Do You Have Executive Presence?

Do You Have Executive Presence? Watch Tonight’s Debate and Find Out  The first Democratic debate airs this week, and regardless of which side you're on, there's a lot to learn about executive presence by paying close attention to the candidates' body language.

Executive presence is a unique combination of gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak) and appearance (how you look). And, although these characteristics are often demonstrated by what we say, they are instantly perceived by how we show up in conversations, and the non-verbal signals we send.

Amy Cuddy, the Harvard Professor whose TED Talk about body language has over 28 million views, suggests that we judge leaders who address us by two key dimensions: warmth and power.  In other words, when you watch the debate this week, you'll be asking two questions:  "Do I like this person?"  and "Do I respect this person?"  Those questions relate to the candidates' trustworthiness and competence.  Cuddy suggests we,

Pay attention to how expansive the candidates’ postures are: Are they using wide, open, strong, defined gestures? Are they standing with their feet apart? Do they have their hands resting on the outsides of the podium, to spread out a bit more? Puffing out their chests a bit? Racing to be the first one to reach out and initiate the handshake? And how much space are they taking up?

Are they trying to occupy each other’s space, by doing something like grabbing their opponent’s arm during the handshake? Or doing even more aggressive things, like walking toward their opponent and really getting up in their space, LBJ-style?

It’s also interesting to track the nonverbals throughout the debate—is the stronger debater becoming even more expansive and the weaker debater beginning to close up a bit, even in subtle ways, like how much they lift or lower their chin?[1]

When you’re watching tonight, it’s not just fun to watch the power dynamics explained above, see if you feel a connection to any of the candidates—connection and trust happens before influence. If you don’t trust them, their ideas fall on deaf ears.

Standing on a national stage and debating under immense pressure and public scrutiny may never be in the cards for many of us; however, there is plenty to learn from observing how warmth and power are conveyed non verbally so we can practice demonstrating executive presence when it matters most.


Jennifer Albrecht, Vice President of Professional Development, has been teaching and consulting with Learn iT! since 1997. Since joining Learn iT!, Jennifer has built and facilitated all of Learn iT!’s Professional Development classes including Communication, Leadership, Negotiating and Decision Making.

Jennifer strongly believes in Learn iT!’s 8 Step Model for Learning and applies it in all of the classes she builds and facilitates. Further information on the 8 Step Model can be found here.