Virtual Presence: 9 Ways To Show Up Powerfully and Effectively on the Phone

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The secret to more effective presence on the phone is to show up in essentially the same ways that work in person. You want to send signals that you are both highly competent and approachable, and combine those qualities with in-the-zone energy.  Practice the key Energy, Voice, and Speaking Style behaviors below and you’ll come across with executive presence, that quality that automatically grants you attention and respect.
  1. Start strong, don’t hesitate. Speak in a louder than average volume.  A conference call, for example, is not the time to come across as low key.  Not only does it make you difficult to hear, it conveys an I-don’t-have-power presence. On a scale of 1 to 10, you need to be at least at a 7.
  2. Be succinct. Shorten your content, use short phrases with short pauses in between.  Give it a staccato feel.   You’ll sound commanding rather than rambling. You’ll convey that your content has energy and it’s moving. You’ll sound like you’re under control and don’t have “verbal diarrhea.” (I’ve never used the word diarrhea in a blog post before – there’s always a first time!)
  3. Upbeat Energy.  On a 1 to 10 scale, you want to be at a 7 or 8.  More than that and you’ll come across as over the top or a little crazed. Less than that and others will unconsciously perceive you as as having no power.
  4. Use people’s names, particularly at the beginning of the call.
  5. Positive, friendly, informal tone.  This is especially important when you start the call. A formal tone conveys that you are the good soldier following orders, rather than a commanding officer who can call the shots. And, a friendly tone tempers the increased volume so you don’t come across as yelling. It says you’ve got it handled – as in “It’s all good on my side.”
  6. Downward inflection. You have to, HAVE TO, drop your tone at the end of phrases and sentences .  Nothing says “inconsequential” so much as “upspeak.”
  7. Speak in a lower pitch, at a slower pace – Use the lowest pitch of your voice. You don’t have to sound like Dart Vader, but you’ll sound more authoritative when the listener hears the lower tones of your own natural voice. A slower pace not only reinforces that what you say is important, i t also helps people understand you,and is particularly helpful if you have an accent, or when you are one of the disembodied voices in a conference call.
  8. Use light asides. A sense of humor says you’re in a good mood, relaxes everyone, and puts them at ease.
  9. Speak with a soft smile.  Others can hear a smile in your voice.
Practice these behaviors before you’re in a high stakes or high stress call.  Practice in low-risk situations — when you’re ordering coffee, interacting with a friend, or even at your dining room table. Pick one behavior at a time and practice it a few minutes a day until it becomes second nature.   Happy practicing, we’d love to know how these behaviors work for you on your next conference call!



About Pat Kirkland Leadership:
We deliver transformational, executive presence coaching for managers to VPs in a small, company-sponsored group setting that produces remarkable results in a matter of days.

What It’s Like To Be Coached By Pat Kirkland (Participant Guest Blogger)

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I signed up for a Leadership Presence Foundation class because it was offered and because I’ve had a nagging feeling for some time that I could become a more effective leader and communicator. What wasn’t working for me was not clear. But I knew that, while I seemingly was coming across as likable enough, I often felt I wasn’t inspiring confidence in others, especially people with whom I’ve never worked. If I were to put a name to it, I’d call it the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome — there are times when I felt “I get no respect.”

The day of the coaching class arrived and I went in feeling pretty good about myself. Dressed in my best colors, I knew the topic I wanted to work on for presentations and, truth be told, figured I’d be at the head of the class fairly quickly as I’ve always prided myself on being able to speak in front of a group, especially with a little preparation.

Boy, was I surprised.

Our first task was designed to give Pat and Susan, her coaching partner, a “baseline” for each of us — an idea of where we were starting in terms of our leadership presence. We were each to stand up at the front of the room, say our name and what it is that brought us to the class.

Piece of cake, I thought. I went first.

“Hello, my name is …” I heard myself saying. And heard myself telling the group why I was there. I used group eye contact and some gestures I’d picked up from some training I’d taken long ago. While I knew it wasn’t riveting, I thought I came across reasonably well.

Pat asked the group for 3 things that were working for me.

The “what was working” stuff was pretty tepid.  Clearly I had not made a fabulous impression. I don’t remember anything anyone said that was working because about that time my brain started to go into a self-conscious-induced paralysis.  Pat and Susan gently started suggesting things that could be improved. Others in the group nodded in agreement.

Turns out I had an “upspeak” problem — a habit of ending a phrase or sentence with an upward inflection. Upspeak makes people sound less credible, Pat explained. As if they aren’t entirely sure what they’re talking about. As if the thought expressed is up for question. I’d heard other people do it. Had no idea I did it too.

I try again. Couldn’t even get my name out without going up at the end. I am 100% certain of my name. You’d think I could say it without a questioning sound. But it was a struggle. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Vocal volume was another issue. Susan, standing toward the back of the group, said my voice is audible, but more volume will give it more authority, make me sound more confident and therefore come across as more credible.

I try increasing my volume. When I do this, I unconsciously rise up on my toes and sound panicked. This also turns out to be more difficult to correct than one might expect.

Pat stands next to me and gives me what actors call a “line reading.” She says each phrase and I mimic her. She takes my hands and shows me how to feel a “weight” at the end of a phrase rather than a lift in the voice. The former gives you a credible sound, the latter makes you come across literally as a lightweight.

Finally I’m able to deliver a short paragraph with far fewer upturns in my tone. We decide to leave vocal volume for later. One habit at a time. Pat and Susan assure me that it takes just a bit of practice to re-route the neural pathways of our communication habits. And they promise to show us how to practice later.

Next up is another classmate who has a decent delivery. But it’s not dazzling. Within 20 minutes, they have worked with his eye contact, his gestures, and his facial expressions and suddenly he is approaching dazzling. I find I feel differently about him than I did at first.  Initially, he came across as an OK guy.  Now, I’m ready to run his political campaign, should he ever run for office. I’m buying what he’s selling.

As each of the handful of other class participants takes their turn, I witness the same minor miracle of a transformation — tiny little changes in external behavior make huge differences in the impression each creates. I’m learning vicariously, picking up tips and cues as the others are coached.

Did I mention we were videotaped? Yes, Pat and Susan come armed with tiny little video cameras that they use to tape each of us.  At the end of the first segment, we copy our footage to our laptops, with instructions to watch the footage over the lunch break.

Watching the footage is an eye-opener. You really don’t get how you come across until you see yourself in footage. My first few takes I most closely resemble a deer in the headlights. Or more accurately, I look like my cat when you try to put him into a carrier head first, like I really don’t want to be there.  Let’s just say I’m not owning the room.

I notice all the things about my appearance that I don’t like — my hair, my chin, how I’m standing, how I really do need to lose a few pounds. If you’re a woman, you likely know how quickly and thoroughly you can critique your own appearance. But a funny thing happens when I look at the last take — the one where I’d improved my delivery. Suddenly those imperfections disappear and become unimportant. Because what’s important is that the person speaking — in this case, me — sounds confident and assured in what she’s saying. She’s engaged, she’s knowledgeable, she’s speaking out without apology. She’s self-assured, believable, and authentic.

After lunch I learn that the others had a similar experience watching their own footage. Horrified at first, we all came to see that those seemingly insignificant behavioral changes made a world of difference in the impression we made and how we felt about the person speaking.

I won’t go into the rest of the day, except to say that Pat and Susan have a slew of ways to help you get where you need to be to come across as your best, most authentic, most competent, likable self.

At the end of the day, they advise us to practice, practice, practice. Practice in low-risk situations — when you’re ordering coffee, for example. Practice cements the behaviors in your neural pathways so it becomes automatic.

I’m not going to tell you my name, because I believe you’ll have an unbiased expectation of the class if I remain anonymous. But if you see someone in Starbucks speaking in a strong voice with a definite downward inflection when she asks for a latte, that’s me.

mistake banana skin

3 Ways To Recover From A Mistake, and What To Say To Yourself About It

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You got the information wrong in the presentation. Missed a critical deadline. Lost the sale. Sent the wrong email. Made the wrong call on a hire. Or you recommended a vendor that turned out to be a disaster.

Whatever it is, you’ve made a mistake. You know it. Worse yet, everyone knows it.

So what do you do now? How do you save face, minimize the hit to your credibility, make it so it doesn’t define you?

First: Repeat to yourself “It’s no big deal.”

Then pick one or more of these:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Downplay it, like it’s no big deal, act as if it doesn’t phase you at all
  3. Or, have fun with it.

The Russian nation had a major blunder in its opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics made light of it at in the closing ceremony and it was a PR coup! A very public opportunity to recover presence.


Pat Kirkland Leadership takes leaders to the next level through small group, intensive coaching sessions.

Why Lily Myers’ “Shrinking Women” poem went viral.

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In the spring of 2013 at a college slam poetry invitational, a 20 year old sophomore named Lily decided, in the last 20 seconds before going onstage, to perform a poem she wrote about learning how to not take up too much space in the world, how to “filter,” how to accommodate. She’d noticed that she tended to start a lot of her questions in class with “Sorry,” and that the women in her family tended to “shrink” — to eat so little that they got smaller over time, while the men grew larger.  So she wrote about it, and found the courage to say it aloud.

Watch her performance below or HERE.

Evidently the poem struck a nerve with some people. With a lot of people, actually, because it very quickly went viral and was viewed by more than 3 million people in less than a year’s time.

Here’s why we think it went viral…

We coach people every day who believe they should not show up “too loud” or “too big,” should not take up space, should apologize for their opinions.  To be clear, these are educated, professional people who are in truth very, very competent.

And, while we meet men who do this, we find the issue to be far more common among women.

Lily talked about her poem and her observations in an interview with THE SISTERHOOD:  “I used eating in this poem as a way to show a more ingrained way we shrink. Frustrated with ways I would shrink. I would not say something that was on my mind, not take control of a situation. I saw other women around me doing the same thing.”

We don’t pretend to know why so many people, women especially, feel they can’t show up as their authentic selves.  Certainly cultural conditioning must play a role, and there is likely someone in the past who gave  the message — unspoken or overtly — that they needed to watch their step, not show up with authority.

What we do know is how to help people find their way to step into their personal power by becoming more of who they are — their authentic self — and by showing up in a way that shares power with others in what we call “PARTNER” mode.

The first step is to be willing to speak up.  Like Lily did.  Except, she almost didn’t.

As she told Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson of the PBS show HERE & NOW,  “I hadn’t decided that I was going to read that poem until about 20 seconds before I went onstage. Actually, you can – I’m closing my eyes at the beginning….And I’m kind of deciding.”

Yes, we saw you doing that Lily.  What was the hesitation about?  “I was feeling small at the time… and I was thinking, “People are going to think that I don’t like men.”

Well, you see, there’s the classic dilemma for strong smart women.  Do you speak up and risk being seen as “pushy,” “opinionated,” and “strident?”  Or do you hold your tongue and come across as “weak,” “timid,” or “wishy-washy” and “too accommodating?”  You do have another option: “Partner” — respecting others’ opinions as strongly as you respect your own. And being courageous enough to voice those opinions without putting yourself or the other person down.

She said this about her decision to go ahead:  “….one of my very best friends, who is a very inspirational poet and was our slam coach, really encouraged me to do this poem. She was like, Lily, you just need to do it. This is what people need to hear.”

Since the video went viral, Lily reports that she’s heard from people all over the world with whom it struck a chord.  And she told her NPR interviewers it’s making a difference for her, too.  “More day-to-day, I find myself speaking up a lot more when I’m uncomfortable. I say it now because it’s true. I didn’t use to identify as a feminist because people don’t like that word or judge, but now I think it means equal rights for everyone and I’m not going to apologize. It feels good to not shrink anymore in that way.”

We are so pleased for Lily and wish her all the best.  She continues to write and explore the world, saying: “I write a lot about women or growing up as a woman, the contradictions and challenges, but also the joy. It’s a theme I find endlessly interesting.” 

You can find her writing and more on her blog, THE SHAPES WE MAKE, created with her colleague Kate.  They note that “Lily is an accomplished slam poet, beautiful singer, and wonderful starfruit” while “Kate is a graceful dancer, published novella author, and radiant strawberry.”

Don’t ever shrink, Lily and Kate.  Dare to be big!






Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” as a Theme Song

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If we have a theme song right now, it’s BRAVE by Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff (lead guitarist of the band fun.)

As Bareilles said in an interview, ““I think there’s so much honor and integrity and beauty in being able to be who you are.  It’s important to be brave because by doing that you also give others permission to do the same.”

We couldn’t agree more, especially with the part about giving others “permission.”  One of the reasons we work in small groups is that sometimes a breakthrough moment comes not in your own coaching but by watching someone else be coached.  It’s the “If she can do it, I can do it” factor (more about that HERE).

We recommend you BUY the song, and play it before anything you do that requires you to be Brave!


You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if youSay what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveWith what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveI just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be braveI just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be braveEverybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave isSay what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveWith what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
See you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you

If He Can Do It, I Can Do It: Lessons From The 4 Minute Mile

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It’s a funny thing about human nature:  believing we can do something that seems difficult to us is often more than half the battle. The 4 Minute Mile is a case in point.  Until May 6, 1954, many believed that no human being could run a mile in less than 4 minutes.  But on that day, Roger Bannister, a British medical student and amateur athlete did just that — ran a mile in 3 min 59.4 sec.   While times on the mile had been decreasing steadily over time, the 4 minute mark had become a psychological barrier for many and a goal for some. Exactly 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Australian John Landy beat his record by a split second, and in the coming years the record time shrunk even further still, as seen in the chart below.  Psychologically, the other runners essentially said to themselves “If he can do it, I can do it.” And then they did.

Every day in our practice we see the same thing.  It’s why we use so much demonstration as well as individual practice.  When students see someone else demonstrating a behavior, even one that appears very difficult — for example, they see someone start a meeting in Partner mode, coming across as both warm and competent — it gives them the knowledge that they, too, can master those communication skills.  As one student put it, “If she can do that, I can do that.”  We live for those breakthrough moments.

World Records for the Mile Run, 1850 – Present Day, Men, Amateurs, Professionals, and IAAF (International Amateur Athletics Federation).


“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” — Roger Bannister

The Gender Trap

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The Gender Trap, an article published in the European Business Review in 2013, ably outlines the double bind women in leadership positions face.  It’s recommended reading for anyone struggling with the dilemma of how strong, smart women in the workplace can emerge as effective leaders.  The article points out the heart of the problem bluntly:

“A woman who adopts a command-and-control style or behaves in an overly assertive way is vulnerable to being labeled a “bitch”. As Penelope Trunk, a columnist for Business 2.0 magazine notes acerbically: “There is no male counterpart to this term, because men who exhibit such traits are promoted.””

Key for women leaders is to balance competence and likability, in a way that works within cultural norms.  As the authors note, the self-aware, self-monitoring female leader can make great strides in increasing her influence on both counts by avoiding extremes of both ends of the behavioral spectrum, illustrated in the magazine’s first table:


Self-awareness and self-monitoring, often aided by personal and small group coaching, pay off in another way.  They help female leaders overcome another challenge that seems to come with the territory:  self-doubt.  As the authors note:  “Ambitious women certainly face barriers that their male colleagues do not, but some of those barriers are in their heads.”