Thursday, August 7, 2008

Develop Your Executive Presence: Part II

Executive presence is much more than appearance. It has to be displayed whenever you speak.

A couple of months back, I was driving through the village of Chappaqua in Northern Westchester, NY when I noticed a few dozen folks gathered outside a neighborhood luncheonette. Peering a little more closely, I saw a familiar looking white-haired fellow animatedly chatting with this group and immediately recognized him as none other than William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States.

Now, Bill and Hillary Clinton are undoubtedly Chappaqua’s most famous residents and while I pass this luncheonette often, it was the first time I had seen Bill Clinton just casually hanging out. I pulled over, parked my car and joined the group.

Wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and holding onto a leash connected to his chocolate Labrador, he certainly was not dressed like the former head of the free world, but as soon as I heard him speak in this impromptu gathering, I knew I was listening to the ultimate example of the communication skills critical to executive presence.

Sound the part

For me, executive presence is defined as looking, sounding and acting in a manner that inspires confidence, enhances credibility and projects a strong professional image. How you communicate up, down and sideways is critical to career advancement.

As I listened to the former President speak about the then hotly contested Democratic primary, I couldn’t help but reflect on how, in an informal conversation with a group of strangers, he demonstrated executive presence.

Speak to … not “at”


Clinton understood the diversity of the group and related well to his audience. Those gathered around him crossed all economic, social, age and, I guessed, political affiliations. Yet Clinton appeared to “click” with everyone, drawing them in by making eye contact with each person as he spoke. When I asked him a question, he included every person in his reply.

Be clear and compelling

He was, of course, highly knowledgeable on the subject matter. Not all that surprising, he spoke about political and global issues, showing passion and interest to his audience. He was articulate and couched his answers within a framework comprehensible to everyone, weaving interesting stories, speaking in bullet points and then expanding on each in a manner that pulled his listeners in without ever appearing condescending or argumentative.

Go easy on the ears

He also varied the pitch of his voice and was never heard in monotone, demonstrating that authoritative vocal tones are low and calm, never high or tense, and altered his inflection and volume to convey authority, power and confidence.

I enjoyed speaking with Bill Clinton that day … he reinforced my belief that executive presence is more than just looking the part.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who would get your vote for the best executive presence - Bill Clinton or Obama?

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