“Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” — Thomas Jefferson
Whether you’re at a networking event, or about to chair a board meeting with a slightly hostile majority, fear is your enemy if your goal is to command the room. Instead, do as Thomas Jefferson suggests: act as if all the world was watching. What would you want them to see?
True leaders make their presence felt without uttering a syllable. Instead, their gravitas is almost innate and no, it doesn’t come from their title. So how do you do it?
Be on time
Nothing makes a worse impression than the person who stumbles into a meeting or presentation late, disrupting the whole event. If you’re standing around making excuses for being late, you’re not coming from a position of strength. When you want to command a room, that’s not a great start. Instead, make a positive, strong entrance.
Perception is reality: if you walk in looking defeated, uninterested, bored or anything other than purposeful, that is how people will perceive you. Do not walk in with your head down, shoulders bowed, shuffling your feet. Body language says a lot to others, so stride into the room with purpose! How you carry yourself tells others whether you’re commanding or just being. Even if you don’t know where you’re going to sit just yet, you need to walk in like you own the place.
Say hello, shake a few hands, and look people in the eye! It’s all about charisma: looking like you belong even if that’s not exactly how you’re feeling in the moment. Whatever your misgivings are, you need to show others that you’re engaged by acknowledging them. Eye contact is a strong body language element that gives the other person a strong sense of your confidence. If you look anywhere but at the person you are speaking to, you look like you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you have no presence.
Sit up straight
Slouching is for teenagers! You need to sit tall and straight in your seat if you want to look commanding, even while seated. The point is to give the appearance of strength. Women are in particular prone to minimizing their presence: shoulders hunched, ankles crossed, almost hiding.
Where you sit matters too. If seating isn’t assigned, take these tips on board:
- Tables: sit at the table, not in a background chair. If there is a seat for whoever is in charge, sit near but not next to them. In doing so, you’re giving yourself access to them and still leaving yourself open to connecting with others around the table.
- Rows: don’t sit in the front row, but choose a chair near the front. Usually, a front row is reserved for speakers or honored guests, so you want to be near them and able to interact with them if the opportunity presents itself, without necessarily being among them. The point is to be able to engage with those around you and ensure that they see you as much as you see them. Setting yourself apart, as would be the case with the front row, creates an invisible barrier to that connection.
Keep to your intro
If you’re introducing yourself to others, use your practiced and polished intro speech. No extra details: just the meat. This isn’t a pitch, so make it short, sweet and memorable.
Project your voice
When speaking, unless it is a private conversation, make sure that you project your voice. Not to be obnoxious but to appear authoritative. So many people get quieter, or worse, mumble when in a group situation, but if you want to be seen as commanding the room, you have to take it! No one is going to hand it to you.
If you are speaking to a group, make sure to gesture with your arms, above the hip. Keeping your arms away from your body gives a sense of openness and strength while you speak. Keeping them unmoving at your sides, almost like a robot, gives the impression of fear or weakness.
Influence by being concise
People who have an opportunity to speak, whether at a meeting or a larger gathering, but then drag on about a variety of topics instead of staying on point are rarely people of influence. If anything, they develop a reputation for being unable to get to the point, and people start to ignore what they’re saying even before they’ve begun speaking. Don’t be that person!
Know when to remain silent too: “Well-timed silence is the most commanding expression.” ~Mark Helprin
If you’re not yet in a leading position in your organization, being able to command a room will get you noticed by those who can affect your role. It’s a skill that you need to practice to perfect.
So next time you find yourself in a meeting or getting ready for a presentation, remember these tips and remember that a great leader can lead a room without saying a word.
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