The Introvert’s Guide to Leadership Presence
By Anett Grant
What do Bill Gates, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Warren Buffett have in common?
They’ve all been described as “introverts,” yet they all project leadership presence—not by getting louder or by ramping up their energy, but by being stronger authentically. If you’re an introvert, you don’t need to change your personality to develop leadership presence. You just need to learn a few skills.
What are some of the physical skills that can help you develop leadership presence?
Whether standing or sitting, you need to be conscious of your balance when you speak. I’ve noticed that quieter people tend to make themselves small, tight—some even look almost twisted together, like a pretzel. They don’t feel comfortable, and they often don’t look comfortable.
The solution is not to make yourself large—you’re not being attacked by a bear. But you do need to be centered. If you’re standing, get in a strong stance: put one foot slightly in front of the other to avoid swaying. If you’re sitting, sit so that you are able to move forward, backward, and side to side without shifting your weight, leaning on your arm, or twisting your body. Balance is critical for helping you project a stronger presence.
As an introvert, you may struggle with eye contact and need to learn how to focus your gaze to build leadership presence. But controlling your gaze is not about going eyeball to eyeball. We use an exercise in our Leadership Speaking Bootcamp 360 program to demonstrate that your gaze actually has a wider perception than you may think. We ask each participant to stand up in front of the group while the rest of the participants have their hands raised. The speaker is not allowed to stop speaking until he/she has “knocked all of the hands down” by making eye contact for five seconds with each participant. Sometimes, the speaker knocks down two or three hands at once, showing that even though they are looking at one spot, their field of gaze is much broader.
Voice quality is something introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts need to be aware of. While you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a voice coach to have leadership presence, you do need to develop some resonance in your voice. It’s not fair, but high and nasally voices—and to a lesser degree, low and gravelly voices—are not associated with leadership. You need to resonate your voice in your mouth, not your nasal passages or your throat. To see what it feels like to have your voice resonate in your mouth, make an “mm” sound so that your lips begin to tingle. Then, say “me” and note what it sounds like. By moving your sound forward in your mouth, you will naturally develop more resonance. But be gentle—you develop resonance through relaxation, not by force.
Gestures can help you project strength and illustrate your message—but only if you use them correctly. If you are continuously moving your hands in the same way, you are connecting your behaviors to your feelings, consciously or not. You want your gestures to be connected to your message, not your mood. For example, if you raise your hand to show rising challenges, you are connecting the gesture to your message, reinforcing that message with your audience.
You don’t need to be large scale with your gestures, but you do need to be smooth. When you bowl, you don’t just wind up and drop the ball; you guide the ball down the lane, in one fluid motion. Similarly, you want to keep your gestures fluid if you want to highlight your message and build your leadership presence.
Another skill you need to develop to project leadership presence is strategic movement. Don’t just pace around the room—move with purpose. You can move between points like through the white space between paragraphs. You can also use movement to create highlights and emphases. If you stop suddenly, your audience will wonder why. Now you have their attention, and you can add power to your next statement. Like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, you create a strong, bold impression. By having a purpose for all your movements, you can enhance your leadership presence.
If you’re an introvert who wants to have leadership presence, you can forget about getting louder or putting on a false personality. By incorporating these physical skills into your speaking, you can make a strong impression while still remaining true to who you are.
Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world — including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies — develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power. Executive Speaking offers both one-on-one Private Coaching and group Leadership Speaking Bootcamp 360 programs.