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Executive Presence: What It Is, Why You Need It, and How to Get It

We all know someone who we think was just born to lead. They're cool under pressure, diplomatic, self-confident, and people want to please them. You could say they have "executive presence," which Fortune defines as "the ability of the leader to engage, align, inspire, and move people to act." These are skills that go beyond mere charisma and are invaluable in your everyday business, as you assist your clients with making huge decisions and guide them along the homebuying process.

But is it possible to learn executive presence? Can you practice these leadership qualities? Definitely. By tuning in to yourself and practicing some skills, you can develop the gravitas of a true leader..

Staying cool under pressure is a big component of effective leadership. You want to be the person that others turn to and trust in a crisis. Learning to control your emotions will help elevate you in others' eyes. You set the tone. But another part of this awareness is correctly reading the emotions of those around you. You can learn to read body language and use that knowledge to more effectively interact with your team and your clients.

People want to be heard and to feel their ideas and opinions are important. Practice your listening skills by using active listening strategies:

  • Keep an open mind: Try to understand the speaker's perspective.

  • Pay attention: Don't work on your response while they are speaking.

  • Question: Ask for clarification on more complicated points.

  • Use non-verbal listening cues: Maintain eye contact, smile appropriately, lean slightly toward the speaker.

  • Summarize: At the end, recap the main ideas you've heard in your own words to confirm your understanding.


If you act like you know what you're doing, people will believe you know what you're doing. Stand tall, use a strong voice, maintain eye contact, and develop a firm handshake. Projecting self-assurance is a key component, but don't let it tip over into arrogance. You still need to be able to admit when you're wrong. In fact, you may rise in esteem in the eyes of your team by doing so calmly and making decisions based on new information you glean.

Just as important as acting the part is looking the part. "Dress for the job you want" is an old adage rooted in truth: If you want to be powerful, respected, and successful, you need to make sure your appearance reflects that. And as another saying goes: "It's better to be overdressed than underdressed," so even if your industry leans business-casual, opt for business professional attire when you need to make a strong impression.

Executive presence means commanding attention and focus when you speak. That’s where public speaking skills can be a valuable asset. If you’re ummming and errrrrring when you talk, you may be seen as less trustworthy and credible by your audience. Hesitancy in your speech and stumbling over your words does not instill confidence in others. Here are some ways to improve your public speaking skills:

  • Be sure you know your message inside and out.

  • Allow your energy and enthusiasm about the topic to come through.

  • Use positive body language: Stand up straight and make eye contact with your audience.

  • Watch for feedback and address it.

  • Keep a positive outlook. Don’t dwell on your nervousness or uncertainty. Think you can, and you will.

Joining Toastmasters or another group where you can practice your public speaking skills and receive constructive advice will also help you speak more confidently in front of others.


Confidence, credibility, charisma: these are all skills you can learn in order to improve your executive presence and help you be the trustworthy advisor your clients turn to when they have questions. With a little work and some coaching, you'll be at the top of your game in no time.

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