The Surprising Role of Nonverbal Communication in Executive Presence


The silent power. That is the power of visual communication, far more potent than the words we speak.

“I am not convinced. She said all the right things but her mannerisms conveyed something else”.

“He said he can handle the project, but his body language lacked confidence”.

“I am not sure he is the best person to present. His bearing is fidgety and uptight”.

Great ideas, promotions and pitches are often lost not because the concepts are badly worded or the
job can’t be done, but because our carriage, movements, gestures and facial expressions lack the
influence to match.

Misunderstandings are created when our intentions don’t mirror our demeanour, leaving the listener
confused or sceptical.

As we unveil the role of nonverbal signs in executive presence, we acknowledge that the business of
decoding what a person is transmitting started much before language was born.

Moods, situations and emotions like threat, amiability, indifference, interest, fear, courage, kindness and anger were all conveyed through physical movement, and this, even today, stands hard-wired in us

Usually unconscious and habitual, the way we carry and hold ourselves defines our persona,
becoming our personal brand, transforming into executive presence.

As we delve into the intricacies of nonverbal communication, we recognize its pivotal role in
determining that we are understood and perceived as we intend to be.

From establishing trust to earning credibility, from confirming a buy-in to selling an idea, from successful negotiation to interpreting people’s reactions to us, the power to influence comes from our physical movements. Our manner suggests our state of mind, leaving us wide open to being worked out by others.

An interesting read: High Presence or Low Presence? Which is yours?

The first three seconds:

We are primarily visual beings, judging a book by its cover. Showing up on time with a polished
appearance, an assertive stride, an upright posture, direct eye contact, a genuine smile and a firm
handshake sets a positive tone for what is to come. You have exuded confidence, competence and


For those of us that feel the butterflies in our stomach, pulling our shoulders back and straightening
the spine makes us feel stronger, calming the nerves.

Air travels more easily through the body allowing our breathing to pace our thoughts and emotions. To stand tall is not to take on a stiff military stance, but a relaxed form that expresses authority and expertise.


As we get immersed in the task at hand, we often become unaware of our movements. We could get
fidgety, constantly moving around or shifting our weight from one leg to the other, distracting the
listener or signalling nervousness.

Cultivate measured movements, which with practice will come naturally to you. Stand firm with equal weight on both legs, taking purposeful steps that compliment key moments in your message.


Move hands naturally and in relation to points you want to emphasise. This enhances and reinforces
your message. An element of performance and drama adds volumes to your words, indicating your
level of enthusiasm and energy.

Too much hand movement may irritate the audience, hindering your message. It is best to keep hands below chest level to maintain a clear view of your face at all times. Open hand gestures show welcome while crossed arms imply resistance and aloofness.

Explore “Mindset to Manner” by – Mala Hemnani for a refined approach to conduct, carriage, and communication.

Eye Contact:

Avoid looking at your notes or PPT, using them only as a guide by glancing at them now and then.
Move your eyes across the room, maintaining eye contact with one person for no longer than 3
seconds. Staring and fixing your eyes on someone makes them uncomfortable and distances the
others in the room.

Avoiding or shifting your eyes is a sign of disrespect or insincerity, whereas direct contact indicates interest and attention. When facing a large audience, it is best to look up over the audience’s head. This gives the impression of direct eye contact.


A genuine smile will invite a smile back, easing any tension or nerves. Avoid a forced, fixed, strained
or frozen smile. Think of something that will make you smile naturally.


As we get into the conversation, we get comfortable and tend to slide into our seats, bringing on a
slouch. The slouch indicates lack of confidence or disinterest. Sitting with the base of your spine
against the base of the chair energises the mind, exuding self- assurance and enthusiasm.

Spatial Awareness and Proxemics:

Expand not contract. Open body language is an open you, willing to give and receive. A closed
disposition conveys lack of confidence or disinterest. Use your personal space generously, mindful of
the size of the audience and the room.

Being comfortable with using space demonstrates conviction and authority. The use of space is just as relevant when navigating a room, either amplifying or diminishing your presence.

Proxemics is the distance between you and the other person. Too much distance and you may come
across as unfriendly or unapproachable. Too close and you may be thought of as intrusive, making
the other person uncomfortable.

Facial expressions:

The face is a canvas of emotions, a collage of our feelings and thoughts for all to see. A frown, a nod,
pursed lips or a raised eyebrow are decoded by the listener and interpreted to accompany your

Facial expressions convey your level of curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, and authenticity. What you truly feel on the inside is likely to show up on the outside. Develop awareness and composure to regulate emotions.

You may find it useful: Claim your seat at the table


Mirroring is a great way of connecting with people when in conflict or difficult conversations. The
simple act of leaning in suggests you are keen to resolve the issue amicably and are interested to
hear the other person’s perspective.

It comforts them and boosts engagement. As you become attuned to their emotions, you adjust your body language and expressions accordingly.


Navigating pauses and being comfortable with silence is the essence of good listening, demonstrating
poise and self-control. A nod shows agreement. A pause invites feedback. Your silence is a strong
nonverbal cue.

Recommended read: Potentiality to Actuality


Usually, the nonverbal is believed over the verbal. If you speak with a powerful voice but your
movements are jittery, you give out mixed signals and your authenticity may be questioned. If your
words speak about expansion but your gestures are contracted, there will be gaps in what is
understood, for your words say one thing and the body quite the opposite.

Your nonverbal cues either reinforce, support and complement your message, or they dilute and contradict it. Have nonverbal cues that are congruent with your verbal message to avoid communicating contrary to what you hope to convey.

Cross cultural nuances:

We are today on a global platform with a global presence. Gestures, proxemics, expressions and the
use of personal space may have different indications in different parts of the world. Build cultural
awareness of what is accepted and respected universally.

Virtual cues:

The spotlighted speaker on a virtual call invites careful examination of every expression and gesture
they make. We are likely to let our guards down in an online meeting given the sense of distance.

However, we are closely observed on a screen that could send out signals of either careless
indifference or focused engagement. Maintain consistency between the in-person and online gestures.


Every movement speaks volumes and becomes the backbone of your communication. To stand tall,
make purposeful gestures and maintain open body language is to have a commanding presence, one
that captures attention and sets you apart as a leader, without the utterance of a single word. That is
the silent power.

Take the assessment to gain clarity on how much of a presence you do have, what your weak areas are, and where you have strong presence traits.

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