How to Develop Executive Presence by Improving Your Vocabulary


Career Success

When I first heard the term executive presence, it needed no explanation. The commanding presence of executives is palpable. All top-performing executives have it and they know how to leverage it to work a boardroom and lead their organizations.

In a survey of CIOs, conducted by Gartner, Executive Presence was second on the list of the top 20 leadership traits that make a difference. By comparison, technology skills ranked 12th.

Let that sink in: Chief Information Officers, whose primary function is to ensure their company is employing the latest cutting edge technologies, rank Executive Presence 10 traits higher in importance than Technology Skills.  It’s no wonder that an entire industry has emerged to help managers and aspiring professionals develop an executive presence.

Although we all intuitively understand the concept of executive presence, it’s harder to define and deconstruct its inherent traits and characteristics.

One trait that has always been manifestly clear to me, is a Good Vocabulary.

When I first started my career as a CPA at KPMG, I made an immediate observation: executives communicate with a significantly higher-level vocabulary than other professionals. They use more descriptive, intelligent and eloquent words to articulate their ideas. This observation led to the creation of my first vocabulary training course, Executive Vocabulary, over 15-years ago

Little did I know there was actual scientific evidence to support the idea that executives have superior vocabularies. In a landmark study conducted by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (JORF), managerial professionals from 39 companies were given a vocabulary test. The results statistically proved a direct correlation between vocabulary size and rank on the corporate ladder, with lower management averaging a score of 89 points, middle management averaging a score of 140 and Executives leading the field with the highest average score of 236.

In a separate JORF study, 100 professionals, each striving to become an industry executive, were given a vocabulary test. This study’s results were even more reinforcing to my original observation: Five years after taking the vocabulary test, ALL participants who had scored in the upper 10% had become successful executives. But, not one single person who had scored in the lowest 25% had become an executive.

If you dig deeper into the subject and across other trusted knowledge channels, you will see even more evidence of the nexus between executive presence and communicating with an executive level vocabulary.

ALL of these esteemed publications home in on the traits and characteristics that create “Executive Presence.”  The top traits cited in these articles have to do with communication skills and the ability to communicate with confidence, authority and poise. Once you learn to communicate with a higher-level vocabulary, you will naturally develop all three traits.

When you speak with a good vocabulary, it works wonders for your confidence. We dig into the psychology of vocabulary and the positive effects on your confidence in Why People Fear Public Speaking More than Death.

In order to speak with authority, you need to sound intelligent and informed. When you improve your vocabulary, you will not only sound more intelligent, you’ll actually become more intelligent.  We explore the neuroscience behind this connection in  Why Improving Your Vocabulary Instantly Makes you Smarter.

Finally, when you speak with confidence and authority, you will naturally have more poise. You’ll stand taller, you’ll speak in a more calm and deliberate manner AND you will project an image of success that exudes Executive Presence.

Written by Greg Ragland, President, CEO of CommEdge LLC producers of Vocabulary Zone and the corresponding Vocabulary Certifications: College Preparedness, Ph.D. Vocabulary and Executive Level Vocabulary

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