Executive Presence and I’m 4’8″ (and a half)
April 24th, 2015 by Marcy Schwab
People say I have presence. That I fill a room. Funny because I’m 3.5″ shy of 5 feet. Yes, there’s a “four” before the “feet” in my height. When someone gets up the nerve to ask me how tall I am, they are almost always surprised at my answer. “Really? No way! I never would have guessed you were under five feet,” they say. It’s not like I can fake being tall!
I’m not always comfortable being in a group of people standing up and talking. In fact, I’m always looking up at the other people in the conversation. Always. I have those awkward moments that make you feel uncomfortable – many of them, in fact. When I’m with someone really tall, I can find myself at eye level with their navel. Not my favorite view.
AND…no pressure or anything — making an excellent impression and having a lasting impact are critical for me to be successful in my business. What can you do to be memorable and create the presence you want to have?
I never walk into a room without thinking about what’s on the agenda, what the purpose of the meeting is, who will be in the room and what I want to accomplish. I set goals for the meeting or conversation. Goals can include the number of new people I want to meet, what impression I want to leave, and the amount of talking versus listening that I want to do. Simply taking a few minutes ahead of time to plan my interactions gives me the opportunity to convey the presence to which I aspire.
Having a plan doesn’t always mean sticking to the plan. Adapting to the situation is important, too. People with great presence often roll with the punches and recognize when the tone or purpose has changed. Pay attention to the subtleties and shifts in the dynamics in the room. If I sense something has shifted or if the tone is not as I anticipated, I may do more listening than I had planned or ask different or more thoughtful questions. Read the room and the audience. It’s one of the keys to presence.
Tell a Story
When I’m in talking mode (versus listening mode), I try to find a way to make my point through a story. I tell my audience what I want them to know, convey the information through a memorable story, and then, if valuable, summarize the important components. It’s the old, “Tell them what you’re going tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them” concept. A great example happened just recently when I was working on selling a project to a new client with whom I had no prior relationship. In working to sell my company for the engagement, I started by explaining the process I was recommending. Rather than stopping there, I told an interesting story about a previous client engagement where a similar process was implemented, including the triumphs and missteps, and the fantastic results that followed. I then related the story to their challenge and how I would apply a customized approach in working with them.
When the client followed up with me, he cited the story and its impact on his impression of our first meeting. It clearly stayed with him when only an explanation of the process likely would not have.
Exude Confidence, Ask Insightful Questions, Stand Up Tall
Standing up tall may sound obvious for someone petite. It’s also important for anyone. Presence is about what you say and how you hold yourself. Some talk about it in terms of “how you show up.” When in “talking mode”, choose your words carefully and spend more time talking in relevant domains where you have a lot of experience and expertise. Also be sure to listen more when topics veer into areas where you have less experience. Ask great questions and learn from the talented people around you. Some say that you might try a strategy of “fake it until you make it.” I think of it more as listen carefully, observe your audience, ask great questions and learn something. Then use those observations and new ideas to enhance your strengths and fill in gaps. Other people love to be listened to and you have much to gain from their experience.
Presence doesn’t rely on your size, your exuberance, or a big personality. It takes thoughtful planning, knowing your audience, the ability to adapt, and a subtle confidence. How do you want to show up today?