You’re a busy PR professional. At any given time, you may be responsible for a half-dozen initiatives at your company, or calling on a dozen different clients. You’ve been running meetings and giving presentations for years, if not decades. You know your content inside and out. But you also know intuitively that content is only part of the battle; delivery matters just as much, if not more.
When sharing your expertise in a pitch meeting, or your ideas in a development-team meeting, how can you present yourself with gravitas, so that people will give you the benefit of the doubt and listen to your insights? In short, how do you convey executive presence?
To enhance your executive presence, communicate messages clearly and carry yourself with self-confidence — qualities that are easier to achieve when you focus less on yourself and more on your audience.
Impart clear messages
Before every meeting, conference call or presentation, ask yourself, “What does this audience hope to take away from the conversation?” and “If the audience leaves remembering only one sentence, what do I want it to be?”
Keeping the first question in mind will help you focus your content and delivery on the needs of the audience. You’re not there to talk about yourself, even when introducing your services in a pitch meeting. You’re there to talk about them and how to meet their needs. Mention yourself only in relation to how you can help the client or audience.
The second question, about the sentence you want them to remember, requires you to deliver a clear message that people will act on. Most of the time, for our ideas to have impact, the person we’re speaking to must relay our message to someone else. Sometimes, the decision-maker in the room only determines whether to push the decision up the ladder to their manager. Your job in the meeting isn’t merely to share enough content for the client’s PR person to figure out your message; it’s to state the message clearly, succinctly and often so it’s understood and more likely to be repeated up the chain in some semblance of its original form.
Therefore, your message must be short (ideally 10 words or less), upbeat, focused on the needs of the audience, easily understood, memorable and repeatable.
Carry yourself with confidence
Many elements of your physical presence determine whether you look and sound confident. Since much of our work is now done on the phone rather than face-to-face, your voice can make you sound more self-assured.
An element of speech that deflates executive presence is the use of qualifying words and phrases such as “kind of,” “sort of,” “basically” and “essentially.”
If someone tells me, “I kind of need your decision by Monday,” I’ll hear, “Or if you push back I’ll cave and then you can respond to me on Tuesday afternoon instead, or even Wednesday.” If the other person doesn’t sound certain, why should I take them seriously?
If I say, “It’s basically X,” I’m really saying, “It’s near X, but it’s not exactly X.” If what I’m talking about is in the vicinity of X, then I will have used “basically” appropriately. But if I mean “X” and say “It’s basically X,” I am not only technically wrong, but I sound hesitant to put my ideas forth. That’s not how a leader speaks.
By slowing down your rate of speech and being confident in your message, you are less likely to use qualifying language.
Another element of speech that undermines executive presence is when the speaker’s voice inflects “up” at the end of a sentence, making a statement sound like a question (also known as “up-speak”). The easiest way to minimize up-speak in your delivery is to use definitive, confident hand gestures when talking. For example, a flick of the wrist when making a point will encourage your voice to hit that word harder, forcing you to land your sentence down in a declarative tone, rather than up as a question.
Honing a clear message, and then speaking that message confidently, without qualifiers or up-speak, are two ways to enhance your executive presence.
On May 11 in New York, Jay Sullivan leads a daylong workshop titled “Executive Presence for PR Professionals.” For more details, visit prsa.org/pd.
Jay Sullivan is managing partner at Exec|Comm and author of the book “Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond.” He helps professionals communicate with greater impact by teaching them to focus less on themselves and more on others. Visit www.exec-comm.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.