How to Develop Executive Presence

career development women and work Jun 15, 2021
Woman in a red skirt stands on top of staircase holding a tablet. The text reads, how to develop executive presence.

Gravitas, executive presence, charm, personality, warmth, the “it” factor. What exactly is presence? How important is it to your career in STEM?


People who are well known in their field for the influence they have are often described as having this so-called presence, or any of the other words used to describe it above. Despite it’s title, presence is much more than just simply being present or existing. Presence is about influence.


It’s not just the type of influence that we associate leaders having. That’s authority. Presence is a trait people at all levels can possess and use to their advantage. It’s also a trait that many people in STEM develop prior to advancing their careers and is actually the very reason they advance.


We've been led to believe that presence is some elusive, intangible quality that can’t be learned or taught. That’s not true. I’m here to demystify what it really means to have presence and share tips so that you can have it too.  


Presence is the ability to put people at ease while getting them to buy into you and your ideas. It’s often associated with leadership because great leaders have presence. 


Leadership in STEM doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a manager or in a role with people reporting to you. Leadership in this case means your colleagues admire your work and listen to you. 


When you’re able to inspire others and earn their confidence, you’ll have the ability to mobilize resources and help your company achieve its goals. Why is this important? Well, it means you have job security for one thing! It also means that the ideas you have are more likely to get buy-in and move forward.


Buy-in and job security are awesome, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of presence. So now you’re asking, HOW?

How do I learn to have presence? If it’s not something that comes naturally to you, which I totally relate to, here are the three areas you need to focus on:

  1. Your mindset 
  2. Your message
  3. Your execution


The inner beliefs you have about yourself, your work, and the ideas you’re sharing is related to how others will perceive you. So, building your self-confidence is the first step to getting others to have confidence in you


Other people’s confidence in you, is a large part of having presence. In order to build your confidence, you can take time to be well prepared for meetings and interactions. You can also spend time reflecting on the great work you’ve done and the impact you’ve had in the past as a way to boost your confidence. 


Another aspect of your mindset comes from your ability to regulate your emotions. Basically, you want to exude calmness even in stressful situations. Think about a time when you’ve seen someone in authority overreact and let their emotions take over. A reaction like this doesn’t exude confidence and it makes people feel uncomfortable.


This isn’t to say that we can’t be vulnerable or show emotion, it means that we’re still managing those emotions - not the other way around.

This brings me to the next aspect of mindset and its relationship to presence. It’s all about bringing awareness to the feelings you create in others. People with presence have a way of making you feel special and important. They don’t dominate the conversation. They make you feel like they are listening to what you have to say and are interested you.

So, become aware of how you want to make people feel and act in accordance with it. Consider, do you want them to feel excited, calm or assured? 

If you want people to feel excited about your idea or your work, you need to be the one to lead with that feeling. If you can show excitement for it, they’ll be able to feel that excitement too. Even with a strong message outlining the business case, you’ll struggle to get people excited about something if you’re not able to show excitement for it. 




People with presence are able to explain things simply and convincingly. They do this by having strong messages. 

Strong messages are direct and to the point. To be wishy-washy and unfocused in your message doesn’t convey confidence. Here’s a framework you can use to create a strong message: Make your point - give a reason - give an example.

This will help keep you focused on the most important parts of your message. Of course, you can’t communicate everything in that short framework, but that’s not the point. You’re allowing people to bring questions to the conversation. And, you can use this framework in your reply too!



Presentation skills are crucial in any industry, but they’re especially important in STEM industries. You need to be able to explain complicated and often abstract ideas in a way that’s digestible for other people.

When you improve your ability to communicate well, you’ll be able to persuade people more easily and earn their trust. All important aspects of presence!

A big part of your presentation is your body language. Body language is how you stand, your posture and the gesture you make. Body language is an important part of presence. It tells people how you feel about the conversation and about the topic you’re discussing. 

People are picking up on these cues through your body language. This is important because the amount of trust or enthusiasm they have in your topic is directly related to their perception of your level of trust and enthusiasm for what you’re saying.

Eye contact is another part of your presentation skills helping you build presence. If you make eye contact when you’re interacting with someone, it makes them feel like you’re paying attention to what they’re saying. It’s a simple thing but tends to be overlooked if we’re nervous. 

Remember that being nervous isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s means you care about something. Channel that nervous energy into these steps and it can become your “presence fuel!”

I hope that has simplifies what it means to have presence and how you can develop it. Share this blog with your friends and colleagues looking to build their careers!


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