Biz Tips: How to Develop Executive Presence

Joan McGuire

The best ways to earn respect as a leader.

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Executive presence is one of those things that’s hard to define, but essential to a leader’s ability to earn respect, influence others and drive results.  A person can have executive presence regardless of title or position.  

Having executive presence is the ability to project mature self-confidence, to project a sense of being able to take control of difficult situations and to project the ability to make tough decisions.  There’s no one thing that creates executive presence, but rather a combination of a number of factors.  These factors fall into three categories: appearance, communication and demeanor.


A leader can project competence and confidence with their appearance, which is composed of their dress and their body language.

People form opinions about others based on how they dress.  They notice things like sloppy versus neat, clean versus dirty, formal versus casual, poor fitting versus well-fitting and sense of style versus lack of style. 

If you want to improve your executive presence and instill confidence, choose clothing that fits well, is clean and displays some sense of style.  Choose clothing appropriate to the office environment.  A tech executive would generally dress differently than an investment-banking executive.

We also communicate a great deal through our body language.  Good posture projects strength and confidence.  Poor posture projects weakness and a lack of confidence.  A crisp pace suggests good energy, while a slow pace can appear as low energy. 

A firm handshake versus a weak handshake, an appropriate level of eye contact versus very little eye contact, leaning in versus leaning back, sitting straight versus slouching in a chair.  Each of these actions either projects strength and confidence or projects weakness and a lack of confidence.  If you want to instill confidence, you must appear confident.


Communication is effective when your message is clear and the people you are communicating with receive and understand that message.  

You need to choose your words carefully, provide all the necessary information and do so in a way that can’t be misinterpreted.  Be clear about the points you want to make and then think through or write out how you want to make those points.  Once you’ve written your message, re-read it a couple of times to see if your choice of words and phrasing can be improved. 

Additionally, read it from the point of view of the person who’ll be reading or hearing your message to see if it can be misinterpreted.  If so, add clarification to ensure your point is made clearly and effectively.

The manner in which you deliver your message also affects its impact.  Use your voice expressively, adjusting pitch, pace and volume to convey the nature of your message.  A higher pitch, faster pace and louder volume communicates enthusiasm and excitement.  A deeper pitch, slower pace and lower volume communicates importance, seriousness and urgency.  Adjust your manner of speaking to fit the message and the audience.


A person’s demeanor conveys their emotional state.  It reflects the level of a person’s confidence, passion, decisiveness and composure.  Demeanor is projected by our speech, our facial expressions and by how animated we are.

As discussed above, use your pace and tone of speech to project confidence, passion, decisiveness and composure.

People read our facial expressions to determine our emotional state.  Especially in times of stress or conflict, our facial expression tells a story.  Expression can convey things like frustration, concern, apathy, nervousness, fear, confidence, displeasure, anger and happiness. 

However, sometimes in difficult situations it’s not wise to display our feelings.  Sometimes, it’s better to project a “poker face” than to allow our emotions to come through.  In other words, to instill confidence and earn respect, it’s sometimes more effective to keep a strong emotion from showing on your face.

The final means of conveying confidence, passion, decisiveness and composure relates to how animated we are.  Animated gesturing with your hands and moving your body communicate excitement, passion and enthusiasm. 

In contrast, expressing yourself in a reserved manner by keeping hands and body fairly motionless conveys confidence, composure and authority.  Make sure your demeanor reflects your message.

 Michael Beck is a Portland-based executive coach, business strategist and author of the leadership book, “Eliciting Excellence.”