Learn to “Act” like a Leader

Like it or not, “presence” is an important competency for any leader. You know it when you see it – a leader with presence exudes self-confidence, is self-assured, can be passionate about their beliefs, commands attention, communicates well, and makes people around them feel better and more self-assured.

Regardless of where you stand on the presidential candidates, it’s clear that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan had it, while Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter did not. Presidential presence or lack of is often exposed in the harsh glare of televised debates, and as Richard Nixon found out in the 1960 presidential elections, it can make or break a candidate.

One of the reasons Reagan had such a strong stage presence was that he was trained as an actor. Leading executive development programs have long been incorporating acting lessons into their programs and/or follow-up coaching.

Don’t get me wrong – leadership isn’t about being phony, or misrepresenting yourself. Authenticity is even more important, as people won’t follow someone they don’t believe. However, it’s a shame when a lack of stage presence gets in the way of a potential leader’s other strengths and ideas.

Given everyone may not want to take the time or spend the money to take acting lessons, here are five acting techniques you can begin to work on to improve your leadership presence:

1. Pay attention to your “entrance”. People form immediate and lasting impressions based on how you enter a room, your physical characteristics, and the first few words that come out of your mouth. Think about the impression you want to leave people with, and create a vision for your entrance. Will it leave the impression you want to create? Shaking hands (firmly) and introducing yourself to each person (with a smile) in the room is a great way to connect with people and create that instant, lasting impression.

2. Delivery of your “lines”. Pay attention to your verbals (volume, tone, speed, choice of words, articulation) as well as your non-verbals (gestures, posture, facial expressions, movements). Your delivery needs to support and align with your message, or people won’t hear what you have to say.

3. Know your lines. Smooth, articulate delivery won’t help if you don’t know your subject matter. You need to be confident, knowledgeable, and really know what you’re talking about, or you’ll lose credibility. Don’t ever let this happen to you!

4. Engage your audience. Actors know how to connect and relate to their audience. You feel like inviting them into your living room to have a beer or a cup of coffee. Engaging your audience means inviting them to participate, asking questions, listening, and making them feel good about their involvement.

5. Exit, stage left. Knowing how to leave is almost as importance as your entrance. Remembering people’s names, their questions or concerns, summarizing follow-up commitments, re-emphasizing your key messages, and your physical posture are all important components of a strong exit. You want to be seen riding off into the sunset, not slipping out of the room like you just committed a crime.

Are there any actors out there? What other stage skills could aspiring leaders add to their repertoire?