The It Factor: How to Improve Executive Presence During a Presentation

What comes to your mind when you hear the term, The It Factor?

Think back to a recent presentation, when the presenter commanded the room and the audience’s attention.  Someone who made you want to listen and learn more.  Someone who exuded confidence, acumen, and charisma.  Someone like Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO. Someone like Sir Ken Robinson, creativity expert and the most watched TED presenter.

The It Factor, when presenting, is Executive Presence


Every presenter can benefit from improving executive presence. Every presenter who exudes it has intentionally worked to improve it.

That’s what this month’s tip is all about. Let’s look at two simple strategies that help Sheryl Sandberg’s and Sir Ken Robinson’s executive presence and can help yours too:

Open with Impact

Notice that neither Sandberg nor Sir Ken Robinson start out with, “Hi, my name is…”

“… Let’s admit we’re lucky. We don’t live in the world our mothers… or grandmothers lived in…”

Sandberg’s opening immediately commands attention because it conveys, “I understand who you are… I am one of you.”

Robinson’s, on the other hand, capitalizes on his signature ability to insert subtle humor and get the audience to chuckle with him:

“Good morning, how are you?  It’s been great, hasn’t it? I’ve been blown away by the whole thing… in fact, I’m leaving.”

Note that he neither apologizes nor brings attention to his limp (the result of childhood polio). Instead, he takes advantage of the extra time it takes him to walk to the front of the room by making the audience feel like he’s just starting a casual conversation in his living room.

Takeaway: Make an executive first impression using the best of your own style. Stretch yourself but always work with what feels comfortable to you. Also, remember to keep the opening relevant to the topic and to the audience in the room.

Join the Audience

Executive presence is never about being unapproachable and coming across like a sage from the stage. It takes confidence to symbolically join the audience.

Both Sandberg and Sir Ken Robinson join the audience by using “us” and “we” instead of “I” or “you.” It’s a subtle way they both use to  admit that  “all of us” can be part of the problem or the solution.  In addition, they both inject vivid  anecdotes and stories that remove the barriers between their expertise and the audience.

Takeaway: Use inclusive words like “we,” “us,” or “our team” to make the audience feel like they are part of the conversation. Think “guide on the side” instead of “sage on the stage” when you present.

Building executive presence is an ongoing and intentional process and practice.  Today we started the conversation.  It’s your turn: inject the it factor into your next presentation with a winning opening and by joining the audience.  Your audience will thank you.

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