Let’s face it: there are times when you want to come across as warm and friendly in your presentations—a team player. Then there are the other occasions, when you most need to project an image of absolute credibility and authority.
Achieving that second goal—a high level of perceived professionalism—is what I’d like to discuss in this tip. After all, it's a central part of your executive presence.
If you’re senior enough or your reputation precedes you, attaining that degree of credibility is usually easy. But what about these common situations:
- You're young (or you sound that way).
- You’re speaking to listeners who are more senior than you are.
- You’re the first representative of your company (or organization, or government) these listeners have ever seen.
- You’re female in an industry historically populated by men.
In these circumstances and similar situations, you’re apt to lack confidence in the role you’ve been assigned to play. Fortunately, the world of the theater offers an easy and effective exercise to help you. After all, actors face the biggest credibility challenge of all, night after night: convincing audiences that they’re someone everyone knows they’re not!
Lessons from the Earth
The exercise is to imagine you’re a tree.
Sound silly? Specifically, you should stand with your feet at armpit width, so you're stable and steadfast. The reason you're invited to do this has to do with the very important concept of “grounding.” Stage performers understand that much of their power in performance comes from the “ground” they’re standing on. In the earliest forms of theater, of course, that meant the earth itself. And if the earth itself doesn’t have the ability to lend you power, what does?
In the grounding exercise, we imagine that just like a 100-year-old oak or maple, we have roots that go deep and wide into the earth. Like that tree, we are firm, secure, and unshakeable as we stand tall and proud. As with many aspects of public speaking, strong body language makes a difference.
You might ask yourself at this point what audiences see when you speak: Is it a figure of standing and substance—a figure who's as well grounded as that tree? If an audience members hurls a lightning-bolt question at you, for instance, will you be able to take the blast and remain "standing"?
Do You Appear Weak or Strong?
Speakers who lean on one hip or cross their ankles behind a lectern, on the other hand, have a hard time convincing us that they’re a figure of authority. Try it yourself: Stand with your feet set solidly at armpit-width, and then with your legs crossed at the ankles. Which position makes you feel stronger and more professional?
When you plant yourself firmly in front of others, the self-image that’s elicited in your own mind is one of confidence and preparedness. From that thought emerge other physical expressions of your confidence. It’s a self-regulating cycle that continually gives you what we might call “strength of character” as a presenter.
Combine this deep-rooted sense of presence with diaphragmatic breathing, and you'll look and sound like a person of consequence. Credibility and authority will flow from you to your audience, where it must reside.