In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: Executive Presence, Part II

Last week, we evaluated the importance of executive presence for gaining your colleagues’ trust and confidence, as well for career advancement. We also examined more specifically what we may be inadvertently communicating to others with just our body language. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read last week’s article, I know you’re dying to find out what you missed (your body language told me), so you can catch up right here.

In this article, we’ll explore several other qualities that together create the bright and beautiful package of executive presence that you can use to rule the world. MUAHAHAHAHA. (I know, I have a bit of a problem…sorry….)

Preparation. Whether it’s for a meeting, negotiations with the other side, or a panel presentation, it’s hard to appear confident and knowledgeable without sufficient preparation — it’s like that kid in law school who hasn’t read the case and is trying to BS through it. It’s so obvious and nobody’s impressed, kid.

Knowing your substantive points inside out will help you look and feel more comfortable and less anxious when you communicate. Try also to anticipate what questions you may be asked and the best ways to respond. (You know, kind of the opposite of what a certain other “executive” did for a particular debate that was televised oh, I don’t know, last week maybe….)

Words. Communicate with simple and direct words instead of complicated or jargon-y ones. You want people to remember the content of what you said, not the fact that you sounded like an SAT flashcard. And in the work setting, get rid of speech detractors like “um,” “uh,” “right,” “you know,” and “like.” Instead, pause when you find yourself about to use these words — eventually, the pauses will become shorter and shorter.

Delivery. Take your time to speak clearly and deliberately with helpful hand gestures and facial expressions. Change the cadence of your voice frequently to emphasize your points and to keep from boring your audience. Use pauses… effectively.

Workplace Etiquette. Like all etiquette, some proper workplace etiquette involves learning about the particular culture of your workplace. Some work environments are formal and traditional while others are more laid-back and relaxed. And then there’s Google, those showoffs. In general, when it comes to etiquette, show respect and consideration for others, as you’d like them to do for you. When in doubt about what’s considered appropriate, ask.

Calmness under Pressure. I had mentioned in this earlier article that successful executives had been shown to demonstrate low excitability. Companies want their senior peeps to be calm, composed and exercising good judgment in stressful situations. Learn to take deep breaths and take the pencil out of your eye every now and then.

Dress and Grooming. There are many articles on men’s and women’s fashion in the workplace. (I particularly like Huma Rashid’s, not for executive presence purposes per se, but her posts are irreverently hilarious.) From an executive presence standpoint, your physical appearance at work should always, always, always be professional. I mean always. Like even on “casual” day — you should be dressed and groomed to look and feel confident and polished.

Character. If you were able to perfect all of the characteristics described above and in my prior article, you could still fail at engaging others and inspiring trust. This is because true leaders have an authenticity of character that drives their work performance and interaction with others. This is the real stuff — the core, my friends. Their character is evident in their passion for their work and constant desire for improvement. They genuinely care about and listen to others. They seek out new ideas and feedback. They’re humble and admit mistakes while giving credit to those around them. And they have the courage to stand firm (or to say “no”) for what they believe. The only people who hate them are the ones who are insanely jealous.

In order to improve your executive presence, develop more of an awareness of yourself (of both your strengths and weaknesses). Start listening to yourself more carefully, look in the mirror, or videotape yourself. Ask for honest feedback from people you trust or go to a coach. Also, observe and learn from others you admire — not just in your work place, but elsewhere, such as in the media, at conferences, and at bar association events (but perhaps not during happy hour). Keep track of examples of what not to do as well.

List your executive presence goals and practice, practice, practice. Take it one step at a time and celebrate your successes, such as, hooray, you made a list! Don’t worry about perfection – you’ll never reach it. Instead, strive for improvement and increased effectiveness as a leader and… *timely pause* …as a person.


Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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