27 September 2023

Three ways to make your silence golden

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If you have difficulty speaking up at meetings, take heart. May Busch* suggests ways you can make your presence felt without saying a word.

Have you ever struggled to demonstrate your executive presence when speaking to senior managers?

It can take time to get comfortable speaking in a way that shows your confidence and gravitas, especially if you’re someone who agonises over the right thing to say and the best way to say it.

While you build up that skill, I’ve found there are some simple and often overlooked ways to demonstrate executive presence that don’t require you to say a word.

These strategies can be implemented right away and are simpler than you think.

How you move through space shows your executive presence (or lack of it).

Before people have a chance to even hear what you have to say, they’ve already formed an impression of you by watching how you walk through the hallway or enter the meeting room.

Earlier in my career, I worked down to the last minute before leaving for a meeting. Then I would run down the hall to get to the meeting on time.

It was a point of pride that I never wasted time and I felt sure management would appreciate my dedication and productivity.

Then I read a self-help article that changed everything. It was about why you should walk and not run, and asked: “Have you ever seen your chief executive run through the hallway?”

Of course not: My chief executive would never do anything as undignified as running to a meeting.

He strode down the hall, regardless of whether he was on time or fashionably late.

In that split second, I visualised myself scurrying down the hall like a little rat.

Worse yet, I was usually clutching my files in case someone asked me a question where I had to look up the answer.

Hardly the kind of presence needed for the future I aspired to.

So, notice the way you move through space, whether that’s walking down the hall, entering the meeting room or stepping out of an elevator.

What impression are you giving people?

Where you choose to sit in a meeting signals your confidence.

Where people sit in a meeting is generally an indicator of status.

While we all know better than to sit on the equivalent of the ‘throne’ where the big boss likes to sit, where you choose to sit says a lot about how confident and engaged you are.

It also determines how visible you’ll be.

Like my team member — let’s call him Ben — who always sat at the far corner and shrank back in his seat.

It was as if he was hiding, wishing for a cloak of invisibility to save him from being at the meeting.

With that level of presence — or absence — it was impossible to get him promoted beyond a certain level.

Or like the weekly section-wide meetings in the boardroom.

I would come in late and sit in the outer ring of seats along the edges of the room where it felt safe rather than at the big conference table.

The trouble was, this gave me zero visibility with senior management and made it hard to say anything and be heard.

It was only when I sat at the table that I had a fighting chance to get a ‘seat at the table’ in the organisation.

Are you taking your seat at the table, invoking the cloak of invisibility or something in between, and how is that shaping your executive presence?

Your body language speaks louder than words.

Imagine someone complimenting you while they’re scowling or looking at their phone.

I’ll bet those positive words aren’t going to land with you as much as the negative signals from their body language.

The same is true for your body language at work, especially in meetings and group conversations.

This includes your posture. For example, what do people see when you’re standing in a circle of colleagues?

When you’re in a meeting, do you sit squarely in your chair and take up your space at the meeting table?

Whether you have a confident stance or you’re shrinking back, it’s an indication of your presence.

Body language also includes your facial expressions. Notice your facial expression when you’re listening to someone and how you’re sitting during a meeting.

Think about the people who have the best executive presence and notice how they sit, stand and listen to others.

The thing about body language is others see it so clearly, while you’re so close to yourself you can’t. Not unless you’re paying attention.

What is your body language saying about you?

You don’t have to change who you are to boost your executive presence, it just means being aware and leaning into the version of yourself that you want to show off.

If you’re someone who finds it hard to speak up in meetings, or doesn’t have a chance to present in front of senior stakeholders often, take heart.

While you’re working on speaking up, use these three ways to display your executive presence without having to say a word.

Which of these would most help you display your executive presence if you focused on it right now?

*May Busch works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared at maybusch.com

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