Cracking The Code: 3 Key Ways To Build Executive Presence


By: Christine Nicometo, M.S.

Cracking the code of executive presence can make a major difference in your career. In a 2012 Gartner survey of CIO’s, “executive presence” ranked 2nd out of 20 top leadership traits. In comparison, “technology skills” ranked only 12th. Reflected in this ranking, we hear of talented mid-career professionals who’ve been told they “aren’t ready” yet for leadership positions they seek. To prepare for those roles, organizations frequently want to see more executive presence, but what exactly does it look like?

Indeed, executive presence can be slippery to define. We know it when we see it, but is it something that we can define, practice, and learn? The short answer is: yes! While executive presence may seem effortless or even innate in some people, in most cases it is actually learned and practiced behavior.

A unique combination of finely honed communication skills, charisma, confidence, organizational knowledge, and content credibility make up common vocabulary terms found in executive presence definitions. While this list can seem daunting at first, starting with these three essentials can help you practice, hone, and grow into the leadership role you desire:


When was the last time you received feedback on your presentation skills? How about your writing? If you are not getting this feedback from a peer, supervisor, or educational mentor on a regular basis, it is likely that your messages may not be as sharp, concise, or clear as they need to be. You can practice this aspect of executive presence if you:

  • Solicit feedback from a trusted peer or mentor
  • Ask for anonymous feedback from audience members at your next presentation
  • Take a professional communication course that provides personalized coaching in these areas


Do you tend to wear your heart or thoughts on your sleeve? In contrast, can you build rapport with a group to inspire them to give their all for the team? In both of these scenarios, having the composure to rapidly process emotions, thoughts, and strategies is a cornerstone in building executive presence. Composure often requires restraint and restraint takes practice in the face of scrutiny, stress, or deadline pressure. To train yourself toward better executive composure, try practicing the following:

  • Get outside your comfort zone – volunteer for that big presentation, take that adventurous trip, make the cold call, take that course you’ve been putting off
  • Invite change into your life – change up your regular routines, go out of your way to engage a new person each day, try something new you heard or read about
  • Work on staying neutral – avoid weighing in with a judgment on matters that are not directly your responsibility, instead work to gather information and perspectives that inform a positive solutio


When you assess your communication skills, do you consider how well you listen? Effective executives listen as much, if not more, than they speak. Only by listening carefully to others can they anticipate, comprehend, and execute strategic change in their organizations and teams. Listening requires time and connection with others. To build a reputation as someone who seeks connection with others, try to:

  • Test your listening skills in your next one-on-one conversation. Avoid making statements and focus on only asking follow up questions about what you’ve heard.
  • Volunteer to work on special projects or extra initiatives that will allow you to work with people outside of your specific work function.
  • Practice your impromptu presentation skills by taking a course that gives you feedback on your elevator talk and interpersonal communication practices.


Interested in learning more about executive presence and how you can further develop it?

Enroll in the upcoming course:

Strategies to Stand Out: Build Executive Presence Through Powerful Presentations

March 6 & 7th, 2017

This course is now a part of the Technical Leadership Certificate!


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Strategies to Stand Out - Build Executive Presence Through Powerful Presentations

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VIDEO: Do You Have Executive Presence?

How would you rate yourself as a leader? Learn how executive presence can set you apart from the rest with this video featuring Christine Nicometo, program director, and Michele Kaiser, UW-Madison alum.

Watch it now.