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  • Ian McKechnie

Six tips to develop your ‘gravitas’

I’m going to share my 6 tips on ‘gravitas’ from personal experience of observing people in corporate life who have it in spades. You may already know it’s less about technical expertise and more about communication, but I’m often asked about this magic elixir called ‘gravitas’ in my coaching work.

What is it and how do I summon it up? Many believe it’s a natural gift bestowed upon a lucky tribe of people who just have that authority and presence to create feelings of trust and respect in others.

I disagree. It’s about actively managing your impact with others, so try these 6 tips this week to enhance your executive presence. You may need to be rather 'swanlike' at first - paddling strenuously below whilst appearing outwardly calm - but what you’re striving for is this: You walk into a room, others notice. You speak, others listen and take your lead..

1.Take yourself seriously

Gravitas is about weight of presence, so stay focused. If extraverted like me, avoid casual jokes, humorous remarks and self-deprecating comments. These are great outside work but can undermine you and make others doubt your professionalism - especially those from more formal cultural backgrounds. People with gravitas don’t need the constant affirmation of others, they are comfortable in their own skin.

2. Emotional control

Try to give others a sense that your mind and body are calm and everything is under control, both in your speech and actions. Avoid any emotional outburst – positive or negative – people may judge you as inconsistent and trust you less. Be more reflective and less reactive in the moment. Become more aware of your steady breathing and any arising emotions which may be about to threaten your poise. Also, deeper breathing allows your voice to take on a deeper, more resonant tone, whether you are male or female, and that sounds more trustworthy.

3. Speak briefly

Make your point concisely, focused around the key message, then stop talking. Don’t repeat yourself for emphasis or ramble on. Pausing for thought is respectful to others’ contributions and makes your content more assured and articulate. Being comfortable with silence – while you are thinking - can convey authority and control. Don’t talk about yourself too much or reveal unnecessary personal information, you may sound insecure, flaky and promote gossip. Reining yourself in promotes gravitas.

4. Sit still and stand tall

Being still imparts gravitas. Fidgeting with phones, pens, or making distracting movements can reduce your impact on others. A still head and standing tall when presenting to a crowd (think Obama) imparts authority and conviction. Leaning forward a little and even taking up a bit more space at the table - especially in meetings – tells others you are fully engaged and in charge.

5. Listen and be genuinely curious

Putting your total attention on the other person and really listening actively to what they’re saying makes others feel special. Maintain eye contact to build trust while you’re at it, but don’t ‘burn’ them – that’s less gravitas, more aggressive. Comment on what you’re hearing and also what you’re not hearing in the conversation, like an intelligent bystander. This allows you to control a conversation without ego getting in the way.

6. Speak with influence

Have conviction when you speak. Strong and measured beats loud and forceful when you’re developing gravitas, because you want your confidence and passion to make the impact. Check your voice from rising at the end of a sentence, you will sound less certain. Letting your voice drop at the end of your sentence makes it sound more like a statement of fact, conveying authority. People will think what you are saying is right.

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