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iStock_000020185211LargeHave you ever:

  • seen someone lose their cool in a negotiation, only to regret it?
  • witnessed someone being overlooked by senior leaders because he wasn’t perceived as a heavy hitter?
  • known someone to blow an opportunity simply because she lacked the confidence?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, what you witnessed was a lack of real influence – a lack of executive presence.

If you’d like to see what a loss of executive presence (and the accompanying real influence that goes with it) looks like, check out this Youtube video of Stan Sigman, CEO of Cingular/AT&T right after he was introduced by Steve Jobs at an event to announce the partnership between Apple and Cingular/AT&T. Obviously, Stan Sigman is a bright, talented, accomplished man. Listen to what Sigman says about Steve Jobs and how he says it – along with the reaction of the audience. You’ll be impressed. Then notice the shift that takes place in Mr. Sigman (and in the audience) when he gets to his “prepared remarks.” Notice the energy drain. Notice how he loses almost instant connection with the audience. Notice what happens to his “executive presence.”

I can tell you for a fact that unless you’re the top banana, you don’t want to be that guy when attempting to sell your ideas. In fact, even if you are the top banana in your organization, I’d recommend a far different approach than the one taken by Mr. Sigman that was captured on camera.

As someone who speaks to leadership teams on the topic, Boost Your Executive Presence with Real Influence, and who coaches executives who desire to speak with persuasive power, I have seen first-hand the radical difference in audience reaction to those whose remarks seem canned and scripted and those whose remarks seem spontaneous and authentic.

Today’s audiences want to experience an authentic leader; they want to be moved by real influence. They want to be in the presence of someone who is confident, connected, and engaging and who possesses a depth of knowledge. To be this person, you may need to:

  • spend time with people
  • speak to people eyeball to eyeball
  • lose your glasses
  • lose your note cards
  • lose the lectern
  • lose your script
  • lose anything that gets between you and your listener

But don’t let this scare you. You can do it! It’s all possible, regardless of how little experience you actually have—if you are willing to do your homework.

So, what is the homework? Practice.

1) Practice your message until you could be brain dead and deliver it. Put your presentation on your lips – out loud. This will help you develop muscle memory, altogether different than memorizing your script. Speak your presentation over and over again until your tongue, lips, cheeks – all your articulators – know what to do. You won’t even need a cue card. You’ll be able to look at your audience one person at a time and genuinely connect with them. You’ll give the impression that you’re knowledgeable and authentic as you speak with greater confidence and poise.

But, what if you don’t have depth of knowledge? Well, do your homework. Take the next step.

2) Practice responding to questions you’ve brainstormed. Sit down with some colleagues and come up with every question you hope someone asks, questions you hope no one asks, questions you’re sure someone will ask – leave no question off your list. Then generate a bottom line response to each question. Finally, practice your responses to each question just as you did your message. Put each answer on your lips, over and over again. [To learn more about this topic, check out The Art of Fielding Questions with Finesse.]

For example, I was once asked to be on a radio interview show, and when I inquired about finding a time to go over what he might ask me, he said that he thought the best interviews were when you just wing it. Well, he didn’t know me. I don’t wing it. I come prepared to every presentation. This would be no different. Therefore, I asked him if he’d mind if I sent him a list of topics on which I’d be comfortable speaking; he agreed. I then did exactly what I am recommending you do.

When I got to the interview, the list of topics I’d sent him was on a clip board in front of him. He went down through that list and asked his questions based on the topics…and I was totally prepared.

Once the interview was over and he cut to a commercial, he turned to me with a wide smile and chirped, “Hey, Mary Jane, that was the best interview I think I’ve ever experienced – you were so smooth. But, hey, didn’t I tell you that the best interviews were when you just wing it?” I smiled right back, “Yes, you did.”

Want to develop real influence? Want to be perceived as someone with star quality that others will sit up and pay attention to? Take some advice from Samuel Johnson who once wrote, “What we hope ever to do with ease we may learn first to do with diligence.” Whether it’s an important presentation to the board or a sales presentation to senior leaders, a negotiation, or a confrontation, it pays to be prepared. Be diligent in doing your homework. Practice.

Your comments are welcome!

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