Executive Presence

Summary Written by Judi Walsh
"One of the most common phrases uttered about business: ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.’ …this cliché isn’t quite on target, but if we adjust it to ‘it’s not only what you know but how you manage perception,’ we are taking the first steps on a life-altering journey."

- Executive Presence, page 2

The Big Idea

The power of developing presence

"Your presence communicates your self-worth and confidence as well as the level of respect you have for others and the occasion."- Executive Presence, page 26

There is something about your presence that sets you apart, that makes you some combination of brilliant, charismatic, empathetic, smooth, persuasive, strategic and full-on cool.

Simon Cowell, of American Idol fame, who possesses only a few of those attributes, refers to the latter criterion as the “it factor,” and by implication one can conclude that you have it or you don’t. Although that may be true in entertainment and athletics, the business and corporate world remains a place where, genetics aside, you can acquire and evolve the attributes of a CEO-level executive presence the old-fashioned way – you can learn them.

Many of those in management haven’t learned how to leverage their assets by effectively representing themselves or communicating with others to the best of their abilities. You need to master a multitude of communication skills to create an executive presence and reach the top in your field.

These skills range from accurately reading people and predicting their behavior to subtly influencing the perceptions and behavior of those around you, from persuading those of opposing views to come over to your side to creating and maintaining a personal brand that broadcasts your positive reputation to a wide audience, and from managing and controlling your online reputation to performing effective damage control when things go wrong.

Insight #1

The path to perception

"‘To each his own’ has never been truer than it is when it refers to the way people filter information."- Executive Presence, page 9

We are at our core a society of pitchers. Pitching – the kind that pleads a case and asks for the order that wraps an agenda within a message and ties a neat bow of sincerity around it – is the very essence of commerce, the lifeblood of law and politics and romance, the fundamental stuff of human interaction.

We pitch our qualifications at job interviews. We plead our case in courtrooms and at bars over drinks. We manage employees by pitching them our wisdom and our vision for the future. We are pitching when we sell, when we lobby, when we complain, and when we seek to be heard and understood, which for most of us happens each and every day.

The common denominator is being understood. But all pitches, and more aptly all pitchers, are not created equal, and the most persuasive among us know something the rest of us don’t.

Consistently successful communicators – whether they are sales professionals, politicians, lawyers, managers, parents, partners, or coaches – know how to manage and influence the way they are perceived. More than that, they understand that it is perception, not intention or even content that dictates the outcome of an agenda that resides at the heart of each and every pitch we make.

The way we are perceived by those who experience what we say or do or even our mere presence is the product of a specific neurological process whose outcome can take any number of forms. Information is taken in by one or more of five sensory portals – the senses – and then is filtered or processed by a suite of specific mental mechanisms that assign meaning and nuance to what has arrived through the senses, each with very different criteria and experiential rationales.

The line between input and output is anything but straight and is not remotely simple. This is the source of our opportunity as communicators, because if we know what we are doing, we can be architects of that line.

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Insight #2

How to communicate for maximum impact

"If awareness is your social radar, authenticity is playing to the social radar of others by being genuine, honest, and respectful. Phoniness and bluster, no matter how proficiently conveyed, are easy to spot and consistently off-putting on several levels. The concept of honesty goes beyond telling the truth; it embraces conveying the truth about yourself as well."- Executive Presence, page 26

The collective memories, experiences, values, and beliefs of the person to whom you are delivering a message may seem to be a significant hurdle, and rightly so. That means your goal should not be so much to change people’s minds as to use their existing thought modeling to your advantage. In other words, the most effective approach is not to challenge the audience but to play to the audience. If you can make your pitch about them and the effect that your content will have on their lives rather than about you or your priorities, you may be able to end a belief system that seems less than pliable.

You are left with two primary strategies. First know your audience. Do what you can to understand the way the members of the audience will filter your message, which includes biases and preconceptions that are firmly in place before you utter a word. Work toward understanding the underlying values and belief systems on which those biases and preconceptions are based. The more you speak their language – particularly in the terms of context and framing – the better off you’ll be when it is time to tell them something that challenges or stretches the status quo.

All this falls into the category of content, and by now we’ve established that style occupies an equally high place in the hierarchy of effective communication. This means that the nature of your delivery is the second tool you must optimize, including the pace and tone of your words, the nature of your body language, and the visual presentation that packages it all.

This book is an excellent guide for anyone aspiring to take their career and communication skills to higher levels. With the right timing, delivery and with spin that optimizes your chances because you’ve done your homework, you’ll have given your message the best shot it can have at success.

Have you experienced the power of presence in your communications?

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Harrison Monarth

Harrison Monarth is the Founder and President of GuruMaker – School of Professional Speaking, a high-impact communications consulting firm that counts Fortune 500 executives, professionals and political candidates as clients. Through GuruMaker, he has assembled a select team of coaches, trainers and behavior change experts, who work together to help clients overcome their most challenging communication issues and influence important events through the skill of public discourse. Dubbed The Speakinator by one of his enthusiastic clients, Harrison has been a sought-after authority in the field of confidential executive presentation coaching for more than a decade. He has helped executives and corporate leaders from top companies throughout Europe and the United States prepare and deliver crucial business presentations. He advises companies on their communication and media strategies and helps executives craft compelling messages to the public. He is a specialist in persuasive communication and reducing conflict and crisis through effective messaging, and is frequently called upon when the stakes are high and audiences need persuading.

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