The Stage Presence in Executive Presence

(1,213 words)

Whether or not you aspire to become a CEO or other top-ranking official, a winning “executive presence” will enhance your professional image and help you achieve the goals that are meaningful to you.  It will help others view you as an authority, problem-solver, team player, and “go-to” person in business.

“Executive Presence” is much like stage presence, charisma, and star quality.  These words mean virtually the same thing:  a personal magnetism that makes it impossible for people to take their eyes off you.

Many years ago, when Dick Cavett interviewed Katherine Hepburn on his popular TV show, he asked her, “What is star quality?”  Hepburn replied, “I have no idea – but whatever it is, I’ve GOT it!”

The word “charisma” may be the oldest synonym for “star quality”.  The Greeks used the word to mean “favor”.  Charis was an attendant to Aphrodite, the goddess of love; “Charis” meant beauty and kindness.  The word can be found repeatedly in the New Testament and is translated as “grace”.  “Charismata” is the word used to refer to gifts from God:  knowledge, healing, working miracles, prophecy; qualities that bring benefit to others.

In his August, 2011 article in The New York Times, Zachary Woolfe mentions the perspective offered by Ernest Hemingway:

“In his obsession with the Spanish bullfights, he spoke of the lust of the crowd and its desire to feel something special, a raw authenticity… What he mentions is the hush that would come over the crowd at the entrance of the toreadors.  The people could sense the difference between those who did it for the fame, the paycheck, and those who had the old spirit.  The crowd can sense the one with the authentic message, the connection to the truth.”

The sociologist, Max Weber, provided some insight with his contemporary use of the word “charisma” to describe a key quality of leadership.  He wrote the following:

“Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or specifically exceptional powers.  These qualities are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader.”

As a business person, you may not need the charisma and star quality of Katherine Hepburn, a bull fighter, or  a “divine one”, but you can still cultivate a personal magnetism that will help you achieve your professional goals.  Here are characteristics of Executive Presence that you can cultivate for success:

Candor:  The appearance of honesty, through the willingness and skill to constructively tell it like it is.

Clarity:  The ability to tell your story in an intuitively clear and compelling way.

Openness:  The appearance of not prejudging, of being willing to consider another’s point of view.

Passion:  The expression of commitment, motivation, and drive that shows people you really believe in what you do.

Poise: The look of sophistication, conveying a background of education and experience.

Self-confidence:  The air of assurance, such that others know you have the required strength and resolve.

Sincerity:  The conviction of believing in and meaning what you say.

Thoughtfulness:  The projection of thinking or having thought through something before responding.

Warmth: The appearance of being accessible to others and of being interested in them.

Each of the characteristics listed above is revealed through your physical presence/body language, as well as your verbal/vocal presence.

Gestures can add warmth and personality to a conversation or presentation and help illustrate a point. If your own personal style includes only small or very few gestures, remember to at least nod your head appropriately.  This is an easy way to show that you are listening to, understanding, and connecting with your conversation partners.

Eye Contact occurs when two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time.  In human beings, eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication and is thought to have a large influence on social behavior.  In the United States, eye contact is often interpreted as a meaningful and important sign of confidence, respect, engagement, and even honesty.

Facial Expression: Smiling is one facial expression that is likely to put other people at ease and help them feel accepted and comfortable.  You exude happiness and encouragement when you smile, so try to add it to more of your conversations.  Scowling, chewing your lip and raising your eyebrows can all signal different meanings, so it is important to be aware of how your face looks during a conversation.  When you speak for business and your topic is not a happy one, remember that you actually do have something to smile about:  the fact that your listeners will benefit in some way from understanding the message you are bringing them.

Movement: We use body movement and proximity to send information on attitude toward a person (facing or leaning towards another), and desire to control the environment (moving towards or away from a person).  Be aware of how your body movement sends messages.  The physical distance between you and others signals your level of intimacy and comfort and is interpreted differently in different cultures.

Posture: “Body orientation” (the way you hold your body) sends strong messages to others.  Remember that your posture is revealing and may ‘give you away” at any moment.  Letting your body relax appropriately in a given situation (having fluid, smooth movements and facing your conversation partner, etc.) indicates confidence, poise, and engagement.

Appearance: This refers to everything you were not born wearing:  all the choices we make in clothing, accessories, hairstyle, and makeup.  The choices for a presentation range widely.  A good rule of thumb is to dress “one step above” your listeners.  See what highly-regarded people in your workplace are wearing during their presentations and emulate them – and/or ask someone in authority.

Speaking Pace (the speed at which you speak):  Increase and decrease your pace strategically.  A monotone is boring, and so is monopace; it can lull people to sleep!  Pace also includes dramatic pauses to communicate many things, including to (1) emphasize a point, (2) give people a moment to think, and (3) surprise your listeners to deepen their level of engagement.

Speaking Pitch (the high and low tones of the speaking voice, altered with jumps and glides):  Pitch can be used to convey energy, warmth, and sincerity.  In American business, finishing a statement with a downward glide sounds certain and authoritative; ending with an upward glide communicates a yes/no question or uncertainty.  To sound confident and authoritative, always end your statements with a pitch glide downward.

Vocal Projection (the energy and commitment in your voice, including volume):  Emphasizing certain words by being louder or softer can add to the impact of what you are communicating.  It’s important to project you voice so that everyone can hear clearly what you’re saying.  Even if your volume becomes soft for dramatic effect, your energy level and commitment must successfully project your meaning and your passion.

Cultivate these qualities, and you won’t have to worry about stage presence, charisma, or star quality.  You will possess a winning executive presence and enhanced power to influence and persuade your business listeners!

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; or visit

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