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Speaking with Gravitas

Ever wondered how some people are capable of commanding an entire room and others are not noticed, even as they step up to a podium?
What is it about those who have the whole world eating out of the palm of their hand? Is it the tone of their voice? Is it the way they carry themselves? Are they born with it, or was it acquired through years of practice? The answer: it’s a blend of all those things.

It is true that some people are born performers, blessed with a natural ability to communicate with poise and flair, but I believe that everyone has the potential to increase their presence and everyone can learn how to speak with gravitas.

So, what’s the difference in speaking with and without gravitas? Let’s start with the definition. The word is translated as weight, seriousness, solemnity, dignity, and importance. People with gravitas command respect because they’ve taken the time to think about what they’re going to say and communicate their thoughts in a measured, calm and logical way. As well as sharing the facts, they are able to harness their emotions to move their audiences, inspiring a course of action that everyone wants to follow.

By contrast, there are many aspects can negatively affect a person’s level of conviction when communicating, for example:

  • When giving a speech or presentation, not giving due care and attention to the audience or what they’d like to hear. They, therefore, speak too much, waffle on, creating restlessness within the listener.
  • Because they haven’t sufficiently prepared, their confidence will be lacking, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or even the imposter syndrome, where the sufferer believes they have no right to speak or be heard.
  • Another facet that can stop someone from speaking with gravitas is that not learning the techniques, of which we’ll get into a little later.

Most people are capable of it:

You might be asking yourself the question, ‘am I capable of speaking with gravitas?’. The answer is yes, you most definitely are.

Some people are natural speakers or are conditioned from an early age. Think about most of the children in public schools in the USA. Every single day they must pledge allegiance to the flag.  This shapes them into more confident speakers.,

If you would like to enhance your ability to communicate with gravitas, there are certain six personal qualities you can develop based on the Gravitas Wheel© and explored further in my book, Leading with Gravitas. These are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Expertise
  • Authenticity
  • Presence
  • Connection
  • Projection

Out of the six, the most important when it comes to public speaking are presence, connection, and projection. These are the fundamental attributes in gaining an audience’s attention and trust. Presence can be summed up as an energy that emanates from a person through physical appearance, body language, and voice. Connection is an affinity with people and the art of creating rapport with any audience. Projection is the ability to ‘switch on’ your best self, expressing yourself confidently to the largest audiences.

Key tips on public speaking:

  • Understand your audience – who they are, what’s important to them, why they should be interested in you.
  • Prepare in advance – whether you start with a full script, create mindmaps, use cue cards or jot down keywords, the important thing is knowing what you’re going to say and the order you’re saying it in.
  • Whilst preparation is essential, it’s important not to learn your talk off by heart or you will lose authenticity. It’s advisable to rehearse the speech, but make sure that there’s still a realness to it. Think of it as acting. Play with it a little bit. Try to keep it loose. It’s imperative that you don’t lose the natural aspect of the speech.
  • If you want your speech to be taken seriously, give it the time it deserves. Build in pauses, breathe deeply into your diaphragm and think about staying grounded. This has the effect of lowering the depth of your voice and bringing more resonance to your delivery, which people will find reassuring, particularly if your message is a challenging one.

Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes:

An excellent example of gravitas is Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech which she delivered on receiving the Cecil B. de Mille Award at the Golden Globes. Packed with classical rhetorical devices, it will go down in history as an example of gravitas in action. Let’s take a brief look at what made it so effective and moving.

  • As well telling a selection of stories within stories about women who have stood up to oppression over the years, she quoted religious text – “Amen, amen, Amen, Amen”, bringing the weight of history to her speech and momentousness to her words.
  • Choice of words – at the beginning of her talk, she reminisces about being a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor – it wasn’t just a floor, it was a linoleum floor and the detailing brings with it a world of context, taking you directly to that moment in time, as though you were sitting there with her.
  • Towards the end of her talk, she uses the devices of repetition and the power of three: “who inspired me, who challenged me, who sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible” – this creates a rolling rhythm that builds momentum and anticipation for the climactic ending.

Why is Gravitas important for today’s leaders?

For anyone that is committed to making a success of their career, there comes a time when titles, skills, qualifications, and likability are no longer what it takes to progress. What’s needed is an extra spark to ignite progression to the next level – the Gravitas Programme can do just that for you.

It’s consequential for leaders of today to create a personal brand that people take seriously. It’s critical to their success. Building gravitas enables people to command respect, communicate with confidence and stand out from the crowd.

Antoinette Dale Henderson

The Gravitas Coach

Antoinette is an executive coach, keynote speaker and two-time author with over 25 years’ experience in leadership communications, including 16 years holding senior positions in some of the world’s top PR agencies.

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To discuss how Antoinette and her team can accelerate your success, book a call now!

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