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Improve Executive Presence in the Digital Era

Improve Executive Presence in the Digital Era

Executive Presence represents something intangible and intuitive, making it difficult to pin down. Nonetheless, it is essential for all leaders, so it is necessary to define it and devise ways to improve Executive Presence, particularly in the digital age, when one has to make an impression on clients and coworkers in remote or hybrid settings.

According to, leaders need to take action, thoughtfully. The choices that company leaders and managers make are the X factor in helping employees fulfill their purpose at work. By making better choices—starting now—you can make a positive difference in the lives of your colleagues and the performance of the company. 

In short, it is an intangible but unmissable quality that only good leaders have. It is their leadership charisma or leadership presence, their ability to lead. Modern executives need to have it if they are to be successful. Moreover, they need to be able to show it even in the remote detachment of the digital environment. Great leaders will always stand out in the boardroom or corporate office, but how do they do so when they are sitting in their home offices talking to a camera?

With remote work and virtual meetings becoming increasingly common in the business world, communication is evolving. Qualities such as Executive Presence are evolving with it. Leaders can develop the traits that constitute leadership presence and convey them across digital platforms. Here is Corporate Class’s guide to building a virtual Executive Presence.

Virtual Executive Presence Through Digital Leverage

Demonstrating Executive Presence in a one-on-one setting involves all the hallmarks of effective communication: for example, authenticity, confidence, active listening, and empathy. These are not always so easy to express digitally, but you can train yourself to do so by leveraging the tools and qualities inherent in digital media. What this means is that leaders need to gain a complete understanding of how we are perceived on camera. That is the key to transferring leadership presence from real life to the digital realm. It is something that television show hosts and news anchors have known for decades. Now, corporate leaders need to adopt their techniques. Sitting still with a neutral expression is fine when you’re sitting and listening in a boardroom, but it won’t work in a virtual environment. The camera reduces you to nothing but a face, so you need to be more aware of what your face is doing. You must show empathy, clarify that you are listening, and practice active listening by nodding or smiling where appropriate or asking clarifying questions. Remember to always maintain “eye contact,” meaning you must look at the camera. Directing your eyes toward the camera may seem small, but it is vital. If you look at the person talking on your screen, you will appear to be looking away from the speaker, so you must master the art of looking at and talking to the camera.

The camera is the only means to feel your presence in a virtual environment, so be sure to get comfortable with it. 

Evolving Traits for Modern Executive Presence

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who has done in-depth research on Executive Presence, recently published an article in Harvard Business Review, in which she explains how our understanding of Executive Presence is changing. According to her, EP traditionally has three attributes: gravitas, strong communication skills and appearance. However, expectations around these leadership traits have now changed due to the shifting global landscape. 

Hewlett conducted two surveys ten years apart to see how perceptions of global leadership have shifted. The three qualities that make up Executive Presence remain, but there have been changes in the specific traits that people find important. Traits like confidence and decisiveness remain as important as ever, while integrity and vision have dropped several percentage points. 

Regarding communication and appearance, some traits have remained the same, while others are not considered important anymore. For example, superior speaking skills are still highly prized, but a joking manner, considered important by 34% in 2012, did not even make it onto the list in 2022.

How do leaders develop the traits that are important for EP? Aside from being aware of which traits matter, leaders are encouraged to deliver informed empathy, focus on using best practices for managing virtual meetings, and adopt a “listen to learn” ethos.

Integrating Executive Presence into Personal Branding

Once you reach a certain level, whether as an entrepreneur, a private contractor, or a corporate executive, it is vitally important that you develop a personal brand. At that level, everyone around you is great at what they do and has built stellar reputations. That is not enough. To stand out, everyone must have a firm idea of how their clients and colleagues want to be seen. A personal brand can and should incorporate a strong Executive Presence. EP can be a part of your brand, but it can also be used to showcase that brand and make it more visible.

You build your personal brand by defining your own values, motivations, and skills and then aligning them with those of your organization or your clients. That alignment only matters if you can make other people aware of it. To do that, you need to communicate well, and you need to be authentic. Good communication skills and authenticity are both traits associated with EP. You can see then how EP can convey your personal brand, but it also works the other way around. Whatever your unique selling points may be, why not make sure that a strong EP is one of them? 

The Influence of Digital Media on Leadership Presence for Executives

Digital media is inextricably tied up with global leadership today. The world’s most influential people all have X or TikTok accounts with massive followings. Much of what the world knows about them comes from these platforms. Social media was once an added extra for business and personal branding, but it is now non-negotiable. Everyone, whether they are anyone, should be using social media. 

Executives and other leaders can use social media to build their personal brands, which goes a long way towards establishing and conveying EP in the digital realm. They can also use digital platforms to share their expertise, which gives them enhanced gravitas, leading to improved EP. Digital media also helps leaders build relationships and promote their values. The more connections they make and people know what they stand for, the better their EP will be.

The influence of social media also means that much of the work of building EP relates to perception. People will only get a true sense of your leadership presence from direct interactions, but you can use your digital media activity to build a profile and give people a sense of who you are.

Building Executive Presence: The Core Role of Emotional Intelligence

Communication, gravitas and appearance are listed as the three core components of EP, but all of these can be distilled into a single factor: emotional intelligence. The quality of your Executive Presence is about how you relate to others and how they experience that relationship. You must understand, empathize, and communicate with people to have a good EP. If you are to have any hope of developing EP, you need to have well-developed emotional intelligence. You must foster self-awareness, as well as awareness of others. You must develop the art of being connected and present at all times, being responsive to what others say and do around you, without being reactive. 

You must always be authentic – people can spot inauthenticity a mile off, and it will instantly diminish your EP. You also need to master emotional reasoning and self-management. People with EP are perceived as being very self-possessed, demonstrating mental and emotional balance. They have an air of authority because they can manage themselves and others effectively, taking responsibility and accountability for their own behavior.

Balancing Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication in Leadership Presence

Exuding an Executive Presence is a combination of both verbal and non-verbal communication. You need to be able to use your body language to express confidence and warmth, and you should always moderate how you talk – it is every bit as important as what you say. When you meet people for the first time, make a big announcement to your team, or during routine meetings, you need to control your body language to convey complete self-possession and competence. 

Digital communication makes this more challenging. You can’t use body language to aid your communications, so you must depend more on your voice and facial expressions to establish and project your leadership presence. As mentioned before, your camera is your best friend here as long as you know how to use it. Be sure to always look the part for your meeting, even if you will only be seen from the chest up or from the neck up. 

Style and groom yourself carefully and practice your position and posture in front of the camera before the meeting. Always remember to communicate directly with the camera, not with the faces you see on your screen. Most importantly, take full control of your facial expressions and your voice. Use a strong voice so the microphone picks up everything you say. Don’t run the risk of swallowing your words. You can even practice your facial expressions in front of a mirror to be sure you strike the right notes. Ask a friend, family member, or trusted colleague to give you feedback on your facial communication. 

Corporate Class Inc. is a global authority in leadership coaching and empowerment. We strive to develop exceptional leaders and to assist organizations in developing effective leadership approaches. Based in Toronto, and with a worldwide presence, we have helped to nurture leaders with formidable Executive Presence since 1984 – long before the term was even coined. Contact us to learn how our training and consultation can help you improve your Executive Presence.

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