Hands down, it’s palm up

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You outstretch your hand toward someone in a meeting or presentation. “Yes, Amit, you have a question?”

Is your palm up, or down, or are you pointing with your finger?

Does it matter?

As it turns out, it does. Research shows palm up is most effective.

It’s somethng I’ve coached people on for years. And I recently came across information that helps me better understand how and why it works.

One of my favorite books is Super Better by Jane McGonigal.   In it, she notes that from ancient, pre-language times, holding a hand out with the palm up indicates a welcome, and an offer of help. A palm down, however, is a negative, a rejection.

And, Allan Pease in his Ted Talk  Body language, the power is in the palm of your hand” (from about 5:30 to 10) explains and demonstrates the power of the upturned palm significantly impacts vs the downturned palm and the pointed finger.  Using the same content, he notes that the research shows that direction given with palms up can be 40% more effective in terms of audience retention and engagement than downturned palms. Audiences recall less of what speaker say when the speaker points.

So what does this have to do with Leadership Presence?

Gesturing with your palm up conveys that you welcome and support the listener — that they are “in good hands” with you. it’s one the micro behaviors that make you appear open, approachable, and able to create connection between you and other people.

In the coming week, notice what palm position you and others use most often. When gesturing toward another person, do you do it with your palm up, your palm down, or do you point? Watch what other people do … and notice your response to them. 

If you tend to point or gesture with your palm down, start mapping in the palm up approach.. 

Want to learn more? Check our open enrollment program schedule — or contact us about setting up a program for your organization!
Quest on!

The Jedi Mind Trick for Holiday Gatherings

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Someone recently told us that practicing the “Partner*” behaviors we teach sometimes feels like using a Jedi mind trick. Our experience supports that. Like Jedi mind tricks, Partner behaviors are subtle, but extremely powerful.

Did you know the Partner approach can even help diffuse family feuds?

We’ve all been there. You’re at a family get together, or a social gathering. Someone — let’s say it’s Uncle Joe — launches into a diatribe on an issue about which you feel passionately — and you completely disagree with his opinion. Uncle Joe’s states “facts” that you know to be wrong! He may even be baiting you to stir up trouble. (He’s been know to do that in the past.)

Are your choices to either 1) disagree and lock horns (what we would call “going Predator”) or 2) bite your tongue and silently seethe (eg. “go Prey”)?

Fortunately, there is another choice. If you’re familiar with our work, you know I’m talking about the “Partner” style and mind set.

Here’s what to do to keep your cool and diffuse the tension:

First, adjust your external behaviors. That will support your inner mindset and attitude:

  • Breathe
  • Keep your body still.
  • Adopt a neutral stance or, if sitting, sit so you can feel your back against the back of your chair (it’s hard to fight from the back of a chair!), in an open sitting posture.
  • Soften your facial expression. (A smile of any size will do that immediately.)

Now, mentally shift your attitude.

  • You’re oblivious that a challenge is taking place.
  • You see this as a test.

When you’re ready to speak: 

  • Use a neutral tone.
  • Keep your volume strong.
  • Use large, firm gestures.
  • Use group eye contact — look at each person in the group, not just Uncle Joe.

Say something like:

  • “I can appreciate your perspective, Uncle Joe. You can probably imagine I see it a little differently.  Let’s leave it to Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton!”  

And if you’re really a Jedi, as you finish speaking, you look at someone other than Uncle Joe!

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time you try it. It takes practice. And it can take 3 to 5 interactions with someone who knows you to shift their perception of you.


FINAL TIP: If all else fails, take a cue from NBC’s Saturday Night Live and put on the new Adele song!

Cheers & Happy Holidays!

* Predator, Prey, and Partner(TM) are 3 different roles that come into play in any power dynamic of human interaction.

Pat Kirkland is the CEO of Pat Kirkland Leadership, an executive coaching firm working with F500 companies. Her forthcoming book on using her Predator/Prey/Partner™ model to crack the code of executive presence will be published in 2016. Join her email list here to be notified when the book is released.


7 Tips for Your Upcoming Presentation

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Just as the most accomplished athletes continue to work on fundamentals, even the most seasoned executives refresh themselves on the basics when they have an important presentation coming up.

Here are our 7 best tips and reminders for creating and delivering a bang-up presentation:

      1. Choose your energy. Don’t let nerves cause you to lose yourself. ACTION: Show up as if you are in a great mood!
      2. Under pressure, people tend to go more formal. Being more informal makes you look more confident. ACTION: Use casual, relaxed movements, postures, and language.
      3. Simplify your message.  ACTION: Focus on no more than 3 key ideas.
      4. Know what the bottom line is for your presentation. What do they really want to know from you? ACTION: Be able to say it in less than 10 words….seriously, less than 10 words!
      5. Chunk your information – think bullet points, not paragraphs.  ACTION: Ruthlessly edit details. Check your desire to be thorough.  Speak in sound bites, not sentences.
      6. Analogies, stories or examples to spark your audience’s attention – make it natural, not contrived. Example: “As I’m walking up to the front of the room, my biggest concern is falling off these heels. (Pause) Safety is what we’re talking about today.” ACTION:  Practice with a friendly listener so your opening  comes across as natural, not contrived.
      7. Organize your content around your 3 key ideas.  ACTION: Get help organizing content. Refer to Kevin Carroll’s ‘diamond format,” outlined in his book Make Your Point.



The diamond format from Kevin Carroll’s book “Make Your Point” is a great way to organize your content.

I’ll cover this topic and others about Executive Presence in my forthcoming book. If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, sign up on our email list!  You’ll get our downloadable mini manual right away as a thank you.





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.


“Alpha Partner” Example: Jennifer Granholm

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From TED.COM:  Jennifer M. Granholm, former two-term governor of Michigan  makes the case for empowering states to create jobs through a Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top … and demonstrates Alpha Partner skills in the process!

She’s relaxed, confident, and has a commanding presence.

Watch Jennifer Granholm’s TED talk to see these Alpha Partner behaviors in action:

  • High energy
  • Downward inflection
  • Short sentences with pauses.
  • Conversational tone of voice
  • Eye contact throughout the room
  • Large, firm gestures
  • Open body, neutral stance
  • Personable, shares anecdotes & personal stories
  • Uses humor
  • Downplays mistakes

Note that she becomes more of herself, not less, as she steps into her full power.


NAAWLI: the next wave of leaders

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We were honored to coach the National African American Women’s Leadership Institute (NAAWLI) Fellows, Class of 2014 in March.  If you are interested in cultivating the leadership talent of high potentials who happen to be both female and African-American, we urge you to become familiar with this organization.

We spent the day with more than a dozen professionals from companies such as Southwest Airlines, Texas Instruments, and State Farm Insurance as well as entrepreneurs of thriving small businesses.  Each of these individuals discovered keys that will enhance her personal leadership presence in meetings, in dealing with higher ups, customers, sales prospects, and in presentations.  In addition to explaining and putting into practice the Predator / Prey / Partner™ model, we explored some of the issues unique to women and to African-Americans in business.

Undoubtedly this group, who participated with admirable courage, represents the next wave of leaders from this sector.  We look forward to witnessing their future success as they step into the power of their authentic selves.

Organizer Pamela Benson Owens was kind enough to send this note after the session: The session was the perfect blend of behavioral science, managing and addressing perceptions, specific strategies to manage both verbal and non-verbal cues and communication, and a plethora of skill building opportunities to practice.”

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.