EXECUTIVE presence may be hard to define, but most people know it when they see it.
Do you have it? If you think you don't, or if you would like to increase your credibility and confidence, consider the following tips:
1. Your gestures can support or sabotage what you say
Gestures and mannerisms can either convince your audience of your sincerity or antagonise them.
Imagine yourself in an airport, with conversations going on all around you, and you are engaged in a farewell to a friend.
All of a sudden, the man and woman next to you begin to wave their arms dramatically, their fingers urgently punching the air.
Immediately, your attention is diverted from your own conversation to this couple.
Why is it that their words do not distract you, but their gestures do? That is the power of gestures and mannerisms. Often, gestures speak louder than words.
You may be completely serious, passionate and confident about what you have to say, but your audience may perceive you as insincere because of poor eye contact, slouched posture, a bored expression or weak gestures.
2. Be conscious of what your body language says
Your upper-body posture is controlled primarily by what you do with your arms. Your posture and your gestures are difficult to separate. They make a total statement.
I work with many people who are completely unaware of their body language until they see themselves on video for the first time.
For example, some people stand with their head intensely protruding forward as if they are about to scold the audience.
Others stand in a slouched position as though they are exhausted from marching through the desert for days without rest.
Then there are those who hug, pat, and squeeze themselves when they speak.
Still others either stand rigid as if locked in a straitjacket or sway back and forth as if they are a shy teenager about to ask their first date to the prom.
Look at yourself in the mirror and see how it feels to stand with your arms relaxed loosely at your side or with your elbows slightly bent. It may feel awkward, but it does not look awkward.
Simply stand there, looking in the mirror, and get used to the various postures that both look and feel appropriate so that you do not feel awkward with that same natural posture, gesture or stance in front of a group.
3. Add volume to increase authority
In many societies, little girls are taught that loud voices are not feminine, whereas little boys learn no such inhibitions. As a result, women often have problems with speaking loudly enough.
In today's business arena, wimpy voices get little attention.
Consider the extreme. When someone shouts, everyone turns to look - regardless of what is being said. Volume gets attention.
Remember that your voice always sounds louder to you than to anyone else. Take another person's word for it when he says you need to speak up.
Also remember that your voice is an instrument. It needs to be warmed up, or it will creak and crack at the beginning of your presentation.
If you warm up with a high volume, as though projecting to those in the back row, your volume also will improve your vocal quality.
Volume adds energy to your voice - it has the power to command or lose listeners' attention.
4. Lower pitch to increase credibility
Pitch, the measurement of the "highness" or "lowness" of your voice, is determined largely by the amount of tension in the vocal cords.
When you are under stress, you may sound high-pitched.
When you are relaxed and confident, you will have a naturally lower pitch.
Authoritative vocal tones are low and calm, not high and tense.
Inflection is a pitch change - from a "Stop!" screeched at an assailant to the haughty "Please stop!" directed at a stranger using your department's photocopy machine.
You can lower your pitch to some degree by practising scales (as singers do, dropping the voice with each word) and by breathing more deeply to relax your vocal cords.
Remember that a lower pitch conveys power, authority and confidence, whereas a high pitch conveys insecurity and nervousness.
5. Identify weaknesses in your vocal quality
Vocal quality refers to characteristics such as a breathy sound, tense harshness, hoarseness, nasal tones or a deep, resonant, solemn sound.
Vocal quality is also measured by weaknesses such as slurring of words, over- or under-articulating certain sounds or accents, and so forth.
Being aware of these shortcomings can help you correct some of them. Others may require the help of a voice coach.
Pay attention to these tips as you prepare for your next presentation, and you will be on your way to becoming a speaker with a captive audience.