How to improve your Executive Presence

Executive Presence is a term that’s thrown around quite loosely and is often the reason given to explain why someone didn’t get a big promotion.  It’s rarely explained well to the individual, is very intangible and they don’t really know what to do next.

So … what is Executive Presence?    It’s our ability to convince and inspire confidence in others that they are looking at someone who is ‘important’ and someone who is ‘going places.’   Imagine you are in a room and a new person walks in.  In a few seconds, you will ‘size them up.’  What are they wearing, do they look confident, what is the tone of their voice, etc.?     Based on elements like this, you will make a rapid ‘call’ about whether this is a senior person or not.    Here’s a quick example :  you’re in the Boardroom with a number of other people and a person you don’t know comes in (man or woman).  They are wearing a sharp, freshly cleaned suit.  Their shoulders are back, they are standing tall and they walk in with a confident air.   They move towards the top of the room and turn towards the group.   They scan the room making eye contact with everyone and in a very assured and positive voice, they say “Hi everyone, my name is …, so nice to meet you all.”  They sit down, face the group, continue to smile and make eye contact.   All of this might take 30 seconds.  So, what ‘call’ did you make about this person as you contemplated the scenario?  You might have thought “wow, they’re cocky” but you also probably considered that this is likely a senior person and that you were interested to tune into what they were going to say in the meeting.  

Why do you need to improve Executive Presence?   It’s really only important if you want to operate at a senior level.  If you’ve been told you need to do something about your Executive Presence and you choose not to change, then it’s likely your career will hit a ‘ceiling.’   Every company’s culture is different.  Maybe in your company, the senior people all wear shorts and flip flops.  When you look deeper, you will find that there are common attributes that all of these Executives have.  It’s almost like a ‘club.’  If you don’t have these attributes too then you are deemed not to have Executive Presence and won’t be allowed into the ‘club.’  This may seem unfair but they are part of the unwritten rules of the ‘promotion game.’   If you want to move up the ladder, you need to play the game.   If you choose not to and you feel it’s unfair, then that’s ok but don’t become frustrated when those senior promotions don’t happen for you.

Here are our Top 5 Tips on how to improve your Executive Presence :

1. Rate your current level of Executive Presence

Rate Yourself

“No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal or develops a significant following without the heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us that we are in the presence of someone who is the real deal” – Sylvia Ann Hewlett 

It’s important to establish where you are starting from.  There are many elements to Executive Presence but consider these 5 as you self assess :   Gravitas, Confidence, Communication, Assertiveness and Appearance.   Score yourself on a scale of 1 – 10     (1 – significant weakness,  10 – significant strength).    Here are some definitions that should help : 

  • Gravitas – ‘Carry’ yourself in a way that causes feelings of respect and trust in others
  • Confidence – Feel sure of yourself and your abilities
  • Authenticity –  Be real, genuine, open and transparent.  Someone who is easy to connect to.
  • Assertiveness – Stand up for your own or other people’s rights in a calm & positive way
  • Appearance – Be groomed, polished & professional in keeping with your environment


It’s likely that you will have a mix of higher and lower scores so this will allow you to narrow in on the areas which needs most attention.

2. Shape how you want to be ‘seen’ by others

Seen by others

“People assess your competency and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second based solely on how you look” – Harvard School Research 

We know that we make rapid judgements all of the time.   It’s not just speed that is the problem but we also make ‘leaps of faith’ based on one small piece of information.  If we enter a restaurant and see a drink spilt on the floor, we will immediately think about the competency of the staff, the quality of the food and even tell ourselves that this isn’t going to be a good night.   It may have just happened and been a complete accident but our brains don’t tend to give the benefit of the doubt.  We think 2+2=5 and usually that ‘5’ answer is a negative thought.  We’ve often heard about the importance of ‘making a good 1st impression’ and this is where people’s perception of your Executive Presence begins.   You need to ‘show up’ in the right manner – dress smartly, professionally and appropriately for the environment, stand up tall, walk with a confident air, make eye contact, speak with a strong voice and an assured tone.  When someone sees you, they will read these signals and  make the quick judgement that you are an ‘important’ person with a strong presence.   Of course, it’s not just about the first impression.  You need to sustain how you behave too.  Consistently ‘showing up’ in this way will retain your Executive Presence and will just become part of how you are known to others.

3. Be engaged and make your presence felt

“If your presence doesn’t add value, your absence won’t make a difference” –  Zero Dean

 Have you ever sat in a meeting and said nothing for the full duration?   You’ve listened intently, taken all the information in but didn’t feel comfortable speaking up or someone else jumped in with your point before you had a chance.    Maybe you’ve watched as the usual people take all the ‘air time.’    Speaking non-stop and without making sense is equally damaging to your Executive Presence so it’s important to find the right balance.   Be aware that sitting in silence isn’t helping your profile or your career.   Leaders will often dismiss the people who don’t get involved or those who are “all talk.”.    Others in the meeting may joke along with you but they will also see you as ‘one of the crowd’ and not someone who is ‘going places.’  All of this is even worse in the virtual environment where people may not even know you’re on the call if you don’t participate.   Having a strong Executive Presence requires you to get involved.   Before the meeting even starts, decide that you’re going to make a concerted effort to engage and speak up.   If an important point comes to mind, don’t wait, jump in.  Don’t say “may I ask a question?”     You’ve been invited to the meeting so you don’t need permission to speak.    3 or 4 inputs in a meeting can be significant especially if they are meaningful contributions.   If you tend to speak too much, cut back on your inputs and look to make strong points in a succinct way.    Afterwards, ask yourself if you were able to influence the direction of the meeting and make your presence felt.   Think about what you might do differently next time.    Once you crack this, Leaders and others will see you in a very different light.

4. Make the first move in approaching and connecting with people

Offer handshake

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued”  –  Brené Brown


Building a network is really important for your career but it also builds your Executive Presence.   You can take a structured approach to this but there are also many chance or informal opportunities to build relationships.   If you don’t know someone, why not make the first move.  Introduce yourself, ask them what they do, get talking.  See if you can connect them to someone else and maybe you will get a useful, additional contact too.   As you finish up the conversation, leave with the offer of help should they ever need it.  The number of people that take you up on this will be pretty small but they leave feeling that you are there for them.  You’ll be amazed how often they end up helping you rather than the other way around.   Making the first move might not be natural for you but try it.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  You’ll also find how work events are so much more enjoyable as you know a large number of people and can feel you’re amongst friends.   Lastly, don’t worry about the level of people you engage with.  Senior Executives are just regular people too.   Treat them like you would a peer (adult to adult) rather than falling into the trap of becoming the ‘child’ with them being the ‘parent.’   They will respect you more and it will raise their perception of you as many people are too afraid to speak to them.

5. Video yourself to raise self awareness and then practice, practice, practice …

Record yourself

“Experience tells you what to do, Confidence allows you to do it.”  –  Stan Smith


We all have a perception of how we look, sound and behave.  Generally, it’s different to what others perceive.   Personally, I’ve found looking at myself on camera really painful but when I analyse it as if it’s someone else, I see so many things that can be improved.   Being recorded can often bring a nervousness that’s similar to what you might experience when presenting or interacting during a meeting.   It gives us an insight into what other people see.   Try to present something to the camera and when you watch back, note some of the negatives but search hard for the times where you look like that senior person – comfortable, confident, professional.   What are you doing and what are you saying during those moments?  Really tune into those instances and determine how you can make them into your ‘normal’ way of behaving.  It will take practice but when you know what you’re trying to do, it becomes much easier and of course, will get better with time.   Ask trusted supporters for feedback and have them watch you in meetings or during presentations.   Executive Presence can be learned.  It does take hard work but is one of the major steps you can take should your career start to hit a ‘ceiling.’   Once you’ve been able to get to that first Executive position, you are in the ‘club’ and can now pursue further levels beyond that.

I hope you found this helpful.     If you’d like us to assist you in any way, feel free to email me at or sign up for a free introductory session on the homepage of the website



2 thoughts on “How to improve your Executive Presence”

  1. You are always awe inspiring Tommy. Great to see this feature from You.
    Trust You are keeping well, God Bless.

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