics that engage people universally. Small talk opens doors to shared values, so find the topics that work for you and your clients.
  • Get control of your voice. Great leaders know the importance of voice and many have used voice coaches. If your voice is squeaky, people won’t want to listen to you or take you seriously. Margaret Thatcher used water with lemon and honey. Get some good feedback about your voice.
  • Lose the props. Whether your talking with two or two hundred, don’t use your smart phone or other device during conversations. They serve as crutches. Prepare in advance, know your stuff and follow your outline without referencing notes. A strong leader prepares for conversations and knows salient stats by heart.

What are your ideas about how to create a strong executive presence? Communication skills are just one part of it.

Another important aspect are appearances. But we rarely talk about them because we prefer to think we are fair and base promotions on merits. Then how come CEO’s as a group are all above average height? Makes you think, no? More coming in subsequent blog posts.

Until then, if you’ve got questions or want to talk, contact me here or on LinkedIn.