- Posted by Shannon Lanier
- On September 30, 2019
- career advice, career development, executive presence, leadership, LMASW, LMASW19
At the 2019 Legal Marketing Association Southwest Region Conference, LMA President-Elect Jill Huse and LMASE Conference Co-Chair Erin Ryan began an exploration of executive presence with two questions to attendees: “What one word comes to mind when you think about EP?” and “Who in your life exemplifies this characteristic and why?”
Words such as “authentic,” “polished” and “trusted” were mentioned frequently as characteristics shared by bosses, parents and coaches who seemed to have that “it” factor, frequently defined as an amorphous star quality that one either has or doesn’t. However, EP boils down to three factors: control, communication and confidence. The 3 C’s are qualities that we can all cultivate and demonstrate in our relationships with others.
It’s widely accepted that perception equals reality. If it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. It’s also a fact that you cannot control how others perceive you, but you can control aspects of how you present yourself. This is a struggle for some who believe that subverting or altering any aspect of themselves is selling out. In fact, applying this control is the only way to be authentic and true to yourself (more about that later). When you align your external presence with your inner desires and goals, whether it’s a seat at the executive table or landing a new client, you will be successful.
This is not limited to big moments such as a salary negotiation. In fact, practicing your EP in low-pressure scenarios is an effective way to rehearse for when the stakes are high. As you consider the audience you need to win over, whether it’s your boss, management committee or a potential client, determine how to best connect with them based on their communication style. Regardless of the setting, it’s key to identify the points along the way where they will have an opportunity to make a decision about you.
Ryan said that the goal is to limit anything that could distract from your message. If you are worried about your cell phone breaking up or a dog barking during an important call, plan to be in a quiet office. If you’re more confident when you wear your power suit, be sure to pick it up from the cleaners before your trip to the client’s office.
If you become emotional to the point that your voice is cracking and it’s detracting from your message, ask for some time to regroup or even reschedule the conversation. The bottom line – you are in control of your emotions, appearance and the message you want to share. As motivational speaker Jay Danzie puts it: “Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.”
Huse and Ryan dove deeper into communication styles and pitfalls to avoid as you communicate with others. Although styles and preferences vary wildly depending on many factors, there are universally agreed upon EP “killers” such as:
- Fluffy Marketing Words
- Filler Words
- Rabbit Holes
- Getting Stuck
Most communication is non-verbal, so it’s important to be aware of what you are conveying even when you say nothing at all. The speakers shared some important skills to cultivate as you seek to improve communication, and thereby your EP, overall:
- Engage in active listening – listening to understand others, not just planning what you will say next
- Stay in tune with your audience, and flex communication styles as needed
- Maintain eye contact when possible
- Display a pleasant or neutral facial expression
Think of a scenario for which you’re preparing to be the best version of yourself. Do you visualize a successful outcome or immediately start rehearsing disaster? Huse and Ryan said that there is direct correlation between self-confidence and self-esteem. When your inner thoughts and beliefs align with your external presentation of yourself, your self-confidence and your audience’s confidence in you simultaneously increase.
While our capacity for self-confidence is gender neutral, the fallout for women when they don’t exhibit this aspect of EP is far greater than for their male counterparts. All things being equal, women often lose the race before they even get out of the gate. For example, research based on an internal report from Hewlett-Packard showed that men are more likely to apply to jobs where they possess only 60% of the requirements whereas women are more likely to apply if they match 100% of the qualifications.
Research conducted by consulting firm Zenger Folkman offers some consolation: By the time women reach their mid-40s, their confidence equals or, in some instances, exceeds levels reported by their male peers. Gender disparities aside, becoming aware of ANTs (annoying negative thoughts) that can sabotage your confidence is key to eradicating those pests from your picnic. For an extra boost of confidence, Huse suggests you try a power pose where you place your body in a way to maximize breathing, engage muscles and get the blood flowing. My personal favorite is the “Heisman.”
Huse and Ryan said that if you’re interested in improving your EP, examine each of the three C’s – control, communication and confidence – and apply them to a real situation that you may be facing soon. It’s important to determine the aspects that will be key to your success in that scenario and prepare accordingly. Seek out a friend or a professional coach to help you prepare for these big moments. Hearing a different perspective, particularly from someone experienced in navigating similar professional scenarios, will help you identify and hone in on what makes you “you”. We’ve all heard of value propositions related to a business or a service. Consider developing your own personal value proposition to amp up your EP even further.
Shannon Lanier is account and marketing director for Poston Communications.