Irish News

Executive presence in the virtual world

Neil Hughes
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I recently read an excellent book by Debra Benton, titled ‘Executive Presence for the Modern Leader’.

The book details how you can develop executive presence. Benton is an executive coach, c-suite advisor, and bestselling author, so her advice is based on many years of business experience.

Benton builds a solid case for why leaders need to develop their executive presence in order to achieve their intended results, and I fully agree with her findings. It got me thinking about how this translates to the virtual world that most leaders, myself included, now find themselves operating in, and whether the process is different in this context.

What is executive presence? Benton urges readers to observe the people you respect and be aware of how they elicit positive reactions. Benton asserts that those with executive presence are calm, confident, curious and competent; they act thoughtfully and strategically. “The person working toward executive presence is slow to judge and treats people like they want to be treated.”

This requires heightened levels of emotional intelligence, including a high degree of self-awareness.

These leaders don’t assume they’re smarter than other people, and they focus on people’s strengths, they are willing to embrace change, and avoid negative thoughts. Importantly, they don’t expect perfection from anyone – especially themselves. Fair enough.

“With executive presence, communication is more than the words you say or type. It’s your tone when sending a message that calms or grates, and the use of storytelling that helps you to be better understood as well as remembered and repeated”, she says.

Benton wants leaders to be good storytellers, to be aware of their body language and tone, to be intentional and purposeful about their movements, and encourages executives to slow their speech to convey calmness.

Presence is about your self-image and how others perceive you. The goal, she says, is “to consistently and deliberately conduct yourself in a way that makes you appear memorable, impressive, credible, genuine, trusted, like, cool, calm, collected, confident and competent.” No small ask then!

Doing all this in online conversations, presentations, and meetings adds an additional consideration, but is maybe even more important in this context. With limited opportunities to create presence in person, your online presence must hit the mark every time you interact.

Consider your past few virtual meetings or conversations, and honestly answer these questions: Did you join the meeting on time or early? Or were you late, which means you started with an apology? Did you take some time before the conversation to think about the key message you wanted to convey? Did you listen intently to really understand, and pay close attention to the other person’s body language, tone, and unspoken messages? Or did you listen with the intent to reply? With your every mannerism, eye movement, and facial expression on display, did you get your message across in both word and action?

If you think there is room for improvement, I would encourage you to think more about your presence, and take steps to develop an authentic presence both in person and virtually.