July 13

Enhance Virtual Executive Presence with One Skill

Improve Your Executive Presence Virtually With This One Skill

When you think of someone with Executive Presence, what characteristics come to mind? Confidence, credibility, authenticity, and empathy are a few common answers. But many leaders who appear to have great confidence, credibility and authenticity in-person fail to generate the same reaction virtually if they don’t adapt to the dynamics of the medium. For example, you can greatly improve your executive presence virtually with this one skill.  

But first, you must conquer a very common, and very real virtual fear:

The Fear of Silence

If there’s one thing people are universally afraid of in virtual meetings – leaders included – it is silence.

It’s a valid fear. People are simply more passive in a virtual world. And it’s really not their fault. As humans, we have been conditioned to settle into “Receiver-Mode” when seated in front of a screen. Whether it’s a computer or tablet screen, television or movie screen, it’s less “what can I add?” and more ”sit back and pass the popcorn!”

And, even if people ARE considering speaking up, on video, it’s easy to miss those small nonverbal cues we could easily pick up in person. 

Typical Responses to Virtual Silence

So what happens when people build up a fear of that awkward virtual silence?  

  1. They keep talking. It’s a proactive move and a way of protecting ourselves. If you keep talking, you don’t have to deal with the silence, right? This happens all too frequently. In fact, one of the top complaints about virtual meetings is how many long-winded monologues people are subjected to. Not leaving space for your audience makes people feel invisible, which does little to help your empathy or credibility rating! 
  2. They answer their own questions. The deafening silence that descends after you ask a question in a virtual meeting can break even the most confident leader. After all, you can’t see anyone considering answering so the silence seems interminable! In response, most people jump in and answer their own questions rather than let that silence hang there. Not only does this show a lack of confidence, it sets a very dangerous precedent. You’ve just taught your audience that they don’t have to participate. If you’re counting on participation down the road, you can forget it!

Improve Your Executive Presence Virtually With This One Skill

Have you ever noticed that confident people are not in a hurry? They don’t get flustered if someone doesn’t respond instantly. They pause after they speak to let the impact of what they said land on their audience. They trust their audience is attentive and listening – even if they can’t see them. The Power Pause is a purposeful pause to let your audience take in what you’ve said, consider and prepare a response.  And it is even more vital in the often reaction-free zone of virtual meetings.  

How to Apply the Power Pause in Virtual Meetings

Virtual confidence is both an internal and external skill. Just because we can’t SEE people considering a response, doesn’t mean they’re just staring at us waiting for us to continue. Internally, you must trust that your audience is “with you” rather than “against you.” This brings out the best in you and allows your executive presence to shine through. 

Externally, you can put the Power Pause into action in these two ways: 

  • Speak with punctuation. Avoid speaking in one run-on sentence after another just to avoid that silence. Instead, place a mental period at the end of a complete thought.  Let it hang there for at least five seconds or longer if you want a reaction. 
  • Ask a question and wait…up to 17 seconds.  I see you flinching!  But hear me out. While you’re anxiously counting the seconds (that seem like minutes), your audience is going through their own internal process. In virtual meetings it can take people up to 17 seconds to go through the stages of responding to a question. (You can read more about this process here.)  If you continually short circuit this process, your audience will give up and let you do all the talking. 

Executive Presence in-person doesn’t automatically transfer to a virtual world. In order to improve your Executive Presence virtually, you need to develop the confidence and tactics specific to the demands of a virtual world and audience.

Want to Develop Your Virtual Executive Presence?

virtual executive presence



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