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Three ways to build executive presence, not arrogance

A client recently asked me to deliver a workshop to help their team connect better with clients. To be confident but not arrogant; to be humble, but knowledgeable; compelling, not overbearing.

It made me consider how important it is to tailor your message to different settings to make fast, firm, genuine connections. And how the same techniques can be applied to new business meetings, when you need to nail the first impression.

For me there are three steps to do this, and it can be really useful for teams to consider these when engaging with new clients, running meetings and simply getting on with the job.

I won't say they're easy, but with practice they can become natural and make all the difference:

1. Preparation, preparation, preparation aka self-awareness and them-awareness

  • Understanding what you both need: Ahead of any meeting I like to do a quick search on emails, online (LinkedIn), to check what they’re interested in/ what was promised so I know what is expected and what the person I'm meeting with cares about right now. Knowing this alongside having a deep understanding of what you can (and can't) bring to the table is a great way to put the other person at the centre of the conversation and means you leverage your strengths without overstepping.

  • Being true to yourself and your organisation: At SEC Newgate we have just one value, "Respect". It's an easy one to bring into every situation - from not turning up late, to not speaking over someone, to understanding what the other person needs to get out of the meeting. Doing this authentically builds trust and respect, whereas the inauthentic can come across as arrogant.

  • Seeking feedback: Regularly asking for feedback from your client and from team members can be uncomfortable but it shows humility and can quickly nip in the bud any issues.

2. Listen, learn and mirror - communication essentials

  • Keeping your ears open and your mouth shut: I find that in most of my meetings, my job isn't to come up with a clever idea on the spot (those come later) but rather to listen to what my client or colleague needs. This is another way to show respect and openness which fosters collaboration.

  • Being pithy and punchy: By articulating your thoughts in a clear and concise way, it not only leaves more time for the other person to listen and react but also means that you don't dominate the conversation. This makes the atmosphere more inclusive and encourages others to contribute.

  • Mirroring body language: Beware crossed arms/ legs, leaning back in the chair and, heaven forfend, feet on the table. Observe what the other person is doing and copy it (subtly). It helps to maintain eye contact too (without staring someone out) and smiling. You’d be surprised how expressive our faces can be and can give a, sometimes inaccurate, impression of what we are really thinking.

3. Showing empathy and humility

  • Acknowledging others: The power of recognising and appreciating the efforts and achievements of your team is a great way to show you value and notice the input of others. Not only does it foster a team-oriented environment, but also, when done in front of a client, shows that this is a firm that has more than one star player, which cares about the input of others and will work together to create the best results.

  • Not being a blocker: If you create an atmosphere where others feel comfortable to approach you with ideas, questions, or concerns, you're far more likely to get better, more inclusive ideas which will not only make people want to stay working with you but will also benefit the bottom line because they reflect the world and the customers you have, not just yourself.

  • Saying sorry: Elton John had it right when he sang, "sorry seems to the hardest word". And yet it is also the most powerful word. When you or your team accepts responsibility for something that went wrong it shows a willingness to learn and grow. Humility encourages others to do the same and builds a culture of continuous improvement.

And finally the "it" factor.

The brilliant voice coach Patsy Rodenburg describes how casting directors would talk about how some actors had "it" and some didn't. So she took some time to assess whether this was really true. She found that everyone has "it" they just learn to turn it on and off. Her theory is that we occupy three circles of energy as we go through life.

The first circle is the introvert - imagine you're sitting at your computer, working on a piece of work the requires deep thinking, and someone interrupts you to talk about something.

Third circle is the amateur Shakesperean actor who has to shout "To Be Or Not To Be" at the top of his lungs with little nuance, or the drunk person at the party, talking too loudly and generally being an irritation, or it's Basil Fawlty thrashing his car. Third circle can be useful when you're trying to coral a room full of people back into the post-lunch session on your team away day, but is generally best left for home time.

Second circle is the sweet spot. This is the circle that we are born into. It is totally present. You are listening, you are reacting, you are in your flow. Imagine a time when you had a conversation, perhaps when falling in love or on stage delivering a really stong keynote, when you were really "there" - reacting and reactive. You can listen to more from Patsy on circles here

Third circle is where you are when you do all three steps above. It is all that encompasses true executive presence.

This PRmoment Internal Comms Review is written by Naomi Kerbel, communications director at SEC Newgate and host of the Show Me The Way podcast, which profiles trailblazing women.

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