The 3 Elements of Executive Presence

In this Q&A, author and CEO Diane DiResta shares the ROI of speaking and the three things that everyone who exudes executive presence has.

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Speaking is the new competitive edge. Your advantage today depends on how well you present yourself, your message, and your value to the marketplace. Effective presenters get more promotions, higher sales, and so much more. If you want to be seen as the leader you are, you can no longer avoid the platform. FEI Daily spoke with Diane DiResta, Founder, DiResta Communications, Inc. and Author of Knockout Presentations about the most common mistakes speakers make and how to improve executive presence.

FEI Daily: What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when giving a presentation?

Diane DiResta: I think one of the biggest ones is a lack of focus. People may be content experts or subject matter experts, but they don't organize their message in such a way that the message lands.

When I work with people, the first thing I do is I help them be very clear so they have a laser-like focus. Once you know your focus it's easier to stay on message. What people don't realize is that delivery sits on structure. How you structure your message is key.

Another one is not knowing or honoring the audience, meaning that you get the standard corporate pitch, or corporate PowerPoint, and if you don't change it up and modify it, including not only the crafting of the message but the delivery, then it doesn't land. Trying to do the same exact presentation the same way every time, it's not going to be effective.

Another mistake is being a talking head. People memorize a script and they're simply spewing information and facts. That doesn't connect with the audience. The big mistake I see is the reporting of numbers instead of telling the story of the numbers.

A mistake CFOs make is getting bogged down into the details and the weeds. I said to one CFO, ‘They don't want the minutia and every number. They can read it on the page. What they need from you is to share the vision and to tell the story.’

One more is a lack of congruency. That usually comes because people are not prepared or they're very nervous. When people ask ‘What is executive presence?’ it's a very hard thing to define. You know it when you see it, but what is it exactly? I noticed one thing that everybody has in common who exudes executive presence and that is their visual, vocal and verbal communication is aligned. When you have that alignment, where your body and where your tone and your words are all saying the same thing, that's trust. That's credibility. That's impact.

FEI Daily:  Are presentation skills more important now than 5-10 years ago?

DiResta: Yes, yes and yes. Speaking is the new competitive advantage.

It has always been important to have good presentation, but now it's critical. I tell people they can no longer avoid the skill. Years ago somebody, an executive who didn't like speaking, could delegate it to somebody. Today that's not as effective. People want to hear from you, the leader, because you are the face and the brand of the organization. Every leader needs to have the skill.

Why is that the case? One is that the role is so much more competitive. How do you get heard above the noise? If you don't have good presentation skills, if you don't know how to create a compelling message, your message will get lost. In addition to the competition, everything has been commoditized. What I mean by that is even if you create the newest software, if you're a fintech company, it's just a matter of time before your competitor can duplicate it. What's going to set you apart from somebody else is your presentation because that is your relationship. That is your connection. That's what builds trust and connections. It's very important today. Now people have more access to information. They can get a lot of the content online. How you show up, how you hold yourself, how you show competence, how you deliver is going to make a bigger difference today because they don't necessarily have to depend on you for all of the nugget. They can get some of that content. It goes even beyond giving information. What's key today is engagement.

Here's what's different as well. Today, audiences have shorter attention spans. They have higher expectations. People are competing for their time. If you don't grab them pretty early, you lose them. They don't want to be lectured to. That's the old model. They want to be engaged. When you think about adult learning, they want involvement, so the more that you can speak to their needs, the more that you can get from them what's important, the more that you are relating and dialoguing as opposed to talking at someone, the more effective you're going to be as a speaker.

Part of that is telling the story. Again, if you look at old school speaking, it's lecturing. It's standing up and showing slides or charts and reading data. Now it's telling stories and getting people involved.

FEI Daily: What do you hope the audience takes away from your session at the conference?

DiResta: The realization that speaking is a leadership skill and that, in order for them to influence and impact, they've got to master this. I would want them to come away with understanding the ROI of speaking, that it is not simply a soft skill, but it has real dollar impact.

I want them to come away with the skills to know what executive presence is, why it's so important and how they can cultivate that in themselves and in their teams so that they can be more effective or competitive. Get the results that they want.


To learn more, attend Diane DiResta’s session at FEI’s 2019 Financial Leadership Summit, which will empower you to deliver a presentation with maximum impact. Attend and discover how to control nervousness, organize your talk in 7 easy steps, master delivery techniques, work a room, develop visual aids and control Q&A.