How to develop executive presence in meetings

This article will be of interest to anyone wishing to raise their profile in meetings and position themselves as a thought leader. I’ve focused on women in particular as speaking to C-Suite leaders, it’s clear to me that not raising their profile is holding them back in their career development. As Harvey Coleman neatly puts it; success is based 10% on your performance, 30% on image and 60% exposure. People need to know what you do and why it’s important – using your voice in meetings is a key way to achieve this.

In this article, I’ve focused on 3 specific areas women can focus on to increase their presence.

Using Muscular Language

One of the most important things you can do to be more impactful in meetings as a female leader, is to use muscular language. This means using active, authoritative, and precise language that shows you are taking ownership of your opinions.

Males and females are socialised from childhood in different ways – which means we end up speaking different languages. Girls are encouraged (and indeed rewarded) not to foist their ideas on others but instead look for cooperation. This leads to women speaking more indirectly and using phrases like “Maybe we can” or “How about.” Whilst women understand the intention behind this, to men this can land as being indecisive and lacking in confidence.

In meetings, (particularly those that are male dominated) consider instead using language such as “I strongly suggest” or “This is absolutely the right approach, and this is why.”

Importance of Pre-Meeting

Many female leaders are masters of efficiency, arriving just in time to meetings and are going back at their desks straight after to put out fires. Many times the “real discussions” and decisions take place outside of the meetings. By arriving early, you’ll get a sense of what the real agenda is and what direction the meeting is likely to take. This will help you prepare how you can best contribute. You’ll get a sense of who the power brokers are and who you need to influence to support for your ideas.

Be comfortable with confrontation

Again this goes back to the different communication styles between men and women. Challenging ideas and being comfortable with robust interchanges is expected at leadership level. As children, girls are socialised to “be nice”. They’re not encouraged to shout or challenge each other aggressively so can be less comfortable in this environment.

Remember in business, nothing is personal. As women you need to be comfortable with confrontation. This means being able to express your opinions forcefully, even if they’re unpopular. It also means being able to stand up for yourselves and your ideas, even if they’re challenged.


Developing executive presence in meetings is critical for raising your profile and positioning yourself as a thought leader. By focusing on using muscular language, understanding the importance of pre-meeting preparation, and being comfortable with confrontation, individuals, especially women, can enhance their presence and make a lasting impact in professional settings.

About the author

Laura McGrath is an Executive Coach with a background in executive search and career coaching. She has a post graduate qualification in Executive Coaching from the IMI and has been a guest lecturer with Trinity College Dublin and TU Dublin. For more information call 087 669 1192.

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