People either have it or they don’t when it comes to gravitas. Those individuals who just light up a room, present themselves confidently and saturate the air with their authority. How nice it must be to be born with that kind of presence, except here’s the thing, they weren’t and you can also learn this behavior and join them in the sun.
In Caroline Goyder’s book Gravitas, she talks you through a simple but effective framework to help you communicate with confidence, influence and authority. Now, I’m not going to lie I found this book hard going, it’s not an easy read, but when you get used to the disjointed sectioning and the generous use of quotes it’s not half bad and has tons of great content to learn from.
Let’s start with Caroline’s definition of what gravitas really is:
Gravitas is the difference that makes all the difference when it comes to communication. It is the grounding force that gives you influence and authority, and the lifting force that gives you passion and wit. With it, you’ll have the confidence to be entirely yourself, and the power to command the trust and respect of others.
There are lots of tips and tricks throughout the book on how to unleash your gravitas, however on reflection one key theme stood out which for me really provides the foundation to having gravitas. It’s not confidence, intelligence or that ‘sparkle in the eye’ but good old fashioned preparation. Without preparation you have no bedrock for anything else to flourish from, so in this blog we are going to focus on preparation and how you do it effectively to give yourself that effortless gravitas when in front of your audience.
Caroline references Walt Disney and how his creative team used to say there w
ere three of him and while that was frustrating for his team, as they never knew which one of him would turn up, it’s great for us. Author and thinker Robert Dilts, turned Walt’s ranging personalities into a model for us all to benefit from:
- The dreamer dreams big – inspire yourself
- The realist makes it happen – organise yourself
- The critic edits and refines – edit yourself
First you need to get creative, in this stage of preparing it’s all about thinking big. What are the themes you want to get across? Visualisation works well in this section, sit down and give yourself time to think. Imagine yourself presenting, think about what your saying, how the audience are reacting and the positive feelings you’re getting that comes with connecting to the audience. It’s important to think what excites you about your given subject; if you’re not excited about it why should they be?
Once you’ve thought it through, note your ideas or images down and create a storyboard, this is the process of pulling all the ideas in. The realist in you can organise them later.
Once you have the ideas its time to bring it back to reality and think about the most important factor. The audience. At the moment all your ideas are structured and written in a way that makes sense to you, now you need to reorganise them to make it digestible. One of the key principles of gravitas is empathy; this gives you the ability to connect with your audience and essentially put yourself in their proverbial shoes. In the book there is a whole section on this attribute but for the purpose of this blog lets assume you can place yourself in their minds. How would they connect to your material? What are they going to find interesting and how are you going to link that to the points you are trying to make. Once you are clear on this, map your ideas into four sections:
- What’s the problem?
- Solution/Transforming Insight
- How to – What’s in it for the audience?
- Call to action – What’s next?
You’re now ready to edit. One of the top tips that Caroline talks about for a presentation/meeting/pitch, is that to be brilliant it doesn’t have to be long. You rarely here people complaining something was too short. So the message here is ‘crisp, clear and concise’, no waffle please, as that’s directly opposite to what you are going for. What the critic does well is understand what objections the audience may have and address them early on, this keeps them focused on you and not on why it won’t work. They also pull together all the ideas they’ve had in the dreamer phase and condense it down to focus around the one or two points they’re trying to make. Remember, you want the small gems in a box not the hundreds of knick-knacks. To make it memorable, make it simple; tell them what they are going to hear (intro), then tell them it (core), then tell them what they’ve heard (wrap up).
Once you have done this there is only one thing left, practice. Practice is your biggest ally when it comes to nerves. Practice gives you confidence and confidence leads to calm, which centers you and enables your content to flow. Don’t skip practice.
On the day Caroline says to remember these key points; keep your feet grounded, only move between ideas. Your knees should be soft and tension free. Don’t slump; keep your spine straight and long. Your shoulders should be relaxed and heavy (imagine you have angel wings is a Caroline’s top tip). Use your arms, keeping gestures open and relaxed. Don’t nod your head; people who nod a lot lack credibility. Make sure you are looking up and out at your audience and finally keep your speech short, lots of full stops and emphasis.
Now I know when you started to read this blog you weren’t thinking you’d get 1000 words on how to prepare for a meeting, presentation or pitch. However, if you think about it, it does make perfect sense. When was the last time you watched someone ‘wing it’ or indeed winged it yourself and you thought they/you totally nailed it? It’s unlikely. As the people who have true gravitas, work at it, they plan practice and execute.
Remember Caroline’s final five checklist:
Breath. Slow down. Project. Smile. Be yourself (it’s the true secret to gravitas)