Influence – The Stuff of Winners

How effective are your people as influencers? Influencing in sales meetings? In one to one conversations? In internal meetings, when giving presentations and seminars? It doesn’t matter how clever they are if they can’t persuade others to their way of thinking. And if they can’t, they won’t make an impact and are unlikely to win.

So what does it take for someone to make the difference for your organisation and in professional service firms, to really differentiate their proposition from that of the competition? The answer is executive presence – something everyone should aspire to and which is eminently achievable if you know what to do and put it into practice.

What is Executive Presence?

In essence, it is something about you that makes others sit up, pay attention and believe in you, in what you say and follow. Therefore it’s essential for advancement and in influencing clients, and it’s very largely manifest in natural behaviours you can learn if necessary, hone and exhibit. Three broad areas are Communication skills, Gravitas and Appearance.


Starting with Appearance because it’s the lesser of the three. Nevertheless, it is the lens through which people see you and make an instant, often unconscious judgement about you. Before you open your mouth or take a step, you have been seen. How you dress is dependent on the context. For example, if you’re a lawyer in a city firm out to meet a client, you may well dress very differently from someone in the new tech industry. Both can be right, but make sure you hit the right note for your audience.

Communication Skills

I always think of that great quote by 20th century American poet

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

Long after you’ve finished your talk or presentation, how do you get your audience to remember that you made them feel good even if they’ve forgotten the detail?

Being yourself, having a truly conversational delivery and structuring content for your audience rather than for you. And I hardly need to mention, and this means avoiding ‘Death by PowerPoint’, which incidentally is a brilliant tool though almost universally used appallingly! It means telling your own stories and examples and, above all, not manipulating your body language. Let it be an honest expression of you (irritating habits aside).

A truly conversational delivery means people will remember you, if you get it right, as just having had a chat with them, irrespective of how many there were in the audience. No jargon, using everyday language and explaining matters so that you don’t underestimate anyone’s intelligence, nor do you overestimate their knowledge.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

Structuring for your audience simply means that they can answer the “What’s in this for me?” question or put another way, “So what?”


People with it show self confidence which is often seen in very evident behaviours: They are comfortable with eye contact and silence, they don’t use ten words when five will suffice, and this is often manifest by them showing interest, asking questions and listening rather than talking excessively about themselves or their pet project. In their movement and posture, they are upright yet relaxed.

These behaviours can all be learned and applied and the sum of them all is executive presence with all the personal and corporate benefits it brings.


Influencing others is a necessary business practice, read more on the subject.

Jack Downton

About the author: Jack Downton
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