As I watched President-Elect Obama’s news conference announcing his national security team nominees this morning, it reminded me of why I sat on a phone book behind the anchor desk.
Let me explain why I boosted my butt on a book first, and then I’ll link it to today’s news conference and your executive presence.
In 20 years of anchoring the news, I was paired with lots of male co-anchors. Some of these guys were a foot taller than me. Television news sets were designed and constructed by men, with the desk height created to comfortably seat and showcase an anchorman’s long torso. If I, at 5 feet, 5 inches, planted my tush squarely on the chair seat beside the man, I would came off looking like his little sister. My head would reach his shoulders. So I decided to even the playing field. I boosted my butt in order to have an equal “seat at the table” in the eyes of viewers.
I didn’t let my diminutive frame diminish my executive presence.
Now let me link this to today’s news conference. Obama spoke first, so the podium microphone was set for his height. Hillary Clinton spoke next. She had enough experience to move the double mic down a few inches so it didn’t hide her face in the press photos. Good move, Hillary.
Then we come to Susan Rice, the United Nations ambassador nominee. When Rice, a brilliant Rhodes Scholar, stepped to the microphone as the final nominee, she sounded smart, but looked silly. The microphone came all the way up to her eyeballs, totally obliterating her face. Now picture the scene in your mind: it was a double microphone. Two black spheres. Each microphone hid an eyeball. As her head bobbed up and down reading her script, the hardware danced from her eyeballs to her forehead. It was almost comical, making it hard to concentrate on a word she said. If I was her coach, I would’ve advised her to adjust the microphone in order to safeguard her dignity and allow people to concentrate on her intellect and her message, not be distracted by the silly scene.
My point: people’s perception of your presence can elevate your leadership, or diminish it. Be conscious of how your physical presence is coming across and take action, whether that means moving microphones or sitting taller. The eyes trump the ears. Help people listen to your message.