February 17, 2021

Is Powerful Executive Presence Now a “Virtual” Requirement?

Many of us are grappling with our own love-hate relationship with our video cameras.  Pre-Covid, who considered the impact of our backgrounds, lighting or demeanor or whether our whole set-up might become the subject of critique online? However, times have changed and leveraging a powerful and inviting on-camera presence will impact on how others see and respect you.

Today, your virtual presence brings additional challenges because you are entering into a psychological doorway where others are just seeing a snapshot of who you are. Your clothing, body language, micro-expressions and vocal projection communicate a message as to your level of confidence and professionalism. But how people judge your approachability quotient is the icing on the cake which in this virtual world will impact on building instant rapport as well as influence.

So, even though you’re working from home, you want to treat every meeting as if you were in the same room as your stakeholders. You must have continuity between what you say, how you say it and how you look if you wish to be credible.


  1. Are you delivering a positive first impression?
  2. Are you projecting a warm and approachable demeanor?
  3. Are you investing time to create an engaging ambience for your meetings?
  4. Are you creating a consistent and positive experience for your stakeholders?
  5. Are you comfortable initiating small talk with introverts and extroverts?
  6. Are you showing up with an optimistic attitude?
  7. Are you seeking regular feedback to validate the above questions?

As an expert in Executive Presence for over 20 years, I will validate that impressions matter and are typically formed as quickly as it takes to blink. There is truth that you never have a second change to make a first impression.  When I first began delivering virtual workshops in 2010, I remember receiving feedback that described me as “ice queen” and “Count Dracula’s Bride”.  As I researched this disturbing feedback, I was told that my closed body language and stern demeanor contributed to this feedback.

This post is designed to set you up for success by sharing winning strategies for projecting an impressive screen presence with authenticity. And…to avoid making my mistakes!

Strategy One:  Choose An Optimistic Mindset

What you’re thinking about is often transmitted to your face in the form of micro-expressions. Don’t make people wonder who’s showing up depending on your moods or how many Zoom meetings you’ve attended that day. Be intentional.  Choose optimism, which is a mindset that enables you to view the world, other people and events in the most favorable, positive light possible. Optimism does not mean that each day is filled with laughter. Nor does it imply that you should be wearing rose-colored glasses. It’s about adopting a winning mindset that opens the door for a better tomorrow.


  • Acknowledge negative events without blame.
  • View tough situations as temporary.
  • Challenge yourself to consciously choose another way of looking at things.
  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude which trains your brain to see the positive. Create a daily ritual every day by sharing three things you are grateful for with someone special.
  • Focus on your successes, which will guide you to face future roadblocks.

Strategy Two:  Demonstrate Warmth

Experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov discovered that “all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions”.  Orchestrating a positive first impression will depend on your “interpersonal warmth”. A Zenger Folkman study of 55,000 managers found that a leader’s overall effectiveness is determined more by warmth than competence.  Regardless of your title, be aware of how others perceive your warmth and then manage that perception consistently.


  • Imagine that you are hosting a party. Think about how engaging you are when you take responsibility for welcoming your guests.  Virtual meetings provide you with a similar opportunity to practice your hosting skills.  You will naturally be engaging and charming with the other attendees.
  • Prepare open-ended questions to encourage conversation. The sooner you initiate a discussion, the better your chances for engagement during the meeting.
  • Whether you are a host or guest, invest a few minutes to build goodwill. Make others feel important by asking thought-provoking questions. The following are always well received and set the stage for positivity.
  1. What do you feel grateful for?
  2. What do you most appreciate?
  3. What changes have you adapted to that makes you feel proud?
  • Establish commonality. Find opportunities to demonstrate that you have shared interests with your stakeholders.  We trust people most like us and this builds team spirit.

Strategy Three: Project a Relaxed Smile

Your facial expressions have a huge impact on your ability to connect with and influence other people. They are social tools based on current social interactions and are outward expressions of your internal emotional makeup.

The importance of your expressions is amplified because we’re limited in how much we can see. Consequently, your stakeholders will be scrutinizing your expressions to assess if you are likeable, competent, confident, excited, etc. Your smile is a universal communication tool that brings people together.


  • Perfect an inviting smile as it has a positive impact on others’ moods.
  • Take a screen shot of yourself to critique if you look genuine.
  • As soon as your camera is on, imagine that you are inviting guests into your home. Begin with a wave, which is now referred to as the virtual handshake.
  • Don’t just smile with your lips but also with your eyes.
  • If your smile is not reflective of your content, it will appear disingenuous. When you say that you are ‘excited’ to be in the meeting, your facial expressions and vocal inflection must coincide with your words.

Strategy Four: Seek Feedback

According to research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, seeking and responding to feedback enhances likeability.  This contributes to a deeper understanding of the impact you have on others.  Being proactive vs reactive will help you to prevent unnecessary barriers to relationship building.


  • Seek out those you trust and who are comfortable speaking from the heart.
  • A great way to solicit feedback is to start off like this: “It’s important for me to project a likeable and approachable persona on virtual calls. Given that I trust and respect your insights, have you any suggestions that would help me to improve how I am projecting myself?”
  • Peel the onion if the feedback is too generic. Ask deeper questions like: “When did you first notice that in me?” or “Can you provide some examples of what that behavior might look like” or “Have other people made comments to you?”
  • Conduct reality checks every six months to ensure you are projecting yourself in the best light possible.

Prepare yourself for success by investing in your most valuable commodity – your personal virtual brand. If not, you will allow others to define you!

Please reach out if you have suggestions for other topics relating to Executive Presence.  I’d love to continue making a difference to you.


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