Leadership presence is a buzzword in corporate America. It tends to come up most when evaluating candidates for a promotion.
“She is smart, creative, and hard working; but she does not have leadership presence.”
What the hell does that mean?
What leadership presence, sometimes called executive presence, boils down to is confidence. If you can show your peers, bosses, and clients that you are confident in your role, you demonstrate the leadership presence needed to advance your career.
Interesting research was told through stories in the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Because of conditioning and gender bias, women exude less confidence than men in meetings, negotiations, and conversations. There are millions of confident women in the world, but they may not be presenting themselves as such. The best thing you can do is visibly demonstrate confidence to your presentation style… and I will show you how.
SIDE NOTE: The tactics described below are mostly physical things you do to prepare for a presentation. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention how powerful your non-verbal cues can be. Amy Cuddy’s famous TedTalk about your body language and how it shapes you and your brand can give you ways to exude leadership presence as you deliver your presentation.
Presentation Enhancement Techniques
Background information you NEED to know before you present: Ask about your audience (who they are, how many, their level of knowledge on your topic), how the technology will be set up (your computer or another, back up your presentation) and the information about the space (where the projector is, seating, size).
As you create your presentation, incorporate all five of the following strategies to have a large impact on your audience and demonstrate your leadership presence.
- Elevate your speech.
- Command your space.
- Tell a story.
- Teach something new.
- Relentlessly practice.
Elevate your speech.
The smartest person in the world could be perceived as a nitwit because of the way she or he talks. No, your intelligence is not defined by your voice, but a few corrections to common problems will improve your presentation delivery. You only have a little time to make an impression; make it count.
- Soft speech: when giving your opinion or chiming in, do not preface your statement with “I think” or “maybe.” This makes your audience question your authority. If you do have doubts, say phrases like “I came up with…” or “the research says.”
- Filler words: speak at a comfortable pace and embrace pauses for effect. There is a tendency to fill space or connect thoughts with words such as “uh,” “like,” “and,” “so.” Cut those out.
- Upspeak: Also known as Valley Girl talk, upspeak is when the inflection in your sentences makes everything sound like a question. Like soft speech, you sound unsure, not confident, when you do not state your information.
Command your space.
Show the room that you are in charge. Your presence should reinforce your expertise.
- If there is a podium, do not stand behind it. Use a clicker and walk around as you speak.
- Connect with each person by making eye contact and speaking directly to audience members when it makes sense (ask a question, mention them).
- DO NOT turn to look at the screen. Nothing is worse than sitting in a lecture and having the speaker read directly from the screen. Tell the story and let the boards help your audience follow along.
Tell a story.
Take the audience on a journey with you. Are you presenting someone else’s work? Find ways to connect that content to the audience members’ lives in a way that internalizes the message and keeps them interested.
When building your own boards, do not start with the technology. Instead, sketch out the story you are going to tell. Like any good story, you need a beginning, a middle and an end. If you are in business, it may be more like a situation, obstacles, solutions, and results. Practice telling your story until if feels right. Then, sketch out the boards you need to illustrate your main points. This can be with pen and paper or the technology itself, but the point is to make a quick mock-up to get the flow right. Finally, refine your visual aids. Make them clean and easy to follow.
What about humor? Many presentations that go viral illicit some laughter throughout. Everyone’s humor is different, so just be yourself. If you try too hard, it will show. Find little ways to pique your audience’s interest BEFORE you present. Then feed off of the energy in the room WHILE you present. It’s okay to try and get your audience involved, but do not make it awkward.
Teach something new.
In my previous career, I gave dozens of presentations. Some of the best advice I received while creating one of my most important ones was that people always appreciate it when you teach them something new.
Be valuable – make the audience feel like listening to you was a good use of their time. Not only will you improve their lives; you will also improve your reputation. People will talk about what they learned and share it with others.
Yes, there are a gifted few who can wing a presentation and sound like they speak for a living. Unfortunately, that is not me. That is not most people. So for us normal presenters? WE. MUST. PRACTICE.
Practice deliberately. Stand and deliver using your notes until you can tell your story without notes. Then, practice with your boards by clicking through at a comfortable pace, walking the room, and finishing in your required time frame. You should even practice moving your eyes around the room to mimic the eye contact you will make with each participant.
Once you have your story down, record yourself. After I did this once, I was surprised to see that I connected too many sentences with “and,” which is a filler word. After I saw it for myself, I was MUCH more aware of when I did it live – and I could catch myself 80% of the time before the word left my lips. One step further is having a mentor or colleague listen and offer honest feedback.
Ready to show the world you have executive presence? Plan out your next presentation with our free workbook. Sign up HERE!
For a bonus, here are five easy ways to work on the aesthetics of your presentation. Quick fixes to elevate your professionalism!