confidenceA few weeks ago, I was part of a panel speaking to executive women at ESPN. The topic they were most interested in was executive presence…music to my ears! Part of the discussion centered around presence and confidence. Specifically, one participant said “Executive presence IS confidence! They are the same thing” after which another participant said, “Yes, but what if you don’t feel confident? Does that mean you don’t have presence?” Great question, and one which comes up often in our professional presence workshops.

Your presence is what shows up when you show up. It is how you are coming across to others. It is a fully visible, audible phenomenon. Managing your presence means (1) being fully aware of how you are coming across and being certain it is what you want people to see; (2) showing up with the skills, knowledge, messaging and demeanor that the situation calls for.

Here’s where confidence comes into play. Many situations require us to show up “confidently,” such as when we are recommending an important investment, communicating a decision, leading others through challenging times or presenting to people more senior than us. These are some of the situations that can undermine our confidence and cause us to appear less “executive.”

Here’s the thing about confidence: No one can see inside your head! It’s invisible to them. Thus, they don’t really know how you’re feeling unless you tell them or show them. Your state of mind is invisible to others unless behaviors are leaking out without your knowledge. So, what are you showing them? Are you slumped in your chair? Using filler? Fidgeting? Going on tangents? Going into too much detail? These are the signs of nervousness.

Demonstrating confidence is a different set of specific behaviors, including tone of voice, posture, gesture, eye contact and word choices, and all of these can be practiced and managed. The best part? The more you practice (and practice correctly) the more confident you’ll actually be!

As mentioned above, managing your presence means being fully aware of how you are coming across. Do you know? Is your lack of confidence leaking out? How can you find out? Here’s how:

1. If you need to make a presentation, record your practice using your Smartphone, play it back, and critique yourself. You know how you want to come across. What do you need to tweak/practice in order to achieve your objective? What one thing is getting in the way of appearing confident?
2. If you need to persuade or communicate a decision, find a quiet space and invite a trusted colleague to be your test audience. Ask them to identify one or two things you could do to appear more confident, then practice those a few times.
3. Get a daily feedback partner who has the opportunity to see you in action throughout the day, and ask them to share their observations of you for a given week. You can keep the feedback general, or you can choose a goal (like show up with confidence) and ask them to focus their feedback on that.

My point of view is that confidence is an important subset of executive presence. As my colleague, Francine Parham said at ESPN, “You can have confidence and not have executive presence, but you cannot have executive presence without confidence.” Well put, Francine!