Four Ways to Boost Your Executive Presence Immediately

By Emily Bennington

Why is it that some professionals seem to get on the fast track from day one and others get stuck in the mud? Part of the answer lies in technical competency (i.e. how well you perform on the job) but personal style is also critically important. It’s that intangible quality known as ‘Executive Presence’ and what follows are four (very tangible) ways to build yours:

  1. Look the Part: This does not mean you have to be the most attractive person in your office. It simply means that you must look like a potential leader. It means crisp suits, conservative accessories, and an aura of confidence that comes from knowing you are a newbie to watch.
  2. Communicate with Authority: So what if you don’t actually have any right now. You can still present your ideas articulately and with command. A note on technique though: Passion is good. Raw passion, however, is a disadvantage. This isn’t the time to steamroll others into your point of view.  This is the time to know when to speak with assurance…and when to listen with diplomacy.  
  3. Control Your Message: All of your nonverbals – e.g. how you dress, sit, walk, shake hands, pay attention, etc. – add up to affect the image you create in the mind of others. The good news is that these are all things inside your control. Take your office space for example. Even if you are caught up and 100% on top of your game, if you are surrounded by scattered papers, random post-its, and old coffee cups, chances are your colleagues are going to view you as overwhelmed and not ready for more challenging assignments.
  4. Develop a Silver Bullet: A ‘Silver Bullet’ is how you distinguish yourself early in your career. It’s your specialty area and the one where you become the ‘go-to’ contact. It could be social media, grant writing, Excel… the list is endless. In fact, you will probably have to test out a few bullets before you land on a winner. Just remember to pick something that genuinely interests you, that is valued by the company, and that isn’t already being done by scores of others.

Finally, while it’s not something you can do overnight, it will also help to study the most successful people in your office and in your field. How do they present themselves? What does their desk look like? How to they treat others and/or react in tough situations? These are clues to what your organization is looking for in its rising stars. Model the best behaviors, learn from any weaknesses, and use your own skills and presence to earn respect…regardless of your age.

Emily Bennington is coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010). She is a frequent speaker to students and organizations on the topic of career success and the host of Professional Studio 365, a popular blog for new grads transitioning from classroom to boardroom. Emily is a regular contributor to the college section of The Huffington Post and has been featured on CNN, ABC News, and in publications including The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and US News and World Report. Emily can be reached at or on Twitter.

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