What is executive presence? I hear that phrase a lot. Companies want executives who can take charge and light up a room.

A few thoughts. I relate presence to charisma, charm, and savoir faire. Granted, they may not be identical triplets, but they are members of the same family. I think it's difficult to define, but it's not impossible. I've paid close attention over the years, trying to pin it down. Here's what I've discerned.

  1. Executive presence begins, but does not end, with the ability to understand the topic at hand, articulate a point of view, and do so in a manner that is clear and emotionally compelling.
  2. Sometimes executive presence includes verbal skill. It's been said that Winston Churchill marshalled the English language and sent it into battle. The words of his speeches still ring in our ears, so Mr. Churchill is still present in our lives.
  3. Why Presidents Succeed by Dean Keith Simonton, (Yale University Press, 1987) argues that America's successful presidents used language rich in meaning to create their charismatic personas. "People don't have rich associations with abstract words like inference, concept or logic," he says. "I feel your pain has association, but I can relate to your viewpoint doesn't." In other words, charismatic people speak to people's guts, not to their brains.
  4. Presence includes the ability to read others, read the room, and respond in the moment to what's happening in the moment. If you're not in the moment, you're not present.
  5. Presence is intangible. You can't touch it but you can feel it. Some people seem to have a force-field of energy around them.
  6. People who are confident tend to have more presence, and people who have gravitas radiate presence as well.
  7. People who are happy have more, as do people who have a deep sense of purpose.
  8. People with good posture tend to have more presence (although not always).
  9. People who are taught body language skills in order to create a facsimile of presence can sometimes fake it til they make it, but not always. The body language of a truly passionate person is unmistakably real.
  10. Executives who move with abundant energy have it, especially if it's calm, assertive energy.
  11. People have more executive presence when they expand rather than contract. When they're relaxed rather than tense. When they're focused rather than scattered.And by the way, expansion and contraction are not necessarily physical acts. They are psycho-physical. They come from the inside and move outward. If your inner state is buoyant, you're likely to be more physically expansive, and project more presence.It is also true that large physical gestures can influence your inner state. Before you present, I highly recommend a little Zumba. Large gestures and dancing awaken us, get our blood flowing, and give us those rosy cheeks that make us more attractive.
  12. Extroverts tend to have more presence than their introverted pals, but not always.
  13. People who look you right in the eye are certainly more present than those who look away. Assertive eye contact with one person at a time is a powerful sign of social status and interpersonal connection.
  14. Stillness and composure can also create a sense of presence. It can signal control and power. However, if you are still and contracted, then you signal anxiety and uncertainty.
  15. Finally, people who are endlessly curious also have presence, especially when they're endlessly curious about other people based on a deep sense of empathy.

Ultimately, you have presence by being interested in others. People like people who like them.