Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Remember the days when we could physically gather for meetings, programs, and events at work? I find myself longing for it as we’re about to “lap ourselves,” approaching month #11 in the COVID era.

Today, most of us are spending half or more of our time in a virtual space with clients, team members, and other colleagues. In this reality, communicating our unique leadership brand and presence requires us to be mindful of a whole new range of factors, to get creative, and tap into new and different resources in order to effectively and compellingly convey who we are… where often our “stage” isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp.

Back when we could gather in-person, we had a more accessible and dynamic environment and range in which to present our unique “essence.” It was just easier. By merely walking into a room, you could command attention and convey presence.

It all starts with knowing your personal leadership brand.

We’re not used to thinking of ourselves as a “brand.” Thoughts of brand more often conjure up images of our favorite coffee or shoes, the car we drive or the makeup we wear (remember makeup? :0 ). But even if you’ve never thought about your own personal brand, you have one. You’re “presenting it” everywhere you go…yes, even if you’re only walking from your kitchen down the hall to your office. So, why not take a more mindful approach and really be in charge of this brand! It’s just as important in the virtual environment as it is in-person and it requires knowing what works in that setting and making it work for you.

Start defining your brand by considering these questions:

  • What do I bring to the table? Think about your skills, talents, expertise, experiences.
  • What is uniquely me? What sets you apart? There’s no one else on the entire planet quite like you! What do people get with you that they don’t get with anyone else?
  • What is my brand promise? Think about what you deliver.
  • What do I stand for? Consider your core values and what matters most to you.
  • How do I want to be described? When you “leave the room,” what would others to say about you? What adjectives would they use to describe you?

Next, give thought to how you deliver your brand.

I think of delivering your brand as your presence, or executive presence – the “how” of presenting yourself. How can you present your brand most effectively to:

show up in the most impactful way,

accomplish your goals,

convey your key messages, and

achieve your aspirations?

In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett offers, “No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without the combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal.”

In essence, Hewlett is saying you get there because you’re being purposeful and intentional about who you are and how you show up.

She lays out the key components of what comprise executive presence: gravitas, communication, and appearance. These elements help you take what’s uniquely YOU and unleash it in the world.


In short, gravitas is the ability to exude integrity, and confidence under the most pressing circumstances. It’s a combination of qualities that conveys you’re in charge or deserve to be.


As it relates to presence, effective communication is as much, if not more, about the “how” you communicate than the “what” you communicate.

Research shows that people pay the most attention to our nonverbal messages. In fact, up to 93% of your message is derived from how you say it.* 93%! This statistic drives home the need to pay attention to these elements of our messaging and utilize our nonverbal communication strategically for the greatest impact and connection.

“Strong communication skills are an accurate representation of whether you qualify as a leader or not,” says Hewlett. “You have a five-second shot to first engage with your audience after you meet them.” Make it count!

  • Pay attention to your body language and posture
  • Be human; let them see you
  • Read the people in the room and adjust your way/style as needed
  • Share insights through stories rather than abstract ideas.
  • Focus on the technical aspects of your speech, things like reducing filler words and controlling the pitch and volume


Lastly, Hewlett offers that your outward presence (clothing, accessories, hair, expression, etc.) shouldn’t distract people from your professional competence, but instead should emphasize it. “If it’s not adequate, you won’t hold their attention. It says, ‘I’m capable of and in control of presenting myself and, therefore, responsible to handle whatever else I am entrusted to do.’”

Hewlett highlights elements of appearance that include:

  • Being polished and groomed
  • Physical demeanor
  • Attire that positions you for your day…or your next job

Putting it together – Your brand and presence in the virtual realm

Specifically for the virtual realm, consider these tips to help you engage and successfully present yourself:

  • Position your camera where it’s at eye level and look directly at the video camera – not the people – to hold eye contact with your audience. It’s okay to look at the other faces in your video conference but do so only occasionally if you’re the one talking or presenting. Avoid camera angles that have you looking up or down in order to engage with your audience.
  • Pay attention to what your camera captures beyond you. Consider a virtual meeting practice with a friend to get feedback on what your audio and visual is communicating. Rid your physical environment of clutter, ensuring that it’s neat, tidy, and free of distractions as much as possible. Avoid camera angles that show half your ceiling and that distracting light or ceiling fan! You want your audience focused on you, be sure that your face – and other elements you want to communicate – is what fills your virtual tile.
  • Make your nonverbal communication work in your favor – practice good posture, avoid crossing your arms, and keep gestures to a minimum, utilizing for effect and impact to amplify your message, otherwise they can convey nervousness and anxiety.
  • Maintain a steady and assured voice. Have you heard of “up talk?” This is when the voice rises at the end of a sentence…as if asking a question. A string of up talk sentences kills credibility. As your talking, speak with confidence, with the arc of your voice starting at one note, rising in pitch through the sentence, and dropping back down at the end.
  • Convey a balance of confidence, competence, and authority with ease, warmth, and empathy. By nature, the virtual environment prevents us from connecting as much as we could if we were in person. It requires us to be mindful and get creative to build connection – it’s possible, it just requires more work. A few simple practices that make a big difference include: smiling, leaning in as someone speaks, nodding in agreement, using humor, staying relaxed, and asking questions of your audience that engenders ease and helps you build rapport and find common ground.


* Mehrabian, A. (1972) Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Illinois: Chicago



Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 


2021 Intention Setting

2021 Intention Setting

For my 2021 intention setting, I’ve picked this Amelia Earhart quote and two words as my guideposts: Immerse + Commit.

I love variety – a lot of things, options, choices. If I were to describe my life as a buffet line, when I reach the end, my plate would be piled high and about to break under the mountain of food – everything looked so good, so I took just a little bit…and then the little became a LOT.

This lived experience can have me setting too many goals, taking on too many clients and projects, and casting a net too wide because it all looks so delicious!

My “way,” while exciting and filled with variety, often keeps me from having the rich depth of experience I want to have. It also prevents me from truly committing to something and finishing or mastering it, because of the sheer heap of assortment.

So, for 2021 I’m immersing in and committing to a small “salad plate” of:

  • Writing
  • Coaching
  • Work in equity, inclusion and diversity
  • My overall health and wellness

And my shero, Amelia, with her “the most effective way to do it, is to do it” will guide me through!

2021 Planning Guide

Here are a few prompts that support my clients with intention and priority setting. I hope you find them helpful to do your own 2021 reflection.

  1. Identify up to 3 items that you want as your MAIN areas of focus for the year. For each area, provide a simple heading (written in first person) that states what you want to have achieved by December 31. Underneath each, note one or more measurable outcomes you will see/experience as a result.
  2. For these areas of focus, what do you anticipate that might hold you back or get in your way? Listing these can help you be prepared for potential barriers and to prevent them before they arise.
  3. What theme (or themes) encapsulates the above areas of focus?
  4. Of the theme(s) you’ve listed, what word or two best captures the essence?
  5. Identify a quote that can serve as a “headline” or “billboard” for you, related to your key words. (Searching quotes based on your key words or themes is helpful.)

It’s a good idea to post your results to this “worksheet’ in a place where you’ll see it every day. I have mine on my office wall and placed as a “bookmark” in my daily writing journal. Cheers!

Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

6 Steps to Sharpen Your Focus and Launch Forward

6 Steps to Sharpen Your Focus and Launch Forward

I’m struggling with my ability to focus today. As in – ‘there are so many priorities, and they all seem like they’re #1.’ Ever experience this challenge?

targetWhen I find myself in this place, the best thing I can do is sort the priorities. If they’re all #1, I find a way to divide them 1A, 1B, 1C. Even when I think they’re the same level of priority and urgency, this helps me differentiate to some degree. This way, I take the 20-headed beast down to 5 heads, focusing now on the top 5 things I must accomplish – in an hour, a day, or a week. Yes, the other 15 things are important too, but they’ll have to take 2nd place for now. Because if there are 20 priorities at once, I know what will happen – I become paralyzed and do nothing, or I fall into a spin and do a little bit with all the items and  get little accomplished. In the most busy and pressing times, I do this exercise each day or even twice a day.

This place of ‘everything is a priority’ leads us into the trap of pressing harder, faster, and with greater intensity to try and accomplish everything or achieve a particular unrealistic goal or deadline.

I somehow trick myself into thinking that working harder and doing more is what’s needed to get the job done. Intellectually, I can rationalize the truth in this. But, at a deeper level, I realize that intense effort and pace often depletes my energy, can adversely impact my output, and removes the joy from my work.

To help combat this tendency, I have adopted some practices I find beneficial and that have helped me most:

  1. Spend the first hour of the day setting priorities and getting organized. It’s easy to launch into the day reacting to the urgent – the rain of emails, interruptions from co-workers, and the barrage of phone calls – rather than advancing the important. I like to get an early start to the day and establish priorities. I begin with the question: “What are the three most important things I need to accomplish today to advance my key goals?” Everything else is a “nice to have.” These three daily priorities all roll up to support my weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals.
  2. Focus on the important tasks first. Once I frame my day in the first hour, I immediately set out to accomplish the top three priorities before distractions have a chance to pull me away. If I can’t take care of them all, I’ll make an appointment on my calendar to return to it later in the day.
  3. Single-Task. When I’m doing too much, I’m constantly switching from one task to another, experiencing multiple interruptions and distractions. Despite our culture’s demand to multi-task, resist the temptation, clear away distractions, and give attention to the single matter that is most important.
  4. Eliminate non-essential commitments. Examine your day or week and ask yourself: “What can I eliminate or delegate? Is that task, meeting, or luncheon something that I absolutely must do? How does it advance my strategic goals?” I try and say no to any request that distracts me from focusing on what’s most important. I think of it as focusing on my highest and best use.
  5. Step away and take a break. We all have those occasions when work calls for added effort. But more often than not, simply stepping away and taking a break – like going for a run or having lunch in a park – can infuse new energy, bring fresh perspective and new ideas, and actually enhance productivity.
  6. Ask key questions. Another tactic I find helpful is pausing to ask a few critical questions to help me determine priorities or my approach as I begin a particular project or task. It’s an important skill for anyone focused on improving performance, and it can help filter through all the distractions and get to the one thing that will deliver the result. For example:
  • How important is this?
  • What do I want?
  • Why?
  • How will I know when I achieve it?
  • What can I do to achieve that outcome?
  • What can I learn from others who have gone before me?
  • What do I bring from prior experiences that can help inform my present situation?

Challenge yourself this week to do less, focus on what’s most important and will deliver the greatest impact, and discover deeper meaning and success in your work. Notice what happens!

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” ~ John Wooden 

Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa PC (formerly TransitionGuides), a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

photo credit: modenadude via photopin cc

Visioning – create and take action

Visioning – create and take action

sunset pierSome consider visioning to be a fluff exercise rather than an effective personal or business development strategy. After all – in both our personal and business lives – we spend the majority of our time working ‘in it,’ rather than ‘on it.’ However, dedicating time to thinking about the future can be a critical investment that reaps big rewards. How do I know that? I have proven it for myself and for my clients. In fact, I have found that visioning is 100% smart business practice, helping organizations and individuals within them chart the course, set goals, and measure progress – all of which directly impact the bottom line.

Two years ago, I gave myself a gift: a 12-month sabbatical. I had recently left a top leadership post as an arts administrator, knowing that I had completed what I set out to do for the organization. But I didn’t quite know what would come next. I needed a little “white space” between completing a very consuming role and beginning my next venture – a little time off to choose activities that helped me think, discover, and refill my creative well.

One day while reading The Law of Attraction by Esther and Jerry Hicks, I came across a visioning exercise called the “creative workshop.” The concept is to spend about 20 minutes each day giving thought to what you want with great clarity, describing and refining a fulfilling picture of yourself – and the life you want to live.  (The idea, of course, is that you attract and create that on which you focus.)

Ultimately, that exercise led me to create a two-year vision of the most full, enriching, and satisfying life I could imagine. I then laid out specific actions I’d take to guide me toward my longer-term vision. After all, what good is a vision without a plan to get there?

What I thought initially was a simple (fluffy) exercise ended up having a profound effect (who knew?). It was as if I had sprinkled fairy dust or Miracle Gro® on my life. Each day, I’d re-read and think about my vision and action plan. The phone started to ring, emails arrived, and certain people would simply appear in my day – everywhere from the gas station to the ball field.  As if I were a magnet, resources steadily came to me, each of which had a part to play in helping me fulfill my vision.

That was two years ago.  Recently, I decided to repeat this “workshop” again for myself, and I am having a similar experience – only this time, my vision seems to have expanded. And once again, I can sense the amazing personal growth beginning to happen.

“We should change our perspective from ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ to ‘I’ll see it when I believe it.'”

– Chuck Duncan

As individuals, we give so much thought and energy to our work, our co-workers, and to our family and friends that we often forget to invest in ourselves.  I observed a sign on a colleague’s desk recently that read, “Me First.” While at first this might seem amusing or even appear egocentric, all of us have to remember that if we don’t first focus on ourselves, we have less to give others.

The same thing happens with organizations:  visioning is often put off or lost altogether, with a team’s time and effort immersed in the day-to-day details and priorities. Yet such future-thinking exercises don’t have to be daunting undertakings; they can be incorporated into regular staff or board meetings or be integrated into a periodic planning process. I’ve used a version of this visioning exercise with clients in strategy development, sustainability planning, leadership transitions, and coaching. What I’ve found is that individuals and businesses who roll up their sleeves and take action to do it get great results and rewards.

Visioning, when accompanied by smart planning and consistent focus, can yield true transformation for you and for the organizations you work to improve.  Getting started is easier than you think!

  • Set aside some uninterrupted time. I suggest an hour, but a few sessions at 20 minutes each also can be effective.
  • Pick a point in the future – it can be weeks, months, or years.
  • Imagine a life (or business) that is vibrant and fulfilling beyond your greatest expectations.
  • Give yourself permission without boundaries to dream and create.
  • Describe what you’re imagining in specific, vivid detail.

It may not come easily at first, but with a little time spent – perhaps over a few days/sessions – clarity and details are likely to take shape.

Once the intention is set, give attention to your new vision and plan – and enjoy what begins to manifest itself.

“You get what you think about, whether you want it or not.”

– Jerry Hicks


photo credit: Ross Manges Photography via photopin cc