29 jun 2017 / Geral

Communication in Executive Presence: It's Not What You Say It's How You Say It

6 Minutos de Leitura


“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

- James Humes


You know your domain of expertise like no one else. But when you talk what kind of message do you convey? Does your verbal and nonverbal communication align with what you’re saying?


Do you speak in a way that signals confidence, honesty, and integrity? Are you at ease speaking to anyone, regardless of their level of power and seniority? Is your demeanor positive and impactful?


When you communicate, are people hanging on to your every word? Are you perceived as leadership material?


The communication element of Executive Presence is the second most important one, after Gravitas.


But here’s what you need to understand about communication, it’s not what you say….it’s how you say it.


Your tone of voice, the words you choose, your ability to use silence and eye contact, your inflection, delivery and body language...all shape other people’s perception of your effectiveness as a communicator. 


Which is nothing short of amazing news, because you can develop and optimize all of the above.

The First Question To Ask


Pause for a second and reflect on this question: when are you communicating?


Always. Whether you’re in a coffee break with your colleagues, sending an email to your CEO, or presenting a keynote to stakeholders, you’re always communicating who you are.


Every time you interact with another person is an opportunity to establish and nurture a lasting relationship, based on trust, empathy, respect, and admiration.


The way in which you communicate will ultimately impact every relationship in your life, from your colleagues, to mentors, clients, superiors all the way to friends, family and loved ones.


The Communication Traits That Count


Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success” asked senior leaders to rate the communication traits that establish Executive Presence:


  1. Superior speaking skills
  2. Ability to command a room 
  3. Forcefulness and assertiveness
  4. Ability to read a client/boss/room
  5. Sense of humor/ability to banter
  6. Body language/posture

 Superior speaking skills, more than any other communication trait, qualify you as a leader with Executive Presence. Followed by the ability to command a room and assertiveness.


A 2012 analysis of 120 financial spokespersons found that the elements that make a speaker stand out, in terms of persuasion and influence, are passion (27%), voice quality (23%), and presence (15%). Surprisingly enough, content only accounts for 15% of the effectiveness of a speaker.


Proving that, when it comes to communication, what matters most is not what you say but how you say it.


Even if you have the most fascinating topic, that’s intrinsically compelling to your audience, if you’re unable to deliver the content in an engaging way, you’ll miss the opportunity to establish a connection with your audience.

Superior Speaking Skills


Before we break down the speaking skills that distinguish a remarkable communicator, let’s take a look at what executives interviewed by Sylvia Ann Hewlett cited as the communication slip-ups that undermine Executive Presence:


  • Inarticulateness 
  • Poor grammar
  • Off-putting tone
  • Accent

If communication is, essentially, about speech, it makes sense that being able to use a rich, diverse vocabulary, proper grammar and an accent that conveys authority and respect will enhance your communication skills and your Executive Presence.


Studies also show, that the sound of your voice matters twice as much as what you’re talking about. And most of us can easily agree to this, can you think of someone you consider a great professional but whose high-tone voice just gets in the way of what they’re saying? We all know people like that. Research demonstrates that a lower-frequency voice increases the probabilities of being perceived as successful, sociable and smart ( according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Voice).




Mariel worked for a start-up company and helped develop the online content and build the following and community. As the company took off and grew to a substantial size, the profits went up and she began to feel underpaid, so she simply quit her job without much explanation. In conversation with the CEO, he said I would have given her a raise had she simply asked for it. What Mariel lacked, in this particular case, was assertiveness.


Being assertive is a core trait in the executive world. You’re expected to make bold decisions, to defend your ideas and perspectives in a positive and vigorous manner. You have to show more than belief in your own value, you have to show that you’re willing to speak up and act on it. It’s that kind of self-respect that owns other people’s respect and signals Executive Presence.


Own the room


We’ve all seen people walk into a room and own it. They exude a charisma that makes it hard to look away. Some people call it charm. But what exactly makes up for charm? In a society overwhelmed by distraction, one of the most powerful ways to establish connections is to be incredibly present and laser focused on the moment.


Bill Clinton is often cited for his ability to make his listener feel like the most important person in the room... like nothing else matters in that moment.


Owning a room (and all communication for that matter) is ultimately about establishing a connection. It’s about using your whole self in a way that breaks down any defenses and differences and allows you to authentically relate to your audience. It’s about making yourself human, someone they like, trust and root for, while at the same time conveying that you don’t depend on their approval. And it’s about letting go of everything that stands between you and them.

Wrapping it up


Communication is one of those skills that no matter how good you are and how much you know, there’s always something else to learn and optimize.


The power of effective communication is too pervasive to dismiss. It’s what sets apart the top performers from everyone else. The fallacy is to believe the best communicators we’re endowed with a special talent, which might be true to some extent, but most of them deliberately set out to hone their communication skills.


And, in doing so, they dared to step into a path of extraordinary results.


The Workshop

If you're serious about results and investing in your skills, we're passionate about transforming your potential into tangible outcomes. Our Executive Presence Workshop (July 3 and 4) is a 2-day experiential program that involves both physical (based on Taekwondo Songahm) and behavioral training as well as an individual development plan. For more information click here and contact us at info@sofiacalheiros.com | +351 215 892 109.



Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. (2015).Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit And Success. Kennett Square, PA: Soundview Executive Book Summaries.







Sofia Calheiros / Leadership & Coaching