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What Is Outer Presence?

Managing Your Reputation

How you make people feel

Step through the front doors of any corporate headquarters, anywhere around the globe, and you'll hear the term executive presence being bandied about. Everybody wants it—but nobody seems to know exactly what it means.

Most people associate executive presence with external appearance—that is, what you look like. Presence is conveyed by the dark-colored suits that exude authority for men or the fashionable yet classic clothing that projects success in women. After spending more than a decade as an executive coach—and, before that, two decades in television, a medium where colleagues and viewers alike ruthlessly judge appearances—I've certainly learned that the way we look does matter. But ultimately I believe that people have this executive presence thing backwards. I've arrived at a completely different definition of outer presence:

Your outer presence is how you make people feel.

In nearly every encounter, every day—from when you get your morning coffee to whom you encounter on your commute home—people make snap judgments about you based on how you make them feel. Long before they judge the merit of your ideas, they prejudge you based on how you come across. And one of the ways they decide whether you're the real deal is to determine whether you're being “authentic.” Here we go again, encountering yet another ...

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