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Catherine Johns On Professional Presence

Catherine Johns

Starting a business is a vulnerable process. Often operating on a limited budget and with limited support staff, new business owners spend a lot of time negotiating with investors, prospects, clients and partners. In many cases, consumer product entrepreneurs don’t have a lot to bring to the table, other their product and themselves. This makes professional presence important.

To get a better idea about what professional presence is and how to achieve it, I spoke with Catherine Johns, a former Chicago radio personality who now assists people in developing magnetic presence so they can achieve their business and life goals. Her first book, Show Up and Shine, debuted in August 2013.

Catherine Johns on Defining Professional Presence

Catherine notes that it’s easier to detect professional presence than to define it. Externally, professional presence is recognizable in the way a person dresses, sits, stands, moves and sounds. Internally, professional presence is often the result deep knowledge of one’s business and industry. People with real presence aren’t easily tripped up in conversation.

The cost of low professional presence is significant: Many people offer great ideas at work, only to see someone with more professional presence take the credit. In developing a new business, a lack of professional presence keeps you from attracting both investors and clients.

Fortunately, professional presence can be learned and developed. During our conversation, Catherine specifically addressed two areas that make significant differences in how an entrepreneur presents him or herself to others:

Body Language

Your product might be amazing, but poor body language turns others off, jeopardizing your business efforts. Nervous fidgeting, as well as awkward posture while sitting or standing diminishes presence. Being still and standing or sitting with both feet on the floor exudes confidence and can put the people around you at ease.

For Women: A lot of women ask Catherine about an appropriate sitting posture while wearing a skirt or a dress. Many body language experts warn against women crossing their legs, but Catherine says that many women do it because it feels natural. She offers the following tips for sitting with legs crossed:

  • Sit so your bottom is evenly balanced on the chair and that one foot is planted firmly on the ground.
  • The upper body must be vertical, and the head straight up and down.When you shift over on one hip and curve the spine, you lose that strong presence.

Catherine also notes that women are often afraid of taking up “too much space.” Yet taking up space is an important part of professional presence (think about how tall people often manage to command attention and respect without even trying) and women shouldn’t hunch their shoulders, draw back in their chairs or assume other body postures that suggest discomfort with being noticed.



Your words are important, so is the way you speak them. Catherine spoke of how singers distinguish between a “head voice” and a “chest voice.” A head voice is thinner, higher pitched and softer. A chest voice, on the other hand, has a lower pitch and a richer tone.

Interesting fact: People associate low pitched voices with trustworthiness, so if your voice is naturally high, you might want to seek out a vocal coach.

Catherine also warns against adding a “question mark” to the end of your sentences. Some people develop this habit and it severely damages their credibility. If you tend to lilt the end of your sentences “up,” stop doing it. It turns your statements into questions.

Talking With Investors and Bankers

Approaching folks for money is a tough, but necessary task in developing a business. I asked Catherine for tips on talking with investors and bankers. Here’s what she had to say:

  • Respect an investor’s or banker’s time and get right to the point in conversation: “Say it once, say it well, then stop talking.”
  • People in power respect other powerful people. While you don’t want to be arrogant, being self-deprecating isn’t going to work either. Catherine suggests relating to a banker or investor as if you are “on par” with them by modeling their demeanor but then taking “one step back.” While this person does hold the cards, you still want to relate to the banker/investor as if you are equal to him or her in competence.
  • Avoid using a lot of filler language such as “you know” and “ok.” Constantly filling pauses and silences during conversation shows a lack of confidence.
  • Our culture admires youth but trusts experience. People give money to those they trust. If your voice sounds young and immature, you’re going to have a hard time convincing investors and lenders to fund your product.

Cultivating Professional Presence

For those who feel held back by a lack of professional presence, Catherine offers the following tips:

  • If you can’t afford one-on-one coaching, seek out group workshops and opportunities. Local Chambers of Commerce, National Association of Women Business Owners chapters and other business organizations often sponsor free or low cost workshops by business and image coaches.
  • View videos of yourself: Critically examine your posture, facial expressions and way of speaking.
  • Addressing a lack of professional presence in business partners and employees can be tricky. One way to approach the issue is to create a reciprocal arrangement: You ask your partner or employee to provide you with honest feedback and you’ll do the same for him or her.
  • Catherine has found two books helpful in the development of professional presence: Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO, by Harrison Monarth and The Nonverbal Advantage, by Carol Kinsey Goman.

You can visit Catherine online at her website or her Facebook page.

What have you done to develop your professional presence? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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