Upgrading your professional presence

Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail

by Colleen Clarke

The scenario:

I’ve just joined a management team in an organization that is more corporate and formal than the company I came from. I feel the need to up my executive presence. What factors should I focus on to make a more polished corporate statement?

The advice:

The skills you bring to a position get you the job. The interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence you use will keep you employed. But to a large extent, your career success will be influenced by factors that affect how others react to you. Effective professional presence includes your appearance, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, your attitude and your overall business etiquette.

Assess your image

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your appearance speaks volumes without you having to say a word. Look at yourself in the mirror wearing the best work outfit you have in your wardrobe and ask yourself, “how much would I pay this person if they worked for me?” or “how much money does it look like this person earns?”

Polish your presentation

Just because you’re comfortable with public speaking doesn’t mean you are a strong presenter. Videotape yourself or, at minimum, get feedback from an unbiased audience to find areas that need improvement. A good way to hone speaking skills is to take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters group. To complement your speaking ability, try to improve your vocabulary, collect quotes and interesting stories to tell, and practise telling amusing anecdotes at meetings and social gatherings.

Listen to yourself

Your voice-mail message speaks for you. Record your message standing up, possibly looking in a mirror. Play it back and listen for brevity, voice fluctuation, energy and sincerity. A lawyer friend of mine with a great professional presence used to say, “Your call is important to me” in his message and he was true to his word by always returning his calls in a timely manner.

Assess the unspoken

Non-verbal image is important too, and an assessment by an image coach or colleague you trust can be helpful.

Do you make eye contact the entire time you are speaking with someone? Some people have very expressive faces or are prone to eye rolling or eye darting without realizing it. Being totally stoic is no more professional than a rubber face that contorts at each disagreed statement. Pay attention to all gestures, including how you cross your arms and legs, versus sitting forward with a slightly tilted head which indicates concentrated listening and engagement.

Executive presence has a lot to do with personal confidence. Know who you are, stand tall even if you aren’t tall, and listen intently. Make people feel important and you will be important in their eyes.

Colleen Clarke is a workplace coach and corporate trainer in Toronto.

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