Want to command the room? Then you need to project ‘Executive Presence’

future leaders

I remember watching Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about Power Poses, and I thought that this would make it so easy for me to feel confident and in control in any meeting. Of course, that’s not the point of the TED Talk – the point is to help you feel more confident and in control when you are not feeling it, which can be often.

This reminded me of a great story in Radical Candour about Kim Scott’s boss (Sheryl Sandberg) offering her coaching on public speaking. The issue Sandberg told Scott, was that she used a lot of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ in the meeting. Scott made a joke out of it, and it wasn’t until Sandberg told her it made her sound stupid that she paid attention.

Executive presence is a fascinating subject and one I’ve been reading about a lot lately. Rebecca Shambaugh, author and leadership expert, describes executive presence as encompassing everything from eye contact to posture and remaining calm under fire.

She has spoken about the importance of executive presence for women and that rather than us hitting a glass ceiling, perhaps we are also standing on a sticky floor. In other words – what am I doing that is holding me back? Her book talks about the belief system women sometimes have that can see us getting stuck in our careers. Just to be clear, she does absolutely acknowledge that there are glass ceilings and that we need to continue to fight for parity in the workplace, but she also wants us to look inward to see if we are getting in our own way.

Below, are some examples of sticky situations, and how to overcome them.

Make your voice heard

Making our words count is not just about showing up, but speaking up in a way that adds to the discussion, even if it’s just asking a good question. We cannot wait to be asked for our opinion in meetings, that time may never come – we have to speak up.


This is a habit of mine, but I have learned that you have to decide what your level of ‘good enough’ is – otherwise you will be redoing your team’s PowerPoint presentations at 2 am.

Work and Life Balance

I saw Michelle Obama speak recently and she spoke about planning out her calendar. She adds three types of events to her calendar before she commits to anything – children’s events, husband/partner events and personal events. Only then does she add work events and travel.

No is a complete sentence

I have this terrible habit of saying no and then rushing in to explain why. It’s very hard for me to say no just leave it at that, but we have to learn that no is a complete sentence.

The Power Pose

Standing with your legs apart in a dress or skirt is hard, and it can be difficult not to look like Wonder Woman if you then put your fists on your hips (not that such a thing would be bad), but you do need to be very aware of how you hold your body. Lean into the conversation (literally) and sit in the middle of the room, not on the periphery.


I speak loudly, so there have been very few meetings where I was not heard; however I do tend to speak quickly and in a very animated way, which can portray either passion or craz-ee. I have learned, especially when I feel the need to violently disagree with someone, to slow down and keep my tone even.

Ask for what you want

I used to be of the opinion that if I worked really hard, it would naturally follow that I would get what I deserved. But actually, we need to get much better at asking for what we want. Whether that’s help on a major project (I did this recently) or a promotion – you need to ask for what you want. Otherwise you are hoping for your boss’ ESP to be working.

If we want to increase the number of female leaders/executives, then we do need to ensure that when women assume these roles, we are equipped with the tools, the knowledge and the skills necessary to demonstrate they belong there.

About the author

By Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft

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