As I sat down to write this article, I was reminded of author Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s fantastic book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success. I recommend picking up a copy because this topic ties directly into our ongoing conversation about effective communication. In fact, for this article, I’d like to point to a message she gets across well in her book:
“Gravitas is the core characteristic" of executive presence.
I love this statement because when faced with a difficult situation or significant times of change, it’s comforting to know we have someone with gravitas or “grace under fire” leading the charge.
This person is our rock — they have a calming presence about them.
They are decisive, composed, comfortable in their own skin, and confident no matter the situation.
But to understand gravitas more deeply, especially as it relates to executive presence and effective communication, we need to unpack it a bit more and dive into what gravitas truly implies. What components are necessary to establish an executive presence?
3 Components of Executive Presence
For me, there are three components: confidence, authenticity, and charisma.
Confidence — By nature, we are more apt to follow people who are confident in what they say. They are calm and methodical, but most importantly, they are confident. In terms of executive presence, we display confidence through eye contact, body language, gestures, and how we greet people. And there’s quite a bit of interesting research to back this up. One study by the MIT Media Lab analyzed situations like sales negotiations and contract discussions and predicted with87% accuracy how successful those interactions would be based on that person’s confidence level and ability to exude those cues.
But these aren’t the only ways we can display confidence. Another critical component is our use (or lack thereof) of filler words and hedging (um, ah, like, sort of, kind of). Studies show that we can get away with using filler words twice per every 100 words. But said repeatedly in anon-constructive way, these filler words detract from what we are trying to say and make us sound less confident.
Authenticity — As the adage goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul. Is there a truthfulness and authenticity coming through your eyes as you communicate? Is there an unmistakable kindness, or does your presence feel orchestrated or fake? People are smart; it doesn’t take long to see right through you and pick up on your true intentions. Authenticity comes from being confident. When we are comfortable, we are usually our most authentic selves.
Furthermore, there is a comfortable pace to how we communicate. Too often, speakers rush through their speeches and leave their audience in the dust. We should be speaking at a reasonable pace and using pauses effectively.
Doing so suggests you are in control and confident. More importantly, it shows you are speaking from the heart.
Charisma —When talking about charisma, you have to ask yourself, “Do I make someone feel good?” We want to be surrounded by charismatic people. They make us feel good, and there is positivity in how they communicate. In many ways, charisma combines attributes of confidence and authenticity. To have charisma, you must also be confident, establish eye contact, use positive and inviting gestures, and control the atmosphere around you and the people you are with.
The Business World Demands More Effective Communication
Anyone who aspires to have an excellent executive presence needs to be a confident professional, authentic communicator, and be charismatic. But it’s also challenging to know what we are currently projecting. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve taught who, after watching or listening to a recording of themselves, say, “I had no idea that I say ‘um’ every other word.” We need others to provide feedback on what we are projecting — our eye contact, facial expressions, filler words, etc. — to grow and be effective communicators.
This is where TalkMeUp’s robust feedback is so valuable because it touches on all these important areas of executive presence and bolsters our communication skills. TalkMeUp is an innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses shortcomings in our communication skills by leveraging real-time AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more.
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About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning &Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.