In the last twelve months we’ve all become used to working through video conferencing platforms. While this has no doubt presented challenges – communication tactics that work well among colleagues in a conference room may not translate seamlessly to squares on a computer screen – here I talk about how you can take advantage of this medium to improve your executive presence.
Be aware of things that may distract you from being who you want to be
Having executive presence is about inspiring confidence – in those you lead, work with or are led by. If there are things about the virtual environment that are knocking you off balance, identify them and address them.
Do you hate seeing yourself all the time? Place a sticky note over your own image or turn off self-view.
Perhaps you find a screen full of faces in small boxes off putting. Use speaker view instead of gallery view or shrink the screen so you see fewer faces.
Do you get flustered by technical glitches? Make sure you know how to use all the tools in advance and if things do go wrong – technical glitches happen that may be out of your control – model how to stay calm and grounded and maintain your presence.
Do you get easily distracted by other things like your email or your phone? Remove distractions, notifications, and shut other tabs and documents and turn your phone over.
In this way, the virtual space provides a great opportunity to understand and address environmental factors that may undermine your ability to show executive presence.
Record calls and play them back to get valuable feedback on your presence
One thing the virtual environment gives you is the opportunity to observe yourself in a way that you rarely can in face-to-face gatherings.
Watching a recording of yourself lead a meeting or have a conversation is an excellent way of seeing the things you do (or don’t do) that contribute to your executive presence. Identify opportunities when you can record a call, ask permission of participants to do so and then watch it back.
Keep an eye out for some of the classics that contribute to (or detract from) executive presence – hand gestures; space fillers (ums and ahs); shuffling papers or fiddling with your hair – or any others you spot. Also look out for phrases you use that diminish you, such as apologizing or deferring to others.
There’s perhaps no better way to get a clear picture of how you come across; ask yourself, am I inspiring confidence?
Hone your communication skills
Even if seated, take the opportunity to think about how your posture affects your presentation.
Do you lean forward, or sit back? How are you framed on the screen? Try standing up to project greater confidence. Without as much body language (your own or others) to support you, other communication skills become even more important.
How do you use facial expressions to make it easier for others to read you in the absence of body language? Do you make eye contact (this takes some getting used to in video calls as it involves looking at the camera on your computer not at the faces)?
Speaking to a computer screen can make us rush through what we are saying. Remember to speak at a moderate pace, slowing or speeding up for effect and using pauses to keep people’s attention. Radiate confidence by speaking in a loud, clear voice with varied tone and intonation.
How can you be an effective listener in the virtual environment? Lags in connection, time to unmute or simply hesitation to speak when you can’t read the group can mean delays in people speaking and then being spoken over or missed. You may need to allow more time for people to respond and be heard.
So, this strange virtual communication time is also presenting new opportunities to observe and build your self-awareness of how you grow and use executive presence. New skills developed this way will also be invaluable when you return to in-person meetings.
Further reading: Body language hacks to project leadership presence on Zoom