How Does Accent Interrelate with Presence?

In my practice, I have combined two disciplines: accent work; that is, speech, clarity, pronunciation, word stress, intonation and pitch control, and in general, sounding American or not with Executive Presence: that is, voice quality, projection, confidence, “how you show up,” how fast you talk, how in control you are of yourself and your reactions, how comfortable you feel, how loud you can be, how well you convey your message, and how well you can change how you to speak to meet your audience’s needs and expectations.

The question is how do Accent & Presence Interrelate?

  • It’s Hard to Have Presence When Your Speech is Unclear: Part of being comfortable and confident when you speak is being in control of your pronunciation and saying things clearly. If you have muffled speech, mispronounce words occasionally, and speak in ways that are difficult for your audience to connect with you, Presence is hard to create. While there is more to communication than how well you speak English, I would argue that if you live in an English speaking country and you want to impress others, you need to have a good command of the spoken language as a point of entry.


  • Speaking Clearly is Not Enough: You can pronounce all the words correctly and still not have Executive Presence. In fact, many native speakers talk in disempowering ways that are not inspiring. You can speak English fluently and not come across as confident, decisive, intelligent and insightful. You need to be able to inspire others; communicate your ideas, goals, thoughts, and ambitions clearly and vividly; it’s important to show empathy and exhibit self control. In terms of speech and movement, you need to be able to pace yourself and move and speak fluidly, not just fluently, using loudness and projection when necessary to your advantage. You must be able to craft your message and deliver it as intended, and react to subtle changes along the way. Clearly, Presence is more than accent, and fortunately it is teachable & learnable!


  • Combining the Two Modalities Creates Synergy: The concept of synergy (that the combined effect of separate items is greater than their sum) applies here. If you merely work on your accent and separately work on speaking up, presenting, and communicating to an audience, you can gain some new skills, but it is not likely that you will address your whole body with awareness that creates dynamic, holistic change. Doing both speech and presence work together allows your brain to sync up your posture and breathing with your new speaking habits (like clearer pronunciation) so you can project your voice with greater confidence and more fully embrace the new learnings to integrate into a new, comprehensive persona that reflects your deepest beliefs, values, intentions and visualization of your ideal self. The result can be dramatically improved by combining the two modalities in your practice.

Accent & Presence interrelate so completely because the complement each other in many ways. Both speech and presence require us to examine how we speak, breathe, move and interact with others. While accent is more focused on the mouth, throat, jaw, tongue and other facial muscles, presence is more about the whole body, and of course, these areas overlap. Combining them gives you the advantage your brain needs to create meaningful and lasting change.

Personality vs. Habit

When I meet with Executive Presence clients for the first time, they often tell me about the issues they are experiencing, and sometimes they mention that it’s just part of their “personality”. I find this interesting because it’s generally things they have difficulty changing that they attribute to “personality.” Things that are relatively easy to change, might be “issues” or “concerns” or “what somebody pointed out,” but anything they need help changing is generally attributed to personality.

The question I ask at this juncture, is what is the difference between “habit” and “personality”?

You could be in the “habit” or speaking up or not speaking up, talking softly or loudly, talking at a fast pace or a slow pace, or interrupting others or never interrupting. This could also be part of your personality to do or not do these things.

What’s the difference?

Personality is generally viewed as something we don’t change, shouldn’t have to change, or maybe even can’t change. It’s “just the way I am.” In fact, many people feel they shouldn’t be asked to change their personalities or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.

Habits are different. We even have an expression for it: “breaking a bad habit.” That’s how people learn to exercise more or eat less or stop smoking, for example. A habit doesn’t have to be bad; I could be in the habit of eating healthy food or going to bed early to get rest or swimming daily; however, when we hear the word “habit,” many of us associate it with things we wish we didn’t do, but just do  automatically.

For these reasons, I suggest identifying the behavioral things about you that you would like to change or that others would like you to change as “habits” not “personality.”

For example, if your boss wants you to take on more projects, and you see it as your “personality” to be a little more laid back, not speak up as much, never take on more than you can handle, then you might view being asked to step up more and show your leadership skills as an attack. Why doesn’t s/he see all the things you do right? Why are you being judged? How come other employees aren’t being asked to take on extra work? Maybe your boss just doesn’t like you and is trying to phase you out so s/he can bring someone else in? Do you see the thought progression based on taking the comment that your boss wants you to take on more projects as a reflection of your personality?

On the other hand, if you take the same comment as an expression about your “habit” of not taking on as many projects as your boss would like, you might instead think about how you could change your habit. Is there anything you could do to take on more projects that are of interest to you and help you grow without adversely impacting your workload? Is your boss open to letting you hand off some of your current projects that have become routine and less challenging to you that might be a challenge to someone else in exchange for you taking on new projects? Do you need to take any classes to acquire new skills so you can take on more interesting projects? Note the entire thought process is different when you are in the frame of mind of changing a “habit” vs. your “personality.”

Of course, framing only goes so far. If you really feel something is outside the range of possibilities for you, it might feel deep and integral and unchangeable, whether or not you like it about yourself. In some cases, you may not be able to or want to change in ways that would allow you to do something differently; however, it’s important to know you have the choice.

Is it part of your personality or just a habit? You decide!

Presence is Natural Speech

Whenever I work with clients who doubt their executive presence, they often are trying too hard to project an image instead of embracing who they are. It sounds deceptively easy to “just be yourself,” but there are many reasons why it’s a challenge.

It’s natural to feel pressured to perform, so you may appear tense or rushed to others. It’s also common to want to cover more than you can in a certain period of time. You may not have enough time to prepare or might not have slept well the night before. Because all these factors are possible and common, it’s important to develop a routine around being at the top of your game so that when you are in front of your target audience, you come off as a master, not a novice!

How Can You Naturally Have Presence?

  • Take Care of Yourself. You want to be well rested, nourished, and emotionally strong. Make personal care a priority. As they say, “take care of yourself first, and then take care of others.”
  • Develop Routines You Can Stick To. Whether it’s physical exercise, nutrition or vocal warmups, create ones that work for you and commit to them. Give yourself a break if you need one without judgment, and then recommit at your earliest opportunity. The regimen will support yourself discipline and that quality will impact how others perceive you.
  • Reassess and Evaluate. Many of us are on automatic throughout the day. Instead, periodically check in and assess whether your daily routine is working for you. Do you need to modify it to get a better result? Do you need to record yourself to see how others see you? Make time to assess, restructure and change up the old routines so you continue to improve.
  • Ask for Feedback. Make it part of your routine to ask others you trust and value to weigh in. Complacency is the enemy of progress. You need to know what others think of you to improve, realizing that as you progress in your career, different qualities matter. Take the changes into account, adjust, measure, and re-evaluate. Make sure you are being perceived the way you imagine you are.
  • Fight Procrastination. It’s tempting to put it off until another day, and eventually time has gone by and you’ve lost your edge. If you want your presence to be natural, you have to work for it, but it’s less about “trying to project an image” and more about trusting yourself to let your true strengths shine through. You need to have a routine to do that.
  • Get Support When You Need it. Some people try to do it themselves, and while their assessments tell them they don’t have the tools they need, they stick to the same routine. If you find you need help, take a class, get a Coach, ask your Mentor. While presence is natural, most of us have blind spots, and you may need new information, new tools, and structured exercises to attain a compelling presence.
  • Speak From the Heart. While there are numerous ways to improve your speech, trusting yourself is the most basic. If you lead from the right place and connect to your best intentions, you are likely to get a better result. When you feel off-track or off-message, reconnect to your heart and speak again.

While speaking naturally and having presence takes awareness and practice, it doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be someone you are not or try excessively hard. If you find yourself in that state of mind, give some thought to the above areas of developing natural presence and see where it leads you!

Climbing the Corporate Speech Ladder

In my business, I meet a lot of people who aren’t really sure where they belong in the speech and voice training process. There are a lot of options for improving speech, and it’s challenging to know what to do first, second and third.

First, it’s important to realize it’s a process. There’s no “quick fix”. It can take 2 years or more to get a really strong voice and presence that supports you.

Second, there is a sequence. Usually, it’s preferable to improve your “foundation” first. So, if you are using incorrect sentence structure, mixing up your verb tenses, and mispronouncing words, you have to fix that first. Once you learn how to speak clearly and succinctly, then you want to get exposure to mixed audiences, work on your messaging, and gain confidence. Only then do you want to dive into executive speech coaching for professionals. At this point, you truly perfect your skills and get to the next level. It’s important to see your journey as having several stops along the way in a sequence.

Third, slow and steady wins the race. You have to find ways to stay engaged, focused, and relentless on your ascent to powerful speech. If you skip some steps, you may achieve the result you desire. In addition, if you take the steps out of sequence, it can be a frustrating experience. You need to make sure you are in the right place for the skills you need with the support you need to be successful.

1. Foundational skills: Strengthen the voice, speak clearly and succinctly, have control over your speech, good supportive posture and good breath and projection skills. At, we support foundational skills for your success-oriented clients who wish to prepare for the next 2 steps.

2. Group Speaking: Join a speech club that you attend regularly for at least 6 months to a year to gain comfort and confidence in front of an audience.

3. Executive Speech & Presentation: Gain the skills you need to be commanding in front of an audience and perfect your skill set for maximum engagement.

Build a strong foundation first, and then add group speaking and executive speech & presentation for best results.

Executive Presence in Politically Charged Times

Executive Presence

Fake news … trade war … children in cages … severing ties with our allies … the US president meeting with oppressive dictators … these are challenging times. So you may ask yourself, how does this relate to Executive Presence?

When times are easy, no one really notices how you behave. As long as you don’t rock the boat, things move along smoothly. If you work hard, you are likely to get rewarded or promoted. In communication terms, as long as people understand you when you speak, it’s good enough.

When times are tough, however, what’s required for success changes. It’s no longer enough to be present and do your job. You have to stand out; you have to be clear about what you stand for, and you have to make a difference. In communication terms, you need to speak in a way that inspires confidence and trust. You need to project clarity, wisdom, and depth. And that’s what Executive Presence is all about.

  • You can tell people you will help them … or you can communicate with such warmth and concern that your audience “experiences” your support. This is gravitas.
  • You can dress up in a suit to show people you are a “leader” … or you can exude confidence with your posture and movement that communicates your leadership ability regardless of what clothing you wear. This is appearance.
  • You can talk a good game, monitoring your speed as you speak slowly and deliver your “script” or you can communicate with such clarity, expression, passion, and connection with your audience that everyone knows what you mean without having to think about it. This is communication.

These 3 components make up Executive Presence: gravitas, appearance, and communication. If you embody all three, you are empowered to make a difference.

In troubling times, your ability to adhere to your principles and incorporate your beliefs into your communication style is critical. Components of your speech and movement that you can control and change include:

  • Voice quality … how strong is your voice? Does it carry? Can you control the pitch and do you have a good range?
  • Clarity … when you speak, do people understand you the first time or do you have to repeat, rephrase, and explain? Does it come naturally with flow or do you have to self-monitor and talk slowly?
  • Intention … is your audience on the same page with you from the beginning or do you have to wonder about whether or not they are getting your intent? Do you feel like there are “misunderstandings” after you communicate your message? Or do you have mechanisms built in when you speak to gauge understanding and proactively address any “disconnects” as they occur?
  • Phrasing … Do you say things in a way that people follow and relate to and that flows naturally, or do you struggle to find the right words and express yourself and feel that others do a better job than you do?

When it comes to Executive Presence, you either have it, or you don’t. In challenging times, we need more from our leaders. Standing up, being clear, communicating intention and inspiring confidence aren’t optional; these are requirements.

Are you up to the task?

In For A Shock Transitioning From High Tech Guru To Marketing Or Sales

I find it interesting that so many technology clients tell me they have no issue with their spoken English in many tech jobs. Apparently they can get by sitting at their desk or working remotely and having meetings on the net as long as they produce code or fix technical issues. The big uptick in language ability requirements happens when these technology folks decide they want to move into sales or marketing. It’s a whole other animal. At first, they think they know enough about engineering, latest technical developments and how technology works to add value, but pretty early on they realize it’s more about how you communicate. They get frustrated when their ideas can’t be heard, explored, incorporated and implemented. They often don’t get past square one because they don’t have the pronunciation, the vocabulary and the confidence to be clear, persuasive, and “disruptive”. They end up going along to get along and giving up on having an impact, which can be the kiss of death in being successful in their new careers.

Part of it seems to be that working alongside native speakers of American English is more demanding speech-wise than working among other non-native speakers from other countries. Another part is that communication skills, like discussing strategy, brainstorming, conceptualizing, and investigate new ideas and presenting solutions for buy-in, are of much greater use in a sales and marketing environment. The very nature of the work requires leveling up language skills.

The problem is that most non-native speakers who are great at technology don’t polish their speaking skills until later in life when they really need them. They have to play catch-up in the 11th hour to compete successfully in their working environments and live up to everyone’s expectations. It can be a daunting task, but realizing that the need for highly honed communication skills dramatically increases in sales and marketing jobs should help techies prepare in advance, early in their careers, for the challenges ahead.

Ease & Grace: Applying Insights from Movement to Speech

Recently I have noticed a much-needed return to the movement and body awareness methods of past generations: Feldenkrais, Alexander & other body awareness modalities, popular in the 60’s and before. In addition, there are the more recent phenomena of pilates popularity, and experts like Eric Franklin to focus on the gracefulness of movement over the rigors of ruthless body building and strenuous exercise.

It’s timely, in fact, because speech work benefits greatly from these modalities. We often think of speech as a separate task, but years of speech and accent have taught me that the two are inextricably linked! If we are tense and restrained in our movement, our speech is also tense and restrained.

How do we move from stressed-out robots to naturally moving, happy communicators?

#1: Awareness: This is always my go-to drug of choice. Drench yourself in awareness exercises with acceptance. You can’t change what you don’t know. You have to see yourself as others see you and notice your breath, notice how you communicate, how your voice sounds, how your body moves … without trying to change it!

#2: Warm Up and Daily Habits: All of us prefer to move and talk the way we do. It’s our habit. If we want to be stress free (and aren’t), then we must accept the need for tangible, daily change exercises. Warming up before we speak is always a good practice. Daily habit examination for how we can move more freely and incorporate movement exercises into our day is also of paramount importance.

#3: Vocalize, Vocalize, Vocalize: Although some people chant while doing yoga, the vast majority of us exercise silently. The key to unifying your presence, is to combine breath and voice with movement. If you are moving and speaking in isolation, you can’t do this. You are also much more likely to move and sound like a robot. Exercise while making sounds! It’s really that simple.

#4: Accept that it’s a New Way of Being: Just like diet and exercise, you can’t eat healthy only now and then and expect to have great health, weight and well-being. The same is true with posture, movement and voice. It must be the “new you” and the “continued you.”

#5: Be Kind and Gentle with Yourself: Self talk matters, and it will make you tense and rigid if you tell yourself you are “wrong, bad, stupid, mistaken, and lazy.” Instead, remind yourself to “take care of yourself, do the right thing, feel free and move with fluidity and confidence.” It makes all the difference!

Integrate the ease and grace of movement with your voice and verbal expression, and you’ll move from being a stressed-out robot to a confident, happy communicator!

Understated Elegance… What EF Hutton Was All About

I liken the desired “understated elegance” quality of Executive Presence to what it feels like when we dress for an event.

Imagine Scenario #1: Have you ever gone to an event where you felt really uncomfortable even though you were wearing the required attire? (suit and tie or ballroom gown).  It’s like you were “uncomfortable in your own skin?” Perhaps nervous or jumpy … tongue-tied … just not in a good place?

And now imagine the opposite … Scenario #2 … have you ever had the experience where you dress up and go to an event and you feel at the top of your game? Charismatic, alive, everything is going your way?

If you have had both of these experiences, you know the feeling … but you might not be able to avoid the first scenario and create the second one every time. Maybe you’ve never even really thought about it before, but sometimes we’re just not in control of how well the event goes and how we feel … or one thing could change the entire effect.

Of course, we would all prefer Scenario #2, but simply knowing that both scenarios are possibilities may not help us create the one we want.

The same is true with Executive Presence. There’s a quality of “understated elegance” when an executive walks into the room and everyone knows it and is eager and ready to hear what s/he has to say. There’s the way that everyone gets silent and notices when the person enters the room: a certain mystique and anticipation. When the person walks across the room, it’s a graceful gliding with that same spirit of intrigue. When the person speaks, everyone listens attentively.

There was a series of vintage tv commercials from the 70’s and 80’s, advertising a broker named EF Hutton. In the commercial, a couple of people could be at a table in a crowded, noisy restaurant having lunch, and one of them would ask the other for advice, and the person would respond by first stating that EF Hutton was his/her broker, and suddenly all the chatter in the room would come to a halt, and everyone would turn to hear what advice this person had gotten, and a man’s voice would announce, “When EF Hutton talks, people listen”. Here’s a link to a few of these commercials:

Link One

Link Two


THAT is executive presence.

Somehow EF Hutton personifies executive presence because it’s not something he does explicitly to gain this quality; it’s how people feel about him. It’s a reputation he possesses. It’s a power he has. It’s an understated elegance. And according to the commercials, it’s not open to interpretation … he is the best source of information in his field. It’s a given. He has presence.

Once we have a deep seated knowledge of what executive presence is, we can begin to let it manifest in our own lives, in our own unique ways, as the understated elegance it is, rather than a forcing presence as a quality based on overdoing, overachieving or trying too hard.

When you talk, do other people listen?

What is Executive Presence? | Part 3: Gravitas

Of the three areas of Executive Presence, gravitas is arguably the most elusive. What is it? How do you know when you have it? I like thinking of it as having “gravity” in its core. There’s a “weight” and a “groundedness” to it. Gravitas is really about how comfortable and confident you are in your own skin and how others perceive you. You can “feel confident”, yet others can characterize you as “cocky” or “arrogant.” Gravitas refers to this element of having a richness and depth to your expression and a way of reaching out to others that allows them to feel at ease with you, to trust you, to have confidence in you, and describe you as deeply connected to the organization’s goals and messaging.

What elements of gravitas can you inspect, evaluate, and improve?

This one is the most challenging to define and change, but it can be done. Here are some areas you may want to explore:

  • How do you breathe? Effortlessly or with challenges? Do you hold your breath?
  • How fast do you talk? What do others tell you or think about your pacing?
  • Do you connect on message with your audience and how do you know?
  • Is your voice rich and resonant or pitchy and distracting?
  • Is your gait comfortable and comforting?
  • Is your eye contact warm and expressive and appropriately consistent?
  • Do you convey strength, warmth, and a sense of mission?
  • Do you connect with others?
  • Do people see you as authentic?
  • Do you express ideas, strategies, and plans that others are eager to embrace?
  • Do you create enthusiasm and responsiveness in the people you interact with?
  • What would people say about you when you aren’t around?
  • What kind of a leader are you?
  • What’s the most definable characteristic the people attribute to you? What adjectives do they use to describe you?

Gravitas is this depth of personality conveyance and connection … this merging of you and others concretely and metaphorically, in a real, human sense and in a spiritual, caring “on the same page” sense … a coming together of mission, passion, and results. It’s a sense that you are human; that you have a sense of humor; that you can be counted on in the tough times to make the right decisions and stick around for the ride. You exude the qualities that allow others to willingly and eagerly follow you and collaborate with you without reservation. That’s the evasive and pervasive nature of gravitas. When someone has it, everyone knows, but they often don’t know what it is. When you don’t have it, no one can tell you how to get it. Gravitas is like that … it’s an overarching quality that makes or breaks a leader. That’s why it’s so important to assess and cultivate it.

What is Executive Presence? | Part 2: Communication

This topic has a lot of complexity to it, so I’ll mention a few areas. The key is to be honest with yourself about your communication. Most of us don’t really know what others think of us, so it’s important to let people weigh in and really listen … if Executive Presence is your goal.

  • Do I communicate in a way that others respond to? How do I know?
  • If someone doesn’t respond the way I like, what do I do about it?
  • Do you have trouble communicating your intentions or do people sometimes misunderstand what you are asking or telling them?
  • Do you set context when you speak or do people have to figure out how what you say connects to the “big picture”?
  • Do you tell people what to do or get them to do things another way? If another way, how do you do it?
  • How direct, indirect, or collaborative are you? If all 3, what percentage of the time do you use each? Are you equally skilled in all areas or do you have a go-to preference of style?
  • To what degree can you change your communication style to fit a situation?
  • How do you communicate when under pressure?
  • What’s most challenging for you when it comes to communication?
  • How well do people understand you when you speak the first time? Do you commonly have to repeat, rephrase, or explain yourself?
  • Do you find yourself arguing with people often? Do people often want to argue with you?
  • Do people get silent around you?
  • How many of your direct reports are comfortable confronting you with something they believe you may disagree about?
  • How would you explain/define your management style?
  • How would others explain/define your management style? Is it the same or different?
  • What are your blindspots?
  • What have you done to improve your communication skills?
  • What areas do you struggle most with?
  • How aware are you of communication in general?
  • How do you usually go about getting things done?
  • What process have you gone through in your professional career in terms of growth in communication?
  • Is there a gap between how you “show up” now and how you would like to “show up” in terms of presence?

Once you answer these questions, you will begin to see some insights and room for growth or you may understand more about your journey.

What is Executive Presence? | Part 1: Appearance

Most of us have a sense of what Executive Presence is, and there is certainly no lack of definitions on the net, but for purposes of trying to “wrap our brains around” what it is in order to acquire it (or contemplate whether or not we have it or how much we have), it seems like a good idea to develop a way to gauge it and see how we stack up!

Executive Presence has 3 components:

  • appearance
  • communication
  • gravitas

Appearance is obviously all about how we look, but it’s also in a larger sense how we “show up” … it’s not just wearing a suit and tie or a pearl necklace and high-heels. It’s more related to how professional people believe us to be. That’s the part that’s open to interpretation. Certainly how we dress has an effect on people’s perceptions of us, but we could have blind spots that impact our appearance being as strong as it could be.

For example, if you remember during the last two elections, Hilary Clinton changed her appearance a great deal. She always dressed professionally, but she changed it up a lot in both elections. Her hair style and clothing made her look more youthful, while still being age-appropriate. Her clothes were also big enough. Sometimes as we age, people keep on wearing the styles that worked for them when they were younger rather than embracing the new look of aging. Appearance (when it comes to presence) is about projecting the view of you that you want others to hold. If you want people to look up to you, you have to fit the perception of what people believe someone of respect looks like. Wearing clothing that is tight or out of style doesn’t serve you well. You might need someone to point that out.

Appearance is also the look on your face; how you move, motion, gesture. In a sense, it includes your non-verbal communication. Do you “appear” to be in a hurry or are you “focused?” Do you “appear” to be genuinely interested or acting the part? Do you “appear” to sincere or having an agenda? Your body language, dress, demeanor, and actions can speak volumes, and not always in her favor.

The thing about appearance is it doesn’t have to be true! You may look unprofessional yet be extremely professional in your actions. The problem is people may not give you the chance to demonstrate how professional you are. That expression “walk the walk .. talk the talk” has some relevance here. If you don’t look the part you are playing, you may be in an imposter. The goal is to send a consistent message. That’s the reason how you dress matters. And that’s the reason everything matters about your appearance.

Some things to think about:

  • Does your dress depend on your moods or do you dress consistently?
  • Do you frequently struggle to put an outfit together, or are you prepared to “suit up” whenever necessary with all the accessories?
  • Have you ever taken photos or gotten advice from others on how you look? If you did, did you change your look to address their concerns?
  • Does you hair style and jewelry match your look?
  • Do you always smell great and look clean and orderly?
  • Do you have any quirks that send a mixed message? (purple hair, tattoos, a long beard, crazy shoes, strange patterns)?
  • Do your clothes match?
  • Do you wear neutral colors and standard closures/buttons/clasps or do you wear bright colors, ornate fabrics/designs and complicated closures /buttons/clasps?
  • Do you look “well-kempt” or messy like you just crawled out of bed?
  • If you exercise, do you have a plan for how to “suit up” again afterwards w/o looking sweaty or ready for the gym?

It matters! We all have blindspots … what are yours? And are you willing to address them?

In my next posting, I’ll talk about the other 2 components!