How To Present With Authority—Even When You Have None

A few years ago now, I gave a presentation to a room full of influential businesswomen. It was early on in my career and was a big deal – a chance to demonstrate my knowledge and show leadership in my chosen area, with the hope that further speaking gigs and work would come of out it.

Except it is a painful memory for me now. Why? My nerves sabotaged me and what should have been a chance to shine, became a lesson in being remembered for the wrong reasons. From standing with my back to some of the audience (Yes! It makes me cringe now, believe me), to changing my talk at the last-minute and feeling vulnerable and out of control, the myriad of mistakes I made (real and imagined) were replayed for months afterwards.  The experience stayed with me for some time. Fast forward a few years and I can see clearly what went wrong. Happily I make a much better impression these days!

Our bodies and thoughts can hijack us and undermine our best efforts at putting ourselves across with gravitas and authority – and rob us of our ability to be influential and show  leadership,  even when we don’t have any yet. This is precisely what happened to me. I was at the mercy of my stress hormones and sheer terror set in. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The key is to create a  routine that will work for you and support you, ensuring you’re in the best possible place physically and emotionally, to get your message across.

Here are 9 tips to help you put in place a killer success routine that will help you present with authority  – even if you don’t have any.

1. Set your objectives clearly – what do you want colleagues to actually do after your presentation? Plan the action you want them to take and communicate that clearly. Prepare with enough time. Identify who is going to be there – who are the people you need to connect with and influence?

2. Find your ‘why’ – what’s the reason you’re standing in front of the room? Understanding this and being able to articulate it succinctly to yourself as a form of mantra will help focus you and sharpen up your presentation.

3. Make your needs clear. If you need power point, a flip chart  or a particular layout for the meeting, then let that be known before hand and ensure the person setting up the room knows about your needs. Make sure you know where you’re going to be standing and that everyone can see you!

4. Prepare yourself physically. Before you begin to speak, pause and look around the room. Briefly make eye contact with your audience, smile, breathe and check your posture. Make sure you’re standing firmly on two feet and your body language is open. Breathe into your feet as you ground yourself. Own your space with dignity. Make your movements slow, calm and deliberate.

5. Use your voice well. Slow it down, use the deeper end of your voice range (your chest voice) and work to eliminate fillers – get used to the sound of silence. Remember to smile.

6. Place the spotlight of your attention firmly on your audience , not yourself. What experience do you want them to have? Keep this in mind as you craft your message – you’ll be more focussed and connect more with them. Also, understand that people behave differently en masse. They’re difficult to read as an audience, so don’t get hung up trying.

7. Avoid the confidence-sapping post-mortem by focusing on three things that you know you’ve done well. Allow yourself one ‘Next time I’ll change this…’ And then let it go…

8. Follow up – initiate contact with key people afterwards. Influencing upwards means you’ll need to talk to those more senior to yourself, which isn’t always easy if you hardly see them. Take advantage of the fact they’ve been in the same room as you. Monitor the impact your presentation has had.

9. Stand your ground. Feedback is vital if we are to grow and develop – but asking for it directly afterwards will dilute the effect you’re looking for. Respond positively to any feedback you’re offered with a word of thanks and a smile. Resist asking people what they think – you’ll appear needy and unsure of yourself . Breathe into your feet, check your posture and smile.

This routine helps me to stay centered, grounded and calm – and create more of the impression I’m keen to make. What works for you? What else would you add?

I’m Susan Ritchie and I help ambitious women drive their career forward by teaching them strategies for influence and impact at work. If you’re a woman who wants to take your career up a notch, then you can download 10 Steps To Instant Influence: How To Be Really Seen And Heard At Work.

Susan Ritchie

Susan Ritchie is a leadership coach who specialises in working with new and aspiring female leaders, helping them develop their leadership presence, so they can lead with confidence, create the right impact and excel in their role. She’s the author of Strategies for Being Brilliant: 21 Ways to be Happy, Confident and Successful.
She can be found at where you can download 5 Steps To Developing Your Leadership Presence – and why not come and say hello on twitter @susanjritchie.

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