If there is one thing executives do more than present, it is communicating. Beyond being in front of the screen delivering ideas and reports, they interact and speak to the people in front of them. Vautier Communications saw this shift and dedicated themselves to the ‘Business Communication Skills’ space. In this episode, its Vice President, John Vautier, graces us with his knowledge and experience to impart the importance of this particular skill to creating your executive presence. Helping you finetune it even more, he shares how they empower leaders to find their voice and unleash their ideas and perspectives. John also gives tips on body language, how to use it to our advantage and read how other people interact with us. Plus, he then discusses communicating our executive presence through the screens, building engagement, and, most importantly, finding our unique presence.
I’m joined by several other people. Howard is here with us. He is a Rewards and Systems Strategist. He works with CompTeam out of New York. Sumit Singla is with us. He joins us from India. He is a phenomenal expert. He has worked with many major organizations and provides some great expertise. Jules is not joining us. She is our moderator. I’m happy to have Wendy Graham with us. She is a phenomenal expert in learning and development and also helps with leadership, coaching and organizational coaching. She is also a master scuba instructor. I would like to introduce Sam Reeve. He is the CEO and Founder of CompTeam. It is the sponsors of these people strategy forums. Thank you for your leadership, Sam. It has been a fun ride.
It is my pleasure.
I’m happy to introduce our guest speaker. He is John Vautier. He is the Vice President at Vautier Communications. He is an outstanding individual. He works with thousands of executives at all types of levels. He has a solid perspective on executive presence or leadership presence. I love to hear what he has to share. You can see from his bio that he comes from the communications industry.
We are going to be talking about creating your executive presence. I always wondered what that meant. Over my career, I have always been told, “Improve your executive presence.” I was like, “What is that?” Welcome, John. I can’t wait to hear from you. Would you like to tell us about who you are, what your background is and what your expertise is all about?
Char, thank you for having me, first and foremost and the rest of the panelists. I’m excited to be here. My dad started the business back in 2004. It is a small family business but we work across all industries and all levels of organizations coaching communication skills. We target communication skills as opposed to presentation skills because we have seen a shift since we opened our doors in 2004.
People come to us and say, “John, I’m not giving that many presentations anymore. I don’t present all that often in my role. Would a course like this or coaching like this be for me?” My answer is, “How often are you interacting or communicating with others?” It is always met with a smile. People say, “All the time. I do it socially and professionally. I’m always communicating, speaking and interacting.”
As we think about communication skills, some skills make people effective and they are learnable and teachable. There are things that people do that they may not be aware of that, unfortunately, have them become may be less effective or come across as less effective when they speak. I have always had an interest in executive presence. It comes from an interaction I had in my junior year of college, Char.
I’m a junior in college. It is 2008. We are in one recession and getting ready to try to find work outside of college was my big task at the time. I went to interview with the company and it was Whirlpool, the home appliance company. It is a two-day interview. It is a dinner one night and the next day is a full day of interviews. I have to give presentations in panels and everything else.
The dinner on the first night went well, as expected. It is interacting, networking and seeing how people can interact socially before the professional setting takes place the following day. The following morning, I woke up at the hotel, showered and started to get ready. I realized I had gone to my suit bag, where I thought I had my suit and everything ready to go for the day. I went to school in Bloomington-Normal. You can imagine in November, in Bloomington-Normal, it is winter already. I opened my suit bag and I had my winter jacket in there, No suit, no tie, nothing else. This is not a good start to my formal day of interviewing. I think to myself, “Is this even worth going through? I know that there was a requirement to have a business professional full suit jacket and tie in the whole nine yards.
I think to myself, “I will use this, at the very least, as a good experience.” I put on my shirt and my slacks from the night before. That is what I had with me. I showed up to the interview and made a very short comment to the hiring manager who was managing all of these panelists and new hires coming on for the interview day. I said, “I don’t have a business professional on but I still want to be here and go through the whole process.” That was all I said about the entire thing.
I went through the entire day interacting with others, doing the presentation at the tail end of the day, going through all the panels, receiving questions and providing answers. I left to go back to Chicago land thinking I probably didn’t get the job because of my dress attire that didn’t meet the criteria but I figured this was a good experience.
One week later, I got a call from the hiring manager, “John, we would like to offer you a position to start with us when you finish after your senior year.” I thought, “This is wonderful. I love to.” I asked frankly. I said, “You realize I didn’t have the criteria in terms of dress attire.” They said, “We didn’t mind that. It was the way that you presented yourself and your speaking skills that made us seem like you were going to be a good fit.”
I thought it was unique. The executive presence that we have as individuals can be a key differentiator in terms of all things equal across the board everywhere else. I found it fascinating to see how people look at their executive presence and how we frame growing, building or maybe fine-tuning that skillset for others.The executive presence that we have as individuals can be a key differentiator in terms of all things equal across the board everywhere else. Click To Tweet
I was thinking about the time I did my interview in my mother-in-law’s dress because I was on vacation from Washington State here in Colorado. I got this last-minute interview. It reminds me of that. Executive presence is probably different than years ago. It is funny you talk about the stereotypical navy suit. That goes for men and women. The navy suit interview is a sterile type of approach. Now, it is more casual attire diversity. All different aspects of what we look like are not all the same. I love the fact that our world and society is being more open to differences in the workplace.
Much has shifted even in the last decade that I have been doing coaching to see what casual business looks like compared to business professionals and how different people go into the workplace. That section or sector of executive presence is still critical. I will give a definition. You asked the question, what is executive presence? We find it fascinating to hear people ask us, “What exactly is it?”
If anyone’s read the book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett called Executive Presence, she does a nice job with it. Before I share our definition, I will share what she put out. She says, “Executive presence is the It factor, a heady combination of confidence, poise and authenticity that convinces the rest of us that we are in the presence of someone who is going places. Executive presence is not just a measure of performance. Rather, executive presence is a measure of an image, whether you signal to others that you have what it takes and you are leadership material.”
I love the way that she frames that because I do think it is one of those phrases or definitions that can be challenging to pinpoint but I ask people all the time and they constantly tell me, “John, I know it when I see it and I hear it.” I know when speakers have executive presence based on what they are doing physically or vocally. I know when speakers take the front of the room or I interact with others. They may not have that skillset built out yet or they haven’t developed it. I love what I do because I can help develop that skillset. We pride ourselves in being able to bridge that gap and give people or empower people to understand, “What do I need to do to make myself more effective within that executive present space?”
I have heard of some of my executive colleagues spending thousands of dollars on an executive coach. All your nonverbal cues, eye contact and not twirling your hair, I do that. I worked on not doing that. That is a value-added service that you provide. Do you mainly work with executive teams? What size of companies do you typically work with? What is your ideal client typically?
Ideal client falls within any category. We tend to work primarily with Fortune 500 and Fortune 200 companies but it is not just executive level. We do a lot of coaching at the entry-level stage, where new talent has come into the organization. That organization has said, “We want to invest in this new talent. We made the priority to bring them on board. We want to build their skillset so that when they have interactions or exposure with senior leaders, boards of directors or other parts of the organization, they have the capacity to speak well, show well and manage a room effectively.” It goes back to a lot of those tangible skills that allow us to come across in intangible ways.
Let me explain what that means. Char, in all of our programs, day number 1 of our courses and they are typically falling in 2-day sessions, we ask the question, “How would you like to be described by an audience? If you are interacting with people at an informal level or a formal level, how would you like to be described?” We are always getting people who raise a hand or jump in and say, “John, I want to be engaging and confident. I like to come across as knowledgeable, sincere, genuine, interesting and enthusiastic. Pick any of the positive words you could imagine.”
In all of our years doing this, we have yet to have an individual raise a hand or shout out, “John, I want to be ineffective, boring and lame. I like to come across the monotonous.” No one is shooting for the negative space. I always ask, “Let’s reframe the question. If we were to say that Char or Wendy came across as confident or that Sam would be described as engaging or Howard or Sumit would come across as knowledgeable or interesting, what might they be doing to make that happen?”
This is where I hear crickets and people say, “John, I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint what they are doing that makes me feel the way I feel but they are doing something that makes me feel like he or she is engaged or they are coming across as confident.” It is knowing and bridging that gap to say, “If we know these intangible words exist, what are the tangible skills to make that happen?” Our definition of executive presence is simple. It is what we see and hear from a speaker. It is the speaker’s physical skills or speaker’s vocal skills. Howard, do you have a thought on this?
Where do you start when you first meet a potential client?
In terms of asking questions on engaging with them?
Yes, and determining what is the right course of action in working with them.
We typically ask, “What are you doing within the talent development space? How are you offering opportunities for your team members, employees and participants to develop their skills?” It is quite a bit of interpersonal skills. It is their ability to show or speak well in the workplace. These skills, we realize, translate across into the personal world.
I love coaching speaking skills because it is never going to go out of business. Even with technology, advancing our ability to be effective speaking when we are doing things virtually and remote is equally as important in this world as it would be when we are on-site in person, face to face with people. It comes down to, “Are you doing anything in that space? What are some of the pain points that might exist within your organization in terms of people’s ability to speak? Have you heard from members of certain business units?”
They were like, “We don’t like to get up and give talks because we get nervous or we don’t exactly know the message. We don’t know what to do with ourselves physically and vocally.” From there, it is making sure that they come to that conclusion themselves and saying, “This is an area of focus that we like to dial into.” Figuring out the correct course of action or program offering that fits their needs.
There are situations where you are sitting around a team of leaders. There are those people that speak a lot and those people that don’t speak much. Sometimes, you look across the table at those leaders. You are wondering what they are thinking, what is going on in their head and so forth. There are some people that you coach that is not natural extroverts that are more introverted and don’t speak up as much. How do you address that?
Introverts, by nature, have a voice. They have something they want to share. Usually, they got interesting viewpoints and important perspectives. I encourage or empower them to be able to use their voice. They got this skillset. They have to figure out, “How can I let this be unleashed and get developed?” Introverts, by nature, to your point, are probably not going to be the ones that go out of their way or volunteer to speak or share a point of view.
They are shyer and a little bit more reserved in nature, which is fine. Some of those people have brilliant ideas. Many of them do and you want to get those out of them. It is encouraging them, “I love to hear your opinion. What do you have to say or feel about this area? What do you feel about this project and new initiative?”
Sometimes the job of the leader is to ask those open-ended questions to allow that introvert by nature to respond and give some depth. If we go in and we only ask close-ended questions, what we are typically going to get from them is a short brief yes or no. It runs into a brick wall again. We don’t get a lot of engagement, collaboration or interaction back.
John, what comes up for me when I hear you say that is providing those questions ahead of time. They know what to prepare for. I find with folks who aren’t, in terms of the way they process and the ability to respond, gives them an opportunity to know what is coming. They can feel more prepared and willing to share a more in-depth answer.
I love that you said that, Wendy, because part of our program is knowing or understanding your audience. A key element in fostering effective communication skills is knowing who your audience is. If you know you got a group of individuals that you might be speaking to or interacting with and they may be a bit more reserved, you have to give them time to maybe conceptualize or process certain questions or pieces of information before you get into those meetings or interactions to see what they may come back with.Knowing or understanding your audience is key to fostering effective communication skills. Click To Tweet
If we don’t know our audience, we are walking into a room and somewhat blind in that respect because we don’t exactly know what we are going to expect or we don’t know what we are walking into in terms of the people that we have in front of us. When I say in front of us, we can do it virtually or in person. In this world, you see it happen in both areas.
Executives are dealing with a multitude of different cultures, locations and so forth. Sumit, I love to hear your perspective on this. As an American, sometimes I go into a certain situation and perhaps I’m too bold. I end up sticking my foot in my mouth and not saying the right thing at the right time. Sumit, your experience is global and you see a lot of this happen. Is that a common problem you see with executives?
I have been into consulting for most of my working life. Appearance is the quick first tick in the box that contributes to an executive presence that people quickly tend to size up whether a person seems to be slouching, hunched over or exuding confidence. It is what is called owning the room or state when you walk in. That first impression is hard to shake off, even if you are talking absolute sense and making some brilliant points. It takes that extra effort to come up the curve. I see a lot more of that in this part of the world because we tend to expect our leaders to be on a pedestal.
As a leader, if you are a little shaky and nervous, you already are falling behind in the race to be seen as having some presence. The actual communication is in terms of whether you are able to not only linguistically match up to the level of your audience. If you are talking to tenth-grade students versus to a class of PhDs, you might have to tune your messaging accordingly.
It is also the tone that you take. You don’t want to come across as too flippant and serious for your audience. That is one of the aspects that I struggle with. I’m never sure, especially in a little audience, what note I should be hitting. My natural style is to crack a joke. I make sure it is not offensive but it doesn’t always work too well in some parts of Asia where people feel you are being not serious. You can put your executive presence under severe strain if you do that. I love to hear what John has to say.
Knowing the audience and reading the room is a key ingredient to success. If you crack the wrong joke or go in with maybe a different level of composure, what might start to happen is you lose credibility. I’m thankful you brought it up. A lot of us have been told since a young age, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” That is the world that we live in.
When we think about judging a book by its cover through the communication lens, we feel when you get up in front of an audience or a room, it doesn’t matter if it’s a room of 3 to 5 people or 3,000 to 5,000 people. You got probably have between 30 seconds and 90 seconds in front of that audience before they begin to make their decision or come to their conclusion on what they see and hear from you. Are they buying into what you are sharing with them physically and vocally?
I go back again to what I mentioned with Char about our executive presence definition. Physical skills would be in three categories. These are eye contact, hand gestures and posture or body language. Those are the three ingredients to our physical skillset in regard to executive presence. We got four vocal skills, volume, inflection, pace and lack of non-words. Lack of the ums, ahs, likes and you knows.
As much as we hear those in our language, we know that people are not using them on purpose. Nobody plans on saying, “I’m going to drop in 100 non-words when I’m giving my talk. That will be effective.” No one does it intentionally but we wonder and people always ask, “John, how come some people have them or have a lot of them and others don’t?” It is simply knowing the skillset.
You may or may not have noticed I don’t use non-words. It is because I know what the skills are to keep them at bay. Everybody has the ability to learn and understand that there is a skill that keeps the non-words off the table. We know we are at our best when we don’t have um or an uh to start every thought or sentence or finish every thought or sentence. People say, “John, I don’t know what to do to get rid of them. That is where getting a coach and working with someone, either one-on-one or in a group, allows you to put those pieces together.
I use the analogy all the time. It is like a golf swing. If people have taken a golf lesson or a tennis lesson before with a golf pro or a tennis pro, usually, there are incremental changes that happen. They can drive you nuts because they are small little iterations. You think, “How can this tiny little change make such a profound impact?” That change happens and a profound impact takes place.
I can’t remember the leader where she had to lower her voice. I don’t know, Wendy, if you remember what I’m talking about, where females try to lower their voices so that they sound more credible and practice doing that. Wendy, do you recall that person that had to do that training, Margaret Thatcher or something like that? It is pretty interesting how the tone of your voice, you can not sound credible.
On the left-hand column are our physical skills and on the right-hand column are our vocal skills. The physical skills would be eye contact. We look at eye contact as, where are you looking when you’re speaking? Not important where you are looking when you are not talking. You like to be tuned in and focused on the group, whatever that might be. When you are speaking, where are you looking?
If you take the front of the room, you open and say, “Good morning, everyone. My name is John,” and you are staring down at your shoes, immediately, the audience is thinking, “John is not coming across as all that confident or engaging if he or she is not looking at us as an audience or decision-makers.” With hand gestures, we always get questioned. We get people who say, “John, I got these two things hanging off my arms and I don’t know what to do with them.”
People bring up if they have seen Talladega Nights and that Will Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, brings his hand up like this. He says, “I don’t know what to do with my hands.” No one knows what to do with their hands but some skills exist that allow your hands to look very natural and they bring the message to life. They are effective and active. It gets used to show different things or paint pictures. We would recognize when a speaker isn’t using his or her hands well. What tends to happen is it impacts our posture. You see speakers that constantly pace back and forth or rock back and forth. They rock forward and backward. They bounce their knees and tap their toes. All of these things to an audience look distracting or nervous.
You might be dying on the inside with nervousness but if you don’t show it to your audience, they don’t know what they can’t see or hear. If they can’t see and hear it, they don’t know it exists, which is why I always encourage people. When you start a talk, the last thing you want to do is open your mouth and say, “You will have to bear with me, team. I’m incredibly nervous.” Immediately the audience starts to look for and listen for what are the nervous tells that are about to come from John.
When I was younger, in my leadership days, they would always tell us to do the steeple thing with our hands.
In our world, it is referred to as the power triangle. We define that as the box. For those of us reading, the box would be South of the chin, North of our penalty kick position and inside the body. Sometimes the box can be the hands inside together, like that prayer position, power triangle or whatever we want to call it. Other times people will cross their arms to give a talk. It looks closed off and more aggressive in nature.
To Sumit point, when you cross cultures, some of those body language cues can be an issue with credibility or people taking you seriously. Many of us may not think about that but that is where we lean on the HR professionals like you, Char and global leaders, like Sumit, who can tell us, “What are some of the cultural differences that I may not be aware of? How can I make sure I adjust my skillset to these different audiences in different parts of the world?
It is everything from how you shake someone’s hand. I also heard that if you are doing an interview, you shouldn’t have your hands under the table because it shows that there is distrust. You don’t think about that. I do a lot of career coaching. That is one of the things we talk about during interviews. Sumit, do you have some examples of nonverbal things that could be considered offensive in other cultures?
I have a question. When people watch somebody talk, do they only focus on certain gestures? Sumit in Denver would be freezing and therefore, he is got his hands like this instead of being closed off. I come from a tropical country where the temperature would be 100 to 120. I saw on the screen you were sharing. It is about 67 there. That is fairly cold.
Without appearing close and having the check saying, “Must not cross hands. Must not look in that direction,” how does one still maintain an executive presence? Without occupying 50% of your brain with, “Am I doing this the right way? Am I making a mistake in terms of how I’m conveying my presence?”
It is about getting out of your way in regard to skills. For instance, we coach with posture and body language. Try to keep an open posture and body language. This means keeping your joints open. Rather than having my arms closed off and in front of the body, which creates a barrier between myself and my audience, that barrier can be perceived by many audiences as looking more closed off. People say, “John doesn’t come across as approachable as I would expect.” All of a sudden that might impact an audience’s ability to want to ask questions all. You finish your talk and think, “I didn’t get a lot of interaction out of that.” We will often pinpoint that it may be because of some of the nonverbals that you were using.
What you were doing with your body was impacting the audience’s ability to perceive you as approachable, confident, engaging and collaborative. Sometimes those things will impact other areas of that interaction. Maybe it is the audience’s interaction with you, the questions that you receive or it goes back to that judging a book by its cover concept where you have spent the first 90 seconds opening your talk and your eye contact has been scanning. Scanning means the eyes are darting and you are almost fire-hosing your audience with information. You are not ever engaging with people in the room. Your eyes are moving a mile a minute.What you were doing with your body is actually impacting the audience's ability to perceive you as approachable, confident, engaging, and collaborative. Click To Tweet
When the eyes move quickly, our pace tends to increase. As our pace increases when we speak, it is more challenging for an audience to take in what we are sharing. They have trouble consuming that because it is coming at them quickly. You will hear audiences say, “That was overwhelming. I got overwhelmed. I couldn’t take in any more of the message.” They tune out. All of a sudden, you are starting a couple of notches below where you like to and then you are having to dig yourself out of a hole. You put yourself in from the get-go. You could dig yourself out of the said hole. We rather not start there in the first place.
Another piece that I would like to bring up is we are operating in this remote environment so how do we use this square that we are communicating through to show our executive presence both physically and so forth? Physically, you are talking about being receptive, the box of the body and having an open position so that you feel approachable. How do we do this through the computer screen?
It is something unique that has happened in the last several years. To your point, we have been forced to be more present virtually. You have to realize. When we do things virtually, we are at the mercy of the webcam, which means most of our skills, physical, is going to happen within the square of that webcam window paint. My head is cut off the top of where the webcam captures. The reason being is I don’t need you, my audience, to see what is above me on the wall behind me. The audience wants to see as much of the speaker as possible.
This still gives me the ability to let my hands come to life, let them be active and get used within reason. From an eye contact perspective, we know our audience sees us looking at them when we look at the webcam lens. For those of us that are on a laptop, it is the little white or green dot on top of the laptop. Those of us that have maybe a desktop setup at home and we got a standalone webcam, then it is going to be looking at the webcam lens.
Sam, for the better part of several years, I have encouraged people. When they are doing things virtually, get a bright-colored sticky note and pin it to the backside of your webcam lens. All I have written on mine is, “Look here.” When I’m doing things virtually, I know where I should be looking when I’m talking. The audience can’t see it but it is a simple little cheat code to make sure that we don’t get stuck looking at people’s thumbnails.
All of a sudden, if I’m over here on the right-hand side and I’m looking at Wendy’s thumbnail, Howard’s thumbnail, Char’s or Sumit’s thumbnail, where does the audience see me looking? They see me looking downright. This looks disengaging because, as I’m speaking, I’m not looking at my audience or decision-makers. I’m looking away from them.
It is small little iterations but when we think about this through that virtual lens, this is how we are perceived when we do things on Zoom, Webex or Teams. We got a lot of clients who are engaging with us to say, “John, we love to have coaching around this virtual skillset because parts of the business have shifted and they are not doing much in person.” Maybe their roles entirely have shifted to this remote place but they are on Teams, Webex and Zoom meetings all day long. They want to be at their best or fine-tune that skillset from an executive present standpoint. We are behind a screen so the executive presence skills don’t disappear. They are important through another lens.
Would you also say that executive presence rules are different for men and women? Is there a gender-specific guideline to the executive presence or is it largely the same?
It is largely the same, Sumit. I don’t see a ton of difference between males and females in terms of skills. In eye contact, you still want to look at decision makers and make sure you are being focused, which is what we call it, rather than scanning. With the hand gestures, I always encourage hand gestures should look natural for you. The beauty of executive presence skills is we can all have executive presence skills and they may all look a little different.
Our goal is not to create a carbon copy robot of people and say, “You have to do exactly what I’m doing in front of the room to be effective.” My skills look different than my twin sister, Jen and another coach. It is different personalities and styles but the skills themselves are still there. In terms of vocal skills, the biggest thing I notice is most speakers, and this goes for males and females, feel like they are speaking loud enough when in reality, it is a great one-on-one volume. It doesn’t necessarily hold vocal presence or vocal weight in a group setting.
All of a sudden, they are talking and being perceived at a much lower volume than they probably could have. Many people say, “John, I don’t want to shout.” The reason we tend to hear ourselves much louder than our audience is that our mouth is here and our ears are here. They are close in proximity to one another. We start to talk and think, “I think I’m coming across too loud.” I’m often coaching people to bring that volume up. You sound more confident and engaging. It is not shouting at an audience but having a higher level of volume will allow for more inflection.
Char, you mentioned that inflection piece about some individuals, males and females alike, making sure they bring their volume down and emphasize certain points. Having those ups and downs or peaks and valleys, allows your audience to recognize what’s most important from John’s message. Otherwise, everything comes across on one level. That’s where we get people that say, “It sounded a bit monotone. I couldn’t tell what was important and what was it.”
This came up because this is something you and I had talked about in the past when we were offering your courses to some of our employees. One of the things that sparked for me is that when we were in the open office environment. Here are all these people and you had to talk quietly because everybody else was on the phone. How do you get to have those peaks and valleys when you are not using your diaphragm and voice to be able to project?
I remember talking to you about that. More people at home possibly have an office with a door or maybe they are sharing with someone else. I know some people are. I’m curious how that has changed for people coming from an open office environment to having their space to be able to project. That popped in for me thinking about the whole change with this new hybrid, work-from-home and work remote scenario.
It is more of a different approach to what that 7 or 8-level volume sounds like. For those reading, we use a simple marking system between 1 being a whisper and 10 being a shout. Most people know the two extremes are not likely to be used unless you have to do it. Wendy, to your point, you are in a cubicle-type setting or you got that open forum. You know there is a bunch of people on headsets or calls. Otherwise, you got to bring in that soft, quiet approach. That is intentional and you are not going to give your entire talk that way. That is on purpose and you are doing it because you have said to yourself or decided, based on the situation, what you have to do.
For most of us, we want to sit in that 7 or 8-level. It is South of our ten. It is not a shout or yelling but it’s North of our one-to-one volume. Most people’s one-to-one volume is about a 5 or 6. If it were you and I talking here, Wendy, I would probably be at 5 or 6 but we got a group setting. My volume is a little bit higher. My 7 or 8 volume from my home office sounds much different than what it did when I was in Appleton, Wisconsin, with a group of 12 in more of an auditorium setting. It is looking at that 7 or 8-level through a different lens, depending on where we are at in space, if we are doing things remote and virtual or on-site in person.
We are talking a lot about the mechanics of executive presence, such as posture, voice and so forth. The other piece is knowing when to say something and knowing when not to. We were talking about reading the audience. How can we build these skills?
Building the engagement, Sam, is fun. As we think about building engagement, if you want interaction from your audience, that is your responsibility. If your goal is to get interaction, your responsibility as the speaker is to allow the audience to share. What I mean by that is to ask open-ended questions that allow people to get their voices out. The key is we have to do it early and often because if we go through and you think you are in an hour-long meeting, in the first 52 minutes, you have been talking and you have given nobody else a chance to share anything.If your goal is to get interaction, your responsibility as the speaker is to allow the audience to share. Click To Tweet
By minute 52, if you open the floor and say, “Team, what questions do we have?” You may not get much interaction at that point because the audience has felt as though, “This is not a situation where I’m looking to be interactive or share because Sam or John hasn’t given me a chance to do so.” If we want, we can read our audience and make sure, “I want interaction and engagement.”
I’m going to make sure I ask, “Team, share your thoughts on this new initiative. I love to hear, Sumit, your perspective on this new project rollout. Char, can you tell us a little bit more about what you feel in regard to this new scope of work that we are looking into?” Asking them and framing them open-ended and letting those individuals share their feedback is what usually builds a lot more of that collaboration.
Sam, a lot of our audiences are communicating with us when we are talking to them but they are doing it non-verbally. We get the head nodding, smiles and some of those nonverbal cues that allow us as a speaker to realize, “I’m on the right track.” I might get a flat facial effect from somebody. I see someone that shakes their head and maybe tells me non-verbally. They are not tracking with my message or I need to go back and maybe clarify something.
This goes back to knowing when you are speaking, are you looking at your audience? If not, you are not going to see those nonverbal cues. You are going to miss a lot of those signals that they are sharing with us because you are too busy talking back to your slides, looking down at the floor or staring up at the ceiling. A lot of what we feel from an interaction standpoint, from an audience, they are sharing with us. but they are doing it non-verbally.
This brings some thoughts to my mind during my career. I started with a healthcare system in the year 2000. I was with a healthcare system for several years. When I first started there, I got so much coaching about my executive presence that I was wearing all the colored suits with black slacks and a black shirt-colored jacket. I walk around the hallways of the hospital like a little robot. I stand in front of the executives and the leaders and talk political and corporate jargon.
What was interesting is that my nursing leaders, towards the end of my career at this particular healthcare system, said, “I transformed.” When I first started with that company, I seemed corporatized. I was focused on the executive presence that I was plastic in a way. When I got toward the end of those several years, I had many nursing leaders say, “Char, you seem more real now. You are more authentic. You seem to understand the front line better. You used to be corporatized but now you seem more authentic.”
John, my question for you is, do you think that sometimes you can go overboard with becoming too plastic or corporate? That can be a turnoff, particularly to frontline employees because they used to call the executives The Suits. They were like, “The Suits are walking through.” It was more derogatory, “You are a suit.” What is your thought on that?
It can be looked at as negative. One of our goals when we coach any program, any client or any part of the organization, we want people to start the program and leave the program authentic, genuine and sincere. We want you to give yourself room to be yourself but it is being yourself with a polished set of skills. It goes back to, “I’m not looking to make carbon copy robots out of people because I don’t think that feels authentic and genuine.”
I will go back to the golf swing analogy. We see, on the pro tour and amateur level, a lot of different golf swings. They are all effective in their way. As much as people may say, “I want a golf swing that is like Tiger Woods or the greats of the golf game.” Trying to do it like someone else is a fool’s errand because that is not you.
You want to be yourself, authentic and genuine. Giving yourself room to understand, “I can still be myself and be genuine, sincere and authentic. I can do so with a good set of eye contact, effective hand gestures, purposeful posture, effective levels of my vocal skills, pacing my rate of speech and making sure I give myself permission to pause so I’m not filling in a whole bunch of ums and uhs as I’m talking.” We can do all those things and make them our own. That is what allows us to bring that level down so we aren’t feeling plastic or we stand there. It is thinking about rubbing my chest and head at the same time and it drives people crazy. They say, “John, I can’t do all of this at once.”
We encourage you to pick the low-hanging fruit, focus on what you feel would have the biggest impact on your audience and start to fine-tune that skillset first. You can always add in once you say, “I’m comfortable with the eye contact.” Let’s begin working more with our hands. “My hands feel comfortable now.” Let’s start dialing in posture. “My vocal energy feels good. I want to make sure I’m minimizing the non-words.” Taking bite-size pieces to the skills gives a lot more ease to allow those skills to start to develop and absorb.
Something that popped up for me while listening to Char talk about is feeling that she needed to dress a certain way, be a certain way and embody this role of a corporate suit. What came up for me is an interesting insight I gained about myself in using the TMA tool that we use here, John. There were all kinds of tools out there, including Myers Briggs, predictive index and other tools that assess people’s talents and passions. One of the factors that we evaluate is on this informal to formal scale. Some people are genetically predisposed with their experience of their life to be more formal or informal.
That was helpful for me to find out where I am on that scale of being, “I’m a bit more formal.” I like to wear a suit and work on Wall Street in suits at the beginning of my career. I enjoyed that for someone who is more informal because it even comes down to how you dress. What you are saying is true. You want to find your level of authenticity and not try to be that other thing that isn’t you. If anybody is interested to find out where they are on this scale, we could use a tool like TMA. I would be glad to have a one-on-one with anyone who wants to take our assessment and have a one-on-one to learn where they are.
Once you identify, “I’m a more informal person,” that might help you own your executive presence as a bit more of an informal type of leader. You do not have to put on the suit and be that robot that Char was talking about if that is not your genuine talent and passion. That is not how you show up naturally. I loved what she shared and then what you said about that. There is not a cookie-cutter model. This is about finding your unique individual presence.
I love that you mentioned the spectrum because we always coach from the spectrum level. We like to say, “Our executive presence skills can work across that spectrum of formality. There are times in our lives, especially outside of the workplace, when we want to be using these skills but we are using them on an informal level. We are interacting with spouses, kids, family members and friends. We get into more of a corporate setting. You hear people say, “John, how do I dial these skills up when the lights are on and it is a little bit more high stakes?”
It is knowing what the skills are. I can play up or play down that spectrum but it is still me doing it at the end of the day. It is still my genuine perspective, style or authenticity that exists. It is not feeling the need to be somebody that we armed. The TMA Tool sounds fantastic. I hear from a lot of people, Wendy. I smiled as he said that because I hear people say all the time, “John, I don’t know what I don’t know. What is there that I may not be aware of that you can help me better understand?” That’s part of why I love doing what I do in terms of coaching communication skills.
Sometimes I will get people who say, “John, I have been through formal coaching before. I had a presentation skills class or course in my career at points.” I will have people that say, “I have never been through anything like this. I’m an open book. I want to be a sponge. I want to learn as much as I can because there may be some things I could not even be aware of that will allow me to be more effective when I interact with others.”
Sumit, do you have a question for John?
It is not a question. It is a funny anecdote that comes to mind. I don’t know if you have seen this Trevor Noah video, where he does a sketch of Barak Obama meeting Nelson Mandela. It is hilarious. It talks about inflection and tone and a lot of things we spoke about where Mandela’s coaching him to take his pitch down a couple of notches and speak slower. They practice, “Yes, we can.” They are figuring out how to be successful. It struck me that a lot of concepts that John’s spoken about come through in that little video.
John, how do people get ahold of you? Do you have a website or an email? What is the best way if somebody would like your expertise in helping them with their executive presence or leadership?
For anyone interested in reaching out, we do have a website. It is VautierCommunications.com. I’m going to put my email address. It is simple for everybody, [email protected]. We are active on LinkedIn, my personal page, John Vautier, and our company page, Vautier Communications. We have a newsletter and podcast series. We try to do as much content as possible around effective communication. It works across all areas of life.
I mentioned to start and I will mention it again to close. By doing what we do, people will always want to be effective communicators. It doesn’t matter the role that you are in. When we think about the ability to speak well socially or personally and we think about the success that people have when they can communicate effectively in professional settings, it is a skillset that everybody would love to fine-tune. It is a skillset that is learnable and teachable for all levels. It is a matter of knowing and understanding, “Where could my strengths be developed or where could some of my gaps be filled in, in terms of what I’m doing physically and vocally or my message and delivery options?”
I’m happy to talk with anybody and everybody. I could talk for hours about the importance of communication skills. I would encourage you to reach out to me by email or our website and you will find a wealth of information and knowledge regarding what we do and how you might be able to engage with us.
You are based out of Colorado but I assume you offer this virtually all over the world, perhaps.
We have a lot of global presence with our clients virtually in different parts of the world. US-based companies that might have global divisions outside of the US, we do a lot of virtual coaching with them. I have traveled globally and done coaching on-site in person across the globe. Last several years, a lot of our business has been through the virtual landscape only because of the pandemic and everything else but we are starting to get back on site back in front of people. My home base is Denver, Colorado but as consultants, we travel where the clients are. We do things on-site with organizations or individuals. We also offer public programs.
For those of us who are local here in the States, we do have an open-enrollment public program coming up. It’s going to be on October 18th and October 19th, 2022. That is going to be in Columbus, Ohio. For anyone interested, you are welcome to reach out for more information. More information is on our website. If you want to reach out by email, I’m happy to share logistics, timing, what the program outline looks like and everything else. It is a two-day course offered coming up on October 18 and 19, 2022 and that is going to be based in Columbus, Ohio.
I wanted to speak as someone who has gone through John’s programs, a little anecdote. First of all, the programs themselves are revolutionary. It is almost like a magic show. The way they get you to change your habits almost instantly on the spot is pretty incredible. What was coming to mind is that I have John on my shoulder whenever I’m speaking, whatever the scenario is, whether I’m teaching a dance class or a forum or we have been doing so much over Zoom or in person. It is amazing. The things that I learned in that class do play out in every interaction and communication that I have. I hear him on my shoulder saying, “If somebody asks a question, don’t say that’s a good question.”
It is this little thing that I still remember all these years later. I wanted to add that testimonial that this is something different. Even if you are an experienced presenter, I feel comfortable talking to people but I got many little tips that a fine-tune. It is taking it from hot to boiling. I wanted to add that these things have carried through with me across all communication.
Thank you, Wendy. I appreciate that. We pride ourselves in that learning-by-doing model. With that, you get raving fans like Wendy, who remember. Going through a course where it is a lecture for two days, in some cases, could be effective. That is not our style. We are very much learning by doing if we want it to be immersive. We want you to get repetitions but we feel that the best way to learn a skillset is by going through and doing that skillset.
The more repetitions you get with things that will otherwise feel a bit uncomfortable, the more comfortable you get with repetition after repetition. Wendy, we appreciate you sharing that testimonial with the group. I will always cherish the program and the time that we worked together in previous careers.
You didn’t know you were sitting on our shoulders, did you?
I did not but I love to hear things like that.
Thanks, John. This has been an engaging conversation and I loved it. I learned a lot and I’m going to put it to you. Thank you so much for your time.
Sam, it is my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me on. I’m happy to be a part of the CompTeam panelist and speaker series going forward. Should you see fit, please continue to reach out.
Thank you, everyone, for joining. We will see you next time.
Vautier Communications incorporated in May of 2004. We are dedicated to the ‘Business Communication Skills’ space. We pride ourselves on cutting-edge technology, individualized service, and unique retention tools at a very competitive price.
We are easy to work with and value a strong and lasting client relationship over time. Since inception, when a client engages us, 87% of the time they contract for additional coaching.
Simply put, we are ‘Coaches’. We come from all walks of business including V.P. Sales and Customer Service, PH.D. Academics, Educators and sports coaches, T.V. Anchorwoman, Sales, and Sales Management.
As a group, we have coached in every industry, on every continent, at every level and in every situation imaginable…with a couple that would challenge the imagination!
We are gracious, fun, professionals who will change your life and the way you message.
It’s our process that’s unique. You learn by ‘doing’. Our clients always practice using their own content, materials and slides.
We start with an Initial Skills Assessment which is videotaped and reviewed. We ‘Brief and Demonstrate’ a skill. You practice that skill and we coach you. We then layer additional skills and again, you practice, we coach. Numerous times over 2 sessions we videotape you presenting and each taping is reviewed.
The proof that your ability to ‘Speak as well as you Think’ has grown tremendously can be seen as you compare your Initial Skills Assessment video with your final taping video.
We customize or tailor the coaching individual by individual, team by team and organization by organization. We coach ‘in the moment’. We’re like the ‘Tony Dungy’ of Communications, who on a very personable and unique level build your confidence and coach you to become a high performer. We coach over a dozen subtle changes in eye contact, movement, gestures, balance, volume, inflection and pace which improve your Executive Presence and sharpen your message.