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. 


My Personal Motto: Act As If

My Personal Motto: Act As If

Act As If - woman climbing stairs
Years ago, while conducting research to start my business, I read the book, Birthing the Elephant by Karin Abarbanel and Bruce Freeman. In it, I came across a phrase that became a motto to me – “Act as if.”

Presented in the context of becoming an entrepreneur, Act As If conveys the concept of viewing yourself as this new brand and self image and aligning your actions and how you communicate and express yourself.

“Actions change attitudes, motions change emotions, and movements change moods. You might not be able to change your thoughts and your feelings, but you can change your actions. Your actions can change your feelings; your actions can change your thoughts. You can act differently than you feel.”

The day that I read those words, in October 2010, is the day I began my business. For several months prior, I had conducted research around launching a new venture, secured necessary resources, and written a business plan. On paper, it looked great, and when I read the words “act as if,” I thought “what am I waiting for?” I needed reminding…I’m more ready than I think I am. It’s interesting when you’re starting something from scratch. There’s a moment when you literally must flip the switch. So I did.

Act As If hit home for me. I took on the mantle of entrepreneur and business owner – I walked as if, ate as if, slept as if…I went about my day as if this is completely who I am, even though early on there were many days where it felt more like a story than reality. I lived this new brand as if everything in my life up to this moment had prepared me for this.

Now, 10 years later, through evolving iterations of my work, Act As If continues to be my motto, encouraging me to show up as both who I am and who I aspire to be. It helps move me to action when my doubt creeps in telling me I have to wait for the perfect plan before taking the first step. After all, our thoughts and actions create our reality. We manifest what we most desire and focus on.


Jeanie Duncan, Transformation partnerHi, 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, and coach, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Courage to Leap From Fear to Freedom

Courage to Leap From Fear to Freedom


Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway" – John Wayne

This quote has always been a favorite of mine. And it’s taking on new meaning after going skydiving with a girlfriend and our sons. It was an exhilarating experience with many rich take-a-ways.

Skydiving is something I’ve always been terrified of, but really wanted to do. When I stop to think about it, it’s not often words like ‘terror’ and ‘desire’ go together in the same sentence.

I believe most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be that afraid of something and still do it. I had this unbridled anticipation that if I could just do it, it would be one of the most amazing experiences ever – soaring, floating, free.

It was all of that. And more.

For a long time, my fear paralyzed this dream. Eventually, I grew tired of hearing my own whining voice (as did my friends), continually expressing my longing to do it and talking myself out of it with endless excuses. I decided – ENOUGH! It’s time to accept my fear and move directly into it.

Having now taken the leap, I realize the powerful metaphor that skydiving is for both fear and freedom. As for fear, there are many things that I’m afraid of. Yet, when I face the fear head-on, it often vanishes…or at least shrinks. And there in its place is a surprising gift – freedom.

This plays out for me in work situations like public speaking and dealing with a challenging client situation, or on the personal side such as sailing in intense conditions with high winds or heavy weather, or mountain biking a technically difficult trail.

This experience is a reminder to examine the task and its importance, purpose, and impact, while weighing the risks and rewards.

A little part of me even believes that acting on this insane courage unlocks some deep, hidden ‘magic power.’ That now – from out of nowhere! – I will leap tall buildings and blast fire from my fingertips…or at least the mortal equivalent of having greater confidence and faith that I ‘can do it’ and it will all work out.

Lastly, I’m left thinking of everything I would have missed had I stopped short of jumping. Bold moves launch us out of our comfort zone and open us up. You can’t help but expand when free falling 120 mph at 12,000 feet! I’ll never see things quite the same again.

Lessons in courage from skydiving:

  • Embrace fear and take action anyway. I don’t think it’s about overcoming the fear or that it goes away.
  • With any given situation, explore the worst-case scenario, gauge your comfort level, tap into your resources, and work backward to develop a plan from there.
  • Take action that helps make you more comfortable. In this case of skydiving, I consulted with others who had done it and sought their advice, researched (exceptionally) reputable skydiving companies to ensure they have (highly) trained professionals and excellent equipment. Risk mitigation!
  • Do things often that take your breath away.
  • Get out of your comfort zone…sometimes far, far outside. This is where real learning and living takes place. Life is more fun and interesting if it is a series of amazing adventures.
  • Be fully present in life – the skydiving free-fall lasts only 60 seconds, and the entire experience is over in 7 minutes. The impact; however, lasts a lifetime.
  • Surround yourself with spicy friends who’ll call you out on living small.


about---leadershipAbout Jeanie Duncan: 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, 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.