Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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?


clayton said...

Very interesting post, Dan. I think presence is very important for any high-visibility leadership role. I think the most impressive thing about the leaders I admire is that they are the same on stage as they are in their own home or in personal relationships. And they often don't believe their own hype. Here are two LeaderSkilz videos to check out. I'd love to hear your comments, Dan. Leader practices charisma and leader dying to be relevant.

Christopher Marshall said...

Great Read! I like the idea. These are all very important techniques in leadership. I know you mentioned it in the beginning but I believe the communication skills are very important. Good insight!


Susan said...

One really needs to look the part in order to be viewed as a leader. It doesn't really make you a credible leader if you're awkward and if you're just hanging back behind everyone else.

Heather Stubbs said...

Excellent article, Dan! Thank you! I'm a former singer/actress, now teaching presentation skills, and I'm delighted to see how exactly our messages agree. Everything you say about a leader's "presence" applies to anyone who speaks to a group. In that instance, the speaker is the leader of that group, and needs to have the stage presence - the charisma - that creates the right first impression and maintains it.

Something I had to learn in my transition from acting to public speaking is making eye contact with the audience. In a stage production, you never, ever make eye contact with members of the audience (unless it's part of the show) because it breaks the illusion. It's called "dropping out of character". But when you're speaking directly to people (one or many) you absolutely MUST make eye contact with them, or they won't feel invited into your space. It's that feeling of being welcomed that makes such a difference in an audience member's willingness to listen.

Thanks for such a high-quality article. - Heather Stubbs

acting coaches in nyc said...

One really needs to look the part in order to be viewed as a leader. It doesn't really make you a credible leader if you're awkward and if you're just hanging back behind everyone else.

Marcy Krumbine said...

I taught acting to homeschooled students for many years and also public speaking techniques. I like the analogy between acting skills and leaderships skills. I would definitely add eye contact. Another key point would be the interaction between actors - cues, blocking and learning not to upstage another actor. A leader can't lead without others following and an actor usually does not perform alone. Working with others is an integral part of a successful leader and actor.

Capt Ron Curtis said...

Command presence is a necessity for any leader. We know on first impression if this is someone we want to follow because they are confident and they have that appearance that evokes thought. I have seen many of the candidates who want to be our next president and I think that many are accepting of Perry, Cain and Romney because they exude command persence while guys like Ron Paul simply do not.

MicroSourcing said...

Good public speaking skills are the mark of a charismatic leader. While some leaders are just as good with working behind the scenes, iconic figures have the ability to command an audience.

Dan McCarthy said...

Clayton –

Christopher –
Thanks, and yes, high impact communication skills are critical.

Susan –
How true, having “the look” does matter when it comes to leadership.

Heather –
Thanks, I was hoping to hear from someone from arts/drama. Interesting distinction regardsing eye contact.

Acting coaches –
Hmmm, that’s exactly what Susan said. (-:

Marcy –
Thanks, I really like the team connection. You’ve got to have that chemistry, right?

Capt Ron –
Thanks, right, command skills are closely related to presence.

Microsourcing –
Thanks, agree!

Duncan Brodie said...

Great piece. They do say that first impressions do really count.

I guess that one of the challenges for all leaders is about building trust and being well regarded by others can make a huge difference.

Duncan Brodie
Goals and Achievements

Dan McCarthy said...

Duncan -