Executive Presence: Acting Improvisation Will Build Your Skills

(637 words)

You can enhance your executive presence by developing the projection of confidence, poise, passion, openness, and sincerity.  One of the most powerful ways to accomplish this is to practice the techniques of acting improvisation.  Each characteristic of executive presence is revealed through your physical presence/body language and your verbal/vocal presence.  These are aspects of your demeanor that are strengthened and expanded through acting improvisation.

Practice improvising with a friend or trusted colleague.  There should be only two people in the improvisation.

Set a timer for three minutes.  With your partner, create a situation of high conflict.  Decide only three things:  who you both are (the relationship between you), where you are (the setting) and what the conflict is (simply stated).  Conflict is created when one person wants something that is diametrically opposed to what the other person wants.  The higher the conflict, the more commitment and passion you will use in your voice and body.

Do not make and plans about what you will say (dialogue).  Let the dialogue unfold naturally.  Let it surprise you!


Each “actor” is one of two people on a street corner who spots a thousand dollar bill on the ground.  Each of you steps on part of that thousand dollar bill at exactly the same moment.

Each person must speak to the other with the strong objective of getting that thousand dollar bill:  at all costs.  What do you say, and how do you say it, in order to get what you want?

There are only two rules for your improvisations:
  • You must use conversation to get what you want
  • You may not touch your partner

Your task is to:

  • Use as much commitment and passion in your voice and gestures as possible
  • Use as many verbal strategies as possible.  With your words and body language, you may do the following things to your partner, for example:  appeal to reason, flatter, praise, lie, guilt, shame, flirt with, charm, guide, accuse, dare, offend, scold, threaten, apologize, entertain, etc.

Your improvisation should end only when the timer rings, and it does not matter how the improv ends. Each person should do everything in his/her power with words and body language to get want he/she wants.  The proceedings are interrupted only when the timer rings.

It is very important to play the improvised situations “for real”.  This means that you should try to pursue your objective as if your life depended upon it.  The work of improvisation is to practice speech and behavior in a manner that is completely committed to your objective (the task at hand: getting what you want), so that your voice and body language will be fully engaged, free, passionate, and believable.

Your improvisation may be humorous, but don’t “play it for laughs” (the way they do on Saturday Night Live, for example)! Each partner in the improv should pursue his/her own objective with a seriousness of purpose.  This is the key to a committed, passionate, and convincing delivery.

Two more examples of Situations of Conflict (a supervisor and an employee):
  • The supervisor is trying to persuade the employee to take a cut in pay at the same time that the employee is trying to persuade the boss to give him/her a pay raise.
  • The supervisor wants the employee do work overtime more often; employee must assert that he/she must get home to the family.

Create your own situations to improvise:  simple situations of high conflict.

As you become experienced with improvisation, you can gradually increase the setting on the timer (up to seven minutes) as you create new improvisations.

Engage in improvisation often and have fun with it!  This work will increase your level of commitment and passion and help you project a winning executive presence!

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida

Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and maria@successfulspeakerinc.com; or visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com.

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