How to Make Your Presence Felt

What is the secret to presence?

It’s no longer just about pulling off that big presentation with poise. It’s about exuding gravitas and commanding the room. What will make people believe that you are the one for the task? What will make thousands want to follow you on Twitter?

Though it may seem those people in your office with all that charisma are born that way, that may not be the case. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s new book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, this charisma can, in fact, be taught.

Oliva Fox Cabane, author of The Charisma Myth says the biggest misconception is that charisma is an innate magical quality, when really it is a measurable, learnable quality. One technique Cabane suggests to allows yourself to hone in on this learnable quality is to focus on the sensation in your toes, which forces your brain to run through your body from head to toe and allows you to get present in the moment.

Through research of college graduates working in a range of businesses, Hewlett, partnered with the Center for Talent Innovation, discovered that a combination of just three elements — appearance, communication, and gravitas are necessary elements for success.

“It is executive presence-and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal,” Hewlett writes in Executive Presence.

Embodying an executive presence

People want to see your personal life tied in with your social media account. If you are very outgoing, for example, convey this on Twitter.

Personal branding coach Jill Celeste urges people to be authentic with themselves–on Twitter, this means posting as you would speak in conversation. She finds herself teaching about this a lot when it comes to social media.

“People buy from those they trust,” Celeste says. “In order for people to trust you, you have to be authentic in all of your communications.”

The first step to finding your signature presence is self-assessment. This can be done by getting feedback from co-workers or speaking with family and friends about your strengths and weaknesses.

For people who are unsure of personal brand, transitioning out of one career to the next, or want to start a business, Celeste asks her clients to reach out for coffee dates with someone they trust and admire to give them honest feedback.

Appearances: overrated?

Although one would think appearance and making a good impression is most important, Hewlett’s survey found that appearance is the least important element. While it’s true, Hewlett finds, that people first judge you on your appearance, once you get past the initial sizing-up from coworkers it’s how you speak and present yourself will stand out more.

To stand out, executive coach Jane Cranston suggests that a presenter wear something interesting so people look at them–a pop of color for men or women, and eye-catching jewelry for women.

What you say–and how you say it

Be able to express your point of view effectively, without being too terse or too verbose. Be confident and don’t sound scripted. Poise and body language are essential. According to Cabane,  the best way to emulate charisma is by taking up an expansive pose. (Think–seriously–of how a gorilla would stand.) It allows one to exude an air of confidence.

Be sure to focus on how you modulate your voice. Keep tabs on the cadence, and don’t minimize the use of silence, says Cranston. Remember, nervousness can make a person can come off as too friendly or too stoic.

Celeste offers some very simple and useful advice: Practice in front of a mirror. She also suggests recording yourself and seeing if you are delivering the way you want others to view you.

“Presence is all about authenticity,” Celeste says, and stresses the simple advice every grad-schooler knows: “Be yourself.”


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