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Leadership Presence in Action: An Amazing Story of Audience Connection

Categories: Leadership Presence

When I think of leadership presence, I always remember Joanne, a managing director at a large private bank. Here’s her story …

It was the summer of 2010. This client company bank brought in 15 top Ivy League college graduates that they’d carefully recruited for an intensive six-week training/onboarding program.

I was booked to deliver a presentation skills training session about five and a half weeks into this program. I was scheduled to first join the 15 participants for dinner, so I got there early and sat down in their windowless training room. The first thing I noticed was that there was NO energy in the room. None. People looked exhausted, dazed, confused, and the guy next to me whispered, “There’s only 45 minutes left till dinner. Try to brace yourself.”

To say I was a bit worried about how my training program would be received would be an understatement.

Then, the program leader said, “I know we said dinner is at 5:30, but Joanne, our rock star managing director, can speak to us today, so we’re pushing it back an hour.”

Her statement and enthusiasm did not translate to anyone else in the group. It was clear on their faces: “Oh my God, not another hour of this.”
I knew that Joanne had a real challenge on her hands.

Joanne walked in with total poise and confidence. She looked the part of their particular “tribe” -- conservative but stylish, in a dark (and definitely expensive) suit.

Joanne greeted each of the 15 new graduates by name, using direct eye contact (she was part of the panel interviews where they were initially selected, so she had met them before). She clearly had either remembered things about each person or had reviewed their records before arriving.

“Tom, how was graduation from Berkeley? This is a big move from California isn’t it; have you found an apartment yet?”

Joanne took five or six minutes to shake hands and connect with every person in the program. Next, she blanked out the slides and said, “I’m going to tell you a story.”

And she had them, right there. Everyone was riveted and ready for her next words. She converted these 15 bored and “lost” participants into an engaged group of energetic attendees.

More importantly, Joanne’s clear leadership presence helped change their perceptions of the company that they decided to join. During dinner that night, I listened to the group’s reactions:

“I’d been wondering if this was the right job for me, but now I texted my mom and told her I think it is.”

“I feel different since Joanne spoke. I feel excited about what they are doing; I loved what Joanne said about the company’s mission.”

“I feel much more welcome. She changed my mind.”

In all of my years of training and coaching, I’ve never seen anyone change that kind of dead energy in such a short amount of time.

Talk about an outstanding example of leadership presence!

Leadership presence is the whole package. It’s about connecting with people, being prepared, being able to “take the temperature of an audience” and react with real emotional intelligence to give them what they need.

Here are four things that Joanne did right that you might want to remember the next time you want to connect with an audience and get them to take action -- buy in to your idea, concept or even sale:

She thought ahead, and was strategic. When Joanne walked into the room, she connected gracefully and graciously, welcoming each person with something relevant to their world.
She was prepared to share a story and also to hear theirs, so her presentation wasn’t rote or dry. Stories are fundamental to human communication. They’re an amazing aid to message retention and inspire action.
She seemed invested in the trainees’ potential, effectively conveying that the firm was excited to have them on board.
She looked the part. Your industry might be less formal than a bank, but you still must seem like a credible messenger. As discussed in last week’s blog, a critical component of your package relates to visual cues (proper wardrobe, grooming and body language).

We want to hear your stories (anonymously or not). By sharing your story, you can help others. We will also offer our “two cents” on best practices. Post a comment on the blog, or e-mail us with “story” in the subject line: info@brodypro.com.

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