Creating a Polished Presence

Picture of Patrice Barber

Patrice Barber

CEO of Career CNX & National Professional Speaker

Today, what we’re going to talk about is several different aspects of creating a polished presence.

We want to make sure to welcome our panelists. We have Kelly Goering, who is here as a certified project manager, speaker and specialist in the area of intercultural etiquette. She is a protocol trainer who’s been trained in cross-cultural communications, and she’s got some great examples about what works well and what does not work well in your corporate and business etiquette.

We also have Dana Lynch comes to us as a certified image expert. She’s a speaker and an author. She specializes in working with attorneys, CPAs, financial planners and other professionals heading into leadership roles, especially into the C-suite, that have to really up their game.

Last but not the least is Kevin Cuthbert, who comes to us from Bates Communications, and they actually have an executive presence indicator, which is an assessment around how well or not so well your personal presence is showing up in terms of several different criteria and factors. He has worked with hundreds of different executives and teams to design and implement various leadership learning processes and organizational change initiatives with that focus on executive presence.

Top 3 Biggest Mistakes in Executive Presence

Let’s talk about the top three mistakes in executive presence that you’ve seen across the years.

Kevin Cuthbert:
Well, I can think of one. And it’s just not knowing the situation you’re walking into, that can be okay as long as you can be agile. I was in a meeting at Lockheed Martin with some very senior people in Washington, DC that included some customers. There are certain things you do and don’t do when a general walks into the room, which I did not know but learned very quickly. So it’s really a lot about preparation and it’s and when your preparation fails you, it’s about adjusting quickly and being agile.

I worked with a guy and one of his colleagues said it best, like, “He’s a great guy, really knowledgeable, very experienced, but he can’t find the period.”
He is a wonderful man. He loved to talk. He was very extroverted.

I know this has happened to me. I’m sure it’s happened to some of you either on the giving or the receiving end. When somebody is going on and on, you’re kind of like, you had me at hello, right. Move on or ask a question.

A lot of times with really senior leaders who are more extroverted. They have this issue where they’re not seeing the effect that they’re having. They’re not paying attention to the fact that people have now picked up their phones or are looking elsewhere. That’s a big one, especially for extremely powerful, successful leaders. They’re not paying attention to how they’re being received.

There are things you can do to avoid these types of situations and one of them is prevention. If you have a point to make, practice making it using the two breaths rule right or a couple of sentences and then force yourself to pause and ask a question or even just pause and look around the room and see how people are responding. It’s getting your messages to be really concise for the situation and then forcing yourself to stop after you’ve delivered that message.

The other category we would call interventions, and that’s things to do when you’re in the room. Just pay more attention to nonverbal cues because in most rooms, there are people who are more important, in terms of their decision making, their status, or what have you. I would encourage them to pay attention to those people and to notice what’s going on with their eyes and what they’re doing with their body.

Dana Lynch:
Everything has just gotten so casual. So a big mistake that I see is just showing up to meetings too casually as a default versus again, we were all talking about that pre planning, but I’ll give you an example.

I went to a women’s networking event last week and I’ve been to a few since the lockdown was over. A few people showed up in just jeans and t-shirt like they just stopped by the networking event while they were out doing errands. That was the impression that it gave me versus, “Oh, who might I meet there?” And then I think kind of a downfall with being too casual like that. Just showing up like that is you don’t look like who you are. You know, no one would ever be able to guess what you do for a living and want to approach you across the room. It’s not saying no one will approach you if you have jeans and a t-shirt on, but company, brand and such, you’re just much more apt to be approached.

I know people really want leadership, and I think that being the level above, even if it’s in a super casual company, if there’s something the leader can do to set them apart, the employees are going to recognize that and it’s going to be a step in the right direction. I do know I had a client who was C-level executive in an energy company and she would go to a lot of conferences and she was pretty shy. And after we worked together, she told me that she noticed after working together that a lot more people like in the hospitality suites and such, the conferences would approach her.

That’s a great example of how those small differences obviously didn’t change who she was or what she did or anything, but just in how she was perceived by others. Kevin You brought this point up earlier as well about how others perceive us. So give us an example from your perspective, your lens around executive presence and someone that you may have worked with where you were able to affect this type of a change that helped them then either in closing deals, making better connections, attracting talent or retaining talent along with something along those lines.

Kelly Goering:
One of the things that I teach and help people work through is dining experiences. If you don’t understand how to conduct yourself in a meal, they don’t think you’re going to be able to conduct yourself in a business environment.

I was at a nonprofit fundraiser dinner, and the person that was the emcee is a local Denver celebrity. We were now on break, we were having dinner and the person took their fork and stabbed their steak and started cutting it. And I just wanted to tell the person that the steak was dead. It’s okay. You don’t need to kill it again. While this person’s a great emcee, all I can remember now is they tried to kill their steak again. And that’s just so offensive. And I really wanted to stop.

If you don’t make an impression at dinner, that’s a good thing too, because you’ve not offended anyone. That’s one of the experiences I have certainly had.

Global Communication Takeaways

So we’re going to jump into things to help us understand the different aspects around global communications and some of the things we can do as a one, two, three process.

Kelly Goering:
As of us speak to some degree of pre-meeting action plan. If you know where the location of your meeting’s going to be, whether it’s a conference room or a restaurant or a coffee shop, know what it looks like and how you’re going to present yourself. Do they have WiFi? Do you need your laptop? Just understanding where you are and where you’re going. To meet someone on Zoom, check to make sure your connection is strong and your material has been already prepared.

I was once in Russia. I do not know Russian, except for a couple of words. I know how to find the bathroom and where the stop signs are, things like that. But if you are having someone that’s going to be a translator, you need to make sure that you speak in non-slang terms. They understand you and you understand them because there can be some messages that are lost when the words are translated.

When Patrice and I first met, I handed her my business card and we joked about, “Well, let me just take a picture of it or let me just look you up really quick on my phone.” In different cultures, they’re very passionate about their business cards because that’s who they are.

Harvard Business Review did a study on diplomatic dining. Should you do a deal over a meal? They did 100, and I think it was 132 or 142 MBA students each to have a very diverse group of business. They were bringing two businesses together, very complex, and they were trying to increase profits. One of the groups did it all in a conference room and the other group did it over eating and sharing meals. The group that actually shared the food their profits went up $6.7 million over this time period. It’s just building that trust, that relationship and understanding how each other works.

Kevin Cuthbert:
The thing that I’ll kind of double down on is the cross language preparedness. Knowing how to say thank you in your host country, it like if you do nothing else but that people will really appreciate it. So they won’t expect you to be able to master their language. But if you’ve shown that you’ve taken some effort to prepare and know just a few things in their language, I think that is super important.

I also just want to talk about first impressions a bit and the stock phrase. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and I think that is true sometimes. But I also think there’s an opportunity for fun and humility in all of this because we will all make mistakes.

Sometimes, I’ll be at a dinner table and even though I now know which fork to use, I will turn to the person next to me and say, “Tell me again. Do I work from the outside in or the inside out? I can’t remember.” And it’s a way of showing that I am paying attention, that I have some humility about it and that I want to interact with that person.

I think we will all make mistakes the first time we’re in a new country. Being humble and asking questions is just one other way of showing we want to be with them in kind of the same level. If you’re not sure, don’t be the first one. Watch how others are doing it and then do the same thing.

Dana Lynch:
Asking and just being really aware. So I think you can stalk people on social media really easily. You know, if you’re meeting with an individual, kind of get an idea. If it’s a company website, get a sense of what the feel of the company that you’re going to be meeting with.

Think about, “What are my goals for this meeting? Do I want to be really approachable? Do I want to be intimidating? Do I want to be the authoritative figurehead in the room and then dressing according to that?”

And again, it’s always easier to dress down if you’re dressed up than it is to dress up if you’re dress down. And then also, I think there’s a circumstance where you might really want to blend in. I’ve had people say to me, I want to look nice, but I don’t want to be the person that walks in the room and is loud. So I think just kind of thinking about how others might be dressed.

Are you being direct or indirect?


Kelly Goering:
One of the things that Patrice and I spoke about as well, from a domestic standpoint, “Are you on the East Coast or the West Coast? Northeast, A little more direct to the point. West Coast, a little more laid back. East Coasters, you’re going to hear them say no. It just really differs on your director and directness.

As far as your business meeting, you need to be able to read your room. Kevin said this straight away to pay attention to your room. Mimicking is a great form of flattery. I like to talk, but I also know that I need to say let me pause there and ask, are there any questions.

We have to be okay with “Sometimes silence is an okay thing.” Some people consume things differently and they have to think about things. You just need to know who your room is, who your audience is, and speak to.

Recommendations for people do to help to distinguish themselves

Kevin Cuthbert:
I would reinforce what Kelly and Dana have just shared, because it’s all super important, right? Showing up like you belong in the place.

The second point is, “What do you want to say and how do you want to say it for maximum effect so that you don’t get caught in rambling?” There’s a time and a place for rambling in more informal social settings, but if it’s a more formal business setting with a business purpose, then I always go in.

I’m a little bit more introverted, right? And so it’s hard for me at times to find room, but it’s not hard if I prepare. So I’m going to have four or five or six things that I know I want to say or do ahead of time and going to be clear and succinct and short and relevant. Spending as much time preparing your messaging and your questions as you do on what you’re wearing, I think is a good balance.

How can we prevent ageism?

Dana Lynch:

It’s making sure that you’re up to date with hairstyles for women makeup. For women and men, what you’re wearing should be current and up to date. Let’s say your dress is kind of from the eighties or nineties. Immediately, people will assume, that that’s where your skill set is stuck. Knowing what’s appropriate and what’s up to date, I think can really help.

How is the definition of executive presence changing across generations?

Kevin Cuthbert:
I think the “what” of executive presence is not changing. I think the “how” of executive presence is changing. And we need to be agile and adaptable to understand the differences between generations. And I may be a loner on this, but I actually think there are more similarities than there are differences between generations.

There are clearly differences, and knowing what those are and integrating them into how you engage, inspire, align and move people to action. There are some generational differences, but I think at the end of the day it’s person by person because I’ve met a number of millennials who act just like a lot of the boomers that I work with.

I think it’s an individualized proposition. What is it that’s going to engage, inspire, align and move this person to action? And generational factors may play a role in it, and they may not. If you know the person, then you have more than half the answer.

When and how often to post on social media

Patrice Barber:

LinkedIn, in particular, would be a primary place as an executive for you to be posting, liking other people’s comments, engaging in conversations. You would also want to post something probably about once a week would be a reasonable cadence to it.

Responding to things typically within 1 to 2 business days through LinkedIn is pretty common. This demonstrates that you are part of the current era that understands social media is a thing we do have to respond to beyond just our inbox or answering phone calls, etc., and calling directly.

Thanks, everybody, and a special thank you to our panelists for being here. I hope everybody came away with the answers to your questions if you did not feel free to reach out to our presenters. And if you need an introduction to any of our panelists today, let us know and we will help you get connected.

The Creating A Polished Presence video above has more discussion points you will be delighted to check out.

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