Wired for Leadership Presence: It Starts in Your Head

In my last article, The Introvert’s Guide to Leadership Presence, I wrote about some of the physical skills you can implement to enhance your leadership presence. But leadership presence is more than just physical: You also need to prepare yourself mentally if you want to exude gravitas. I’ve developed five principles to think about as you grow your leadership presence.

1. Get to the point

Under pressure, you may feel you need to tell your audience everything so they really understand. So you have a big wind-up: you give background, context, and details, and your audience gets tired of trying to figure out your point. They lose interest in what you’re saying and who you are. They see you as lacking a key indicator of leadership presence—focus.

Here’s an example. I recently asked a client, “What are your goals?” He responded:

“Well, we used to be two different companies, so we’ve changed a lot over the past few years. Our products have become much more integrated, and I’ve been talking to people in the field about what that means for them…”

Rather than giving all this background, he should have responded right away with:

“One of my goals is to leverage the strengths of our combined organizations.”

Then, he could have gone into the background.

When you get to the point right away, your audience feels engaged and focused, and you have a commanding leadership presence.

2. Use imagery

Another way you can enhance your leadership presence is by using imagery. By using imagery, you will help your audience “see” the concepts you are talking about. This will make them both feel smart and see you as having a strong presence.

For example, I recently worked with a client who was the head of HR for a company that was recently acquired by a Japanese firm. She explained that workplace culture in Japan is like a pyramid, and the employees are at the base. In America, however, workplace culture is more like a bull’s-eye, with everything revolving around the employees at the center.

While she could have explained this without using imagery, the images added much more clarity to her communication and gave her the opportunity to naturally use gestures to add even more impact to her leadership presence. Try to use imagery in your presentations whenever possible.

3. Get into a rhythm

When you’re anxious, you go full speed through your speaking. You combine sentences without pauses, and thoughts without paragraph breaks. You stop only when you’re in desperate need of a breath. After a while, your audience gets tired of trying to keep up with you and tunes out, often dismissing you and/or your message. To project leadership presence, you have to get into a rhythm that keeps your audience engaged.

One of the easiest ways to get into a rhythm is by using a three-count rhythmic build. A three-count rhythmic build is a set of three phrases that contain repeated sets of words. Not only do rhythmic builds help you get into a rhythm, they also help you speak in shorter phrases, breaking up those overly complex sentences that can interrupt your flow.

For example, instead of saying,

“Rhythm helps you get into a flow, speak in shorter phrases, and develop leadership presence,”


“Rhythm helps you get into a flow. Rhythm helps you speak in shorter phrases. Rhythm helps you develop leadership presence.”

Here’s another example, this time with a double rhythm at the beginning and end of each sentence:

“We need a new IT system so we can take customer orders better. We need a new IT system so we can respond to customer complaints better. We need a new IT system so we can develop innovative products better—and faster.”

I added “and faster” on the end of the third rhythm to give it a little more punch.

By focusing on rhythm, you connect with your audience, they stay tuned in, and you project leadership presence.

4. Ensure your content is relevant

Another critical factor for leadership presence is staying relevant. If what you’re presenting is not connected to your audience’s primary concerns, they will check out. The best leaders are able to galvanize their people by staying in tune with them and speaking to their needs. Every time you speak, think about your audience.

  • Who are they?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • How can you reconcile what you want to say with what they want to hear?

If you ask yourself these questions and incorporate the answers into your presentation, you will keep your audience engaged. And if your audience is engaged, they will see you as a leader.

5. Use active voice

Finally, if you want to enhance your leadership presence, focus on speaking in the active voice. If you speak in the passive voice frequently, you can come across as lecturing, even a little condescending—at best, intellectual. The active voice is more dynamic, focused, and engaging to you and your audience.

For example, rather than saying,

“Decisions were made to change the way our business is done,”


“We made decisions to change the way we do business.”

When you speak in the active voice, you sound more confident in what you’re saying, and your audience will be more confident in you as a leader.

Leadership presence is not some magical trait you’re either born with or not; rather, it’s a group of behaviors, both physical and mental. By practicing these skills every time you speak, you can build your leadership presence.