Executive presence: what is it, why do you need it, and how do you build it?

During these last 467 days, we’ve had to make significant adjustments to the way we convey our presence and confidence. As we moved into a virtual world, executive presence was created, focusing on how we look and sound on camera.  So, the question is, how do we build a relationship with somebody that you’re only meeting from the waist up? How do you establish that executive presence in a way that can build trust and rapport?  In this medium, accepting its limitations and advantages, one aspect of projecting executive presence is the ability to inspire confidence. This means inspiring confidence in our peers as capable and reliable colleagues. In our junior folks, it’s inspiring confidence as a leader that they want to follow. And, importantly among senior leaders, inspiring confidence instills that you have the potential for great achievements. 

Why do we need it? We need executive presence because this is the key that unlocks the door to get us into the room where the big decisions are made. I loved that part in a recent song from Hamilton being “in the room where it happens.” 

In this virtual world, how do you build it? Here are my top four ideas:  

  1. Become an excellent listener. Focus on the way you show someone your listening: active listening posture, nodding your head, using paralanguage, creating a voice sound that isn’t necessarily a word but acknowledges your listening: “mhmm,” “uh-huh,” “interesting.”
  1. Articulate your purpose clearly. Write down your intention when beginning a conversation and say it out loud three times to yourself ‘out loud. Before you go live. This takes about 3 minutes to write and do… time well spent. By the time you share that live, it will be your fourth time saying it, and it will sound confident and natural as you fall into a natural rhythm of which words to emphasize.
  1. Understand how others experience you. This means seeking out peer feedback. What’s it like for someone to listen to you speak in an online meeting? This could be tough love yet very insightful in getting yourself to your next level of communication effectiveness. Think about it this way: imagine if you didn’t know?
  1. Maintain camera contact. This means giving the illusion of eye contact.  In this new hybrid world, this means looking directly into the camera while speaking. Do not look up or down at the person on your screen but rather help them feel you’re looking right at them by looking into the little green light at the top of the screen. In an actual, in-person face-to-face meeting, this means actually looking at their eyes. A great tip is looking anywhere between the bridge of the nose and the forehead. This will feel like you’re making direct eye contact.


These four tips give you the foundation for establishing an executive presence online. Allow these to become your regular practices when speaking to others online. It absolutely ensures you speak with confidence. 

Your marching orders: Turn on your camera or audio and record 2 minutes of yourself.  It can be the opening of an update or meeting or an answer to an upcoming question.  Then watch and listen to it back specifically for the areas above.  We can give ourselves the best feedback when we can watch it back and make notes for going forward. 

When you’re comfortable, confidence follows.   

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