Quick show of hands – are you confident in your abilities? Keep those hands up if you feel confident in your ability but somehow it translates to lack of confidence when it counts – in front of your boss or colleagues; the once a month/quarter/yearly opportunity you have in front of your executives; or the way you interact with clients.
Presence, commonly referred to as executive presence, is critical regardless of what level in the organization you currently work. Why? Because the more presence you convey the more respected and trusted you are and the more you are perceived as capable for the projects in front of you as well as those that would stretch you. Numerous research studies and HR managers alike all agree that the perception of executive presence is critical for promotion. Of course this doesn’t compensate for the skills needed to accomplish a job but it gives you that initial edge to set yourself up for success.
I spoke at Memorial Hermann recently on the Psychology of Style and the Art of Executive Presence and wanted to relate a few tips I shared on how to avoid inadvertently taking the power out of your presence!
Betraying Your Confidence
When you think of executive presence, I hope confidence comes to mind for you. Those with executive presence are the people who seem unruffled by whatever the day brings and can smoothly navigate troubled waters. Whether striving for a promotion, raise, respect, or accomplishing your next set of goals – projecting confident presence is a skill you’ll want! Do you convey power, presence, and an overall perception that you can handle anything that comes your way? Here are three easily modifiable ways you may be taking the confidence and power out of your presence.
Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact is engaging and immediately connects you to your audience. Unless you are in the midst of an interrogation, warm, engaging eye contact is better than a piercing stare. How do you achieve that effect? The best way is to maintain eye contact long enough to make a connection but not so long that is becomes uncomfortable. If you’re walking like the models below, it doesn’t take long to establish the connection as it’s expected that both are keeping their eyes where they are going. In typical conversation, maintaining eye contact through a sentence, thought, concept, or point you are making is ideal. It’s natural to look away to gather your thoughts or think of the next response but consider breaking eye contact as periods and semi colons in your conversation rather than an ellipsis where the person you’re talking to may feel you left them hanging.
Whether it’s constantly adjusting your hair, your clothes, messing with your fingernails, tapping your feet or pen, or generally avoiding sitting still, stop it! I’m going to be honest and say I struggle with absentminded fidgeting with my fingers and nails way too often. I know this because my three-year-old now does the same. :-/ So, that’s going to stop. If you see me doing it, feel free to call me out on it.
While these behaviors may not mean anything to you in the moment, to the person observing you, it comes across as nervous, generally unsettled, or in the case of the GIF below – a bit full of yourself depending on how you are fidgeting! Not a look for someone wanting to convey power and presence!
If you find yourself readjusting your clothing regularly throughout the day, it’s time to revisit the clothes in your closet! They either don’t fit your body or they don’t fit your lifestyle (constantly tugging a shorter skirt down because it feels too short in the workplace for example). I’m sorry in advance to those among you who fidget because for the next few days you’re going to notice how much you fidget and it’s going to drive you crazy. Good news – we can work on it together.
Do an audit of your body language as you are sitting and reading this post. Are you hunched over? Are your legs crossed? Arms crossed? Shoulders bowed in? If so, you are making yourself smaller. Don’t do it! Be bold! Often times changing behavior starts with something small, like modifying your body language. Sitting up straight, squaring your shoulders, opening up your arm/leg posture not only physically makes you bigger but is interpreted as bigger and more powerful as well.
The feet in the image below demonstrate a slight open position. Keeping your feet squared under your shoulders is the most natural version of an open position.
If you are reading these and thinking, “That’s great Natalie, but what I’m really struggling with in this moment is having confidence in myself and my abilities.” No problem. First, make sure you are using your body language to your advantage even in the face of that insecurity. Second, here are some tips on how to push through the insecurity to the wonderfulness you are capable of accomplishing.
Betraying Your Insecurities
Red is a power color for a reason! Red reads as passion, life, and energy and speaks confidence for you. Nervous about a presentation, asking a big ask, or meeting with an intimidating colleague? Wear red! That first impression when you walk in the room will help you get over the initial hump and into your skills.
STYLE NOTE: The eye is drawn to red and sees red first in an outfit so avoid wearing red on your problem area, the exception being a full suit or dress where no one part of you stands out.
One of my favorite TED Talks ever is the one of Amy Cuddy talking about how our body language impacts us as much as it impacts those observing us. Specifically she did a study on the hormonal impact of maintaining a power position (Superman pose – hands on hips, legs slightly apart; Victory pose – arms out and in a V above your head; or some variation of those) or a powerless position (those I described above, folding in on your self, making yourself smaller, etc). She found that a mere two minutes of maintaining a power position increases testosterone levels, decreases cortisol levels and gives you the extra push of confidence walking into an interview, a meeting, or an executive conversation may require. Easy!
Sometimes we need to hear a little something to get us inspired. Whether it’s a Scripture, poem, song lyric (“never give up” on Imagine Dragons – Feel the Thunder), or this incredibly moving ad from yesterday’s Super Bowl commercial line-up, a reminder that we can tackle what we have in front of us today is always a great way to push through and past insecurity and doubt.
Laugh About It
In the process of working through insecurities, let’s face it, sometimes we just need a good laugh. A good friend of mine, Lincee Ray wrote a book that I guarantee you will remind you you’re not alone and will make you laugh in the process. It’s told in short story memoir format in her conversationally hilarious tone and addresses nearly every insecurity you can think of. If you’ve ever thought “I’m too…” or “I’m not…”, you will appreciate her humorous take on pushing through. It comes out this Tuesday Feb 6th but if you pre-order (hurry!) you also get a free copy of the audiobook, read by the author herself. Her East Texas twang is worth it! Check out more details here.
How do you convey confidence and presence with your body language? How do you push past your insecurities? I would love to hear your thoughts! Comment below or jump over to Facebook and Instagram to weigh in!