As we move through our careers, it’s often interesting to watch the trajectory of our peers and compare their paths to our own. In many companies, there’s a natural corporate ladder we all climb, sometimes in stops and starts, depending on the overall structure. But we’ve all seen coworkers who rise faster, deftly navigate past roadblocks, and rarely plateau. What’s their secret? And can you learn it?
At a recent NFPA Future Leaders online presentation, Jennifer Miller of Rockford Gray discussed how to develop and executive presence, which is a key to this type of continued ascendance.
While you may not be familiar with the term “executive presence,” it’s pretty self-explanatory and is comprised of three core aspects that won’t come as surprise: your appearance, your gravitas, and your ability to communicate.
The first two items are things we all can work on. Make sure you’re dressing appropriately for your industry and your specific organization. Dressing properly tells people if you understand the situation and the audience. People are making a judgement about your level of judgement, and this lets people determine your intelligence and commitment. With gravitas, think of that as seriousness and importance that cause feelings of respect and trust in others. Your substance, heaviness, gravity, tone, appearance, body language, facial expressions and confidence all add to whether others will perceive you to have gravitas.
But the third component is especially relevant to engineering professionals like us. Communication is oft listed as a skill that engineers are poorly adapted to. So what advice does Miller have to communicate better?
“Get to your headline and don’t start with data when you’re communicating,” she said. “You’re not writing a paper, you’re speaking.”
Let’s say you’re going to be presenting at a meeting. Ask yourself, “What is my story?” Remember that the core of any story is a message or handful of messages. Use these messages throughout so they are thematic as you go through the story. You want to make sure that people leave a meeting knowing your story.
For your message, it’s critical to know your audience and what matters to them — and why they care about it. Will your presentation help their career or give them a solution to a problem? Lastly, you can’t have 10 big messages, or you’ll end up watering things down. Go with one, two, or three at the most.
Many people feel that what we’re calling executive presence is something innate, that we’re either born with it or we aren’t. That’s simply untrue. All three of these core aspects are things you can work on starting today — and with consistency and dedication, you can improve your own appearance, gravitas, and communication style to fuel that next promotion.
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