Executive Presence: How to Impress And Inspire Your Board

Executive presence is the force that can push your leadership from competent to excellent.
By Grace Zientarski & Michael Barrick

How to be an effective CEO/Board Member

Executive presence is a key leadership characteristic that shows your confidence in commanding a room while also inspiring those around you. It is an achieved skill that requires repetitive practice, but it’s an effort that will continue to reward you in the boardroom. Your executive presence can improve the quality of your next board meeting and help your nonprofit reach its goals. It is the force that can push your leadership from competent to excellent.

Executive presence does not happen overnight. Enhancing your executive presence may require an adjustment in mindset to eliminate self-doubt. Excellent leadership requires an understanding that improvements can always be made and asking for feedback to understand your strengths and weaknesses should always be welcomed.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, has pinpointed the defining qualities of Executive Presence through three main pillars: gravitas, communication, and appearance. Each pillar matters in different ways, but they all intermingle to create an authentic leadership presence that both inspires and impresses.

Related: How To Be An Exceptional Nonprofit Board Member 

Executive Presence Through Gravitas

The meaning of GRAVITAS is dignity, high seriousness.

Be Polished, Poised, and Prepared!

Hewlett found through her research that gravitas is the most influential piece of the executive presence puzzle. Gravitas is the way you act, how you carry yourself. Its desired qualities include poise, decisiveness, integrity, emotional intelligence, reputation, and charisma.

If you want to be seen as having gravitas and want to increase your executive presence, here are 8 things that you need to start doing.

1. Mind Your Body Language.
Concentrate on good posture with your shoulders back (but not up around your ears). An open stance shows interest, self-assuredness and a willingness to listen.

2. Throw away caveats and filler phrases
You are judged on the words you choose to communicate your ideas. Avoid filler words that can damage the confident tone you’re trying to strike.

3. Project your voice.
Speak clearly, firmly, and loudly enough so that people can hear you.

4. Pace your words.
Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED, claims 190 words per minute is the ideal rate of speech for public speaking. At this speed, your audience will feel less like you’re talking at them and more like you’re having a conversation over lunch.

5. Believe in yourself.
Looking the part of a confident executive will help you feel like a confident executive.

6. Be Prepared.
Be prepared for board meetings. Do your homework. Think through different scenarios and potential questions, concerns, and needs your board may have.
Preparation builds confidence, and confidence builds executive presence.

7. Dress for Success. The image you create is significant. When people think of you, the image they conjure up should be an impressive one.

8. Make Others Feel Special
As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Overall, one of the best ways to achieve executive presence is to make everyone around you feel like he or she is the only person in the room.

Executive Presence Through Communication

Communication can often be the leverage that builds your gravitas. This pillar values a concise and compelling speaking style and the ability to command a room. Have a vision and a goal for your board meeting and communicate those goals to the board prior to the meeting. By communicating the goals prior to the meeting opens the line of communication before the meeting even starts.

To be an effective communicator with an excellent executive presence, you want to build up your communication skills. Begin by brushing up on your public speaking skills. Rehearse what you will say beforehand to avoid rambling and repeating yourself. While your words are of the utmost importance, also consider the non-verbal messages you send. If you fold your arms in front of you, it can create a barrier that blocks board members from connecting with you. Practice keeping your arms at your side and gesturing to appear more open and active in the conversation. Make eye contact with others to show confidence and attention. Try not to slouch. Standing and sitting upright is a clear sign of self-assurance.

Good communicators are even better listeners, and listening to your fellow board members shows self-assurance and respect. Remember to give your full attention to everyone who is speaking, and demonstrate your ability to command a room by facilitating a conversation. Ask questions, but also listen to the answers. If a board member hasn’t had the opportunity to speak, include them in conversation by asking for their input. In a debate between different courses of action, enforce structure to streamline the discussion.

When there is clear communication, motivation and inspiration, big goals can be achieved. Remember, Make Others Feel Special.

Executive Presence Through Appearance

While appearance is the least significant, it is an absolutely necessary ingredient to executive presence. It is the most subjective, making it the trickiest to master. Standards for appearance will vary based on the culture of your organization. Understand your organization’s culture in order to grasp the appropriate guidelines.

Your appearance is the first thing board members notice when you enter the room. First impressions matter! So show your level of confidence. Looking your best and set the tone for the meeting. Make sure your appearance is groomed, and polished, and there is nothing overly distracting about what you are wearing. Dress for the part and the confidence, along with the executive presence will follow. Remember. When people think of you, the image they conjure up should be an impressive one.
Related: Terminology for First-Time Board Members