How to command the room without saying a word

You’ve made it to the networking event you’ve had on your calendar all month. As you walk in the room you start to panic because the caliber of the crowd is a bit more elevated than you expected, you can’t remember your one sentence marketing speech and you’re thinking you should have put a bit more effort into your attire.

You walk into your weekly staff meeting vowing today will be the day you speak up, share your brilliant ideas and wow your boss (who already mentioned he’d like you to be more “present” in the staff meetings), and every time you try to speak the new hire cuts you off.

You’re the keynote at your local chamber’s luncheon but instead of mingling and getting to know who’s in your audience, you go in the next room to practice your speech ensuring you hit all of your relevant points.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, you may be lacking that je ne sais quoi, that wow factor, gravitas, or simply presence. Leadership is all about presence and whether you’re an entrepreneur or working full time, you must be a leader. You must have presence in order to influence and make a memorable impact on your intended audience.

Over the years I’ve coached many leaders and business owners on the importance of finding their authentic voice and creating a personal brand that accurately communicates who they are in a powerful, effective and unapologetic way. It takes an investment of time and resources but the end result will move you from backstage to center stage, figuratively and literally.

When you’re able to command the attention of those around you by simply walking into the room, you have the ability to change the energy and dynamics of the people in the room. It puts you in a position of leadership and authority, and makes others want to know you and what you have to say or offer. Presence is a critical aspect of leadership and power. However, don’t confuse presence with dominance.

Dominating conversations is actually not a sign that you’re speaking up for yourself or showing your confidence. It’s actually a sign that you have poor listening skills, are self-absorbed and arrogant. Remember, commanding a room is more about how you show up than what you say. You can actually undo any gravitas you’ve developed by opening your mouth. As Amy Cuddy noted, “A truly confident person does not require arrogance, which is nothing more than a smoke screen for insecurity.” I coach my clients on effective communication and presentation skills as well, and I’ll share more about that another time.

To truly command the room without saying a word, here are three areas of your personal presence you’ll need to master:

Mindset (mental makeup)

Before you get into the room you have to mentally prepare to be in the room. Your mental mindset can make or break how you show up and how you handle yourself. Tony Robbins remarked, “You influence others by first influencing yourself.” So, make sure you’re mentally ready to be there. Consider how you feel when you’re in a room filled with people you perceive to be at an elevated status. How will you introduce yourself with confidence? Are you confident speaking about your business and services? Are you an introvert? Be self-reflective and consider each of these questions and any other limiting beliefs about yourself that will impede your impact and influence.

Movement (body language)

As part of your preparation take an inventory of how you physically take up space in the room. Think about how you stand. Are your arms folded or straight down by your sides? Are you making eye contact? Do you smile and present a welcoming body stance? Where do you stand in the room? Where do you sit? What do you do with your hands? You need to enter the room with intention. Practice at home. If you attend with a colleague or friend ask them to give you feedback on how you move and the messages your body language is communicating.

Model (image)

Your image isn’t just about your appearance, it communicates who you are. In addition, what you wear will either work to reinforce your confidence or undermine it. This is called “enclothed cognition.” Since we first take in information visually it’s important to be mindful about what you decide to wear in the room. If what you’re wearing is inconsistent or not aligned with what you’re communicating about who you are or what you do, you won’t be able to close the deal, land the promotion or rock the stage. Believe me, it matters.

Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a certified image professional and owner of Camas-based Evolve Image Consulting, is the expert behind the Vancouver Business Journal’s advice column: Dress Code. This column specializes in providing strategies to position entrepreneurs and leaders for success. Walsh can be reached at