Recent research identified three qualities as key for commanding the respect of others — gravitas, communication and appearance. Gravitas, as in serious and impressive, mattered most, with 67 percent considering it crucial if you want to be taken seriously.
Use these 10 tips to establish your gravitas.
1. Prepare thoroughly. If you want others to take you seriously, bring your A-game. The biggest challenge to preparing is that we put it off because we’re nervous. The answer? Embrace technology and use voice notes on your phone to record your pitch or your presentation. Practice saying it out loud and listen back. The recording let you know when you’re ready to “go live.”
2. Be concise. To draw attention, be concise. Drill down to your elevator pitch — what you’d say to pitch your business in the time it takes to travel between floors. Think like a news reporter. Introduce your topic, offer up two or three supporting points, then conclude with an impactful statement. Keep it simple and punchy and you’ll earn respect as a clear thinker.
3. Banish Powerpoint overkill. Hiding behind your slides is a good way to lose the respect of an audience. You are the expert, so step away from the slides and distill your content down to a few bullet points. Make your argument compelling with powerful examples and stories. Take the audience on a journey. Bring your ideas alive in the way that only you can.
4. Change gear. Choosing the right tone for the situation is key to earning respect. When preparing for a meeting, ask yourself what approach is required here? Crisp and formal and focused on the task? Or smiling and conversational and focused on relationship-building? If you need to change gear fast, a palms down gesture is good for credibility. A palms up gesture and a warm smile will up your approachability.
5. Use your breath. Actors will tell you that giving a powerful performance relies on maintaining a relaxed breathing pattern. Why? It signals that you’re in control. If you can stay calm when the pressure hits, you earn respect. Controlling your breathing is the key to getting out of the nervous system’s panic room and into a space where you can think. Notice the butterflies, then breathe down into them, relaxing your shoulders. Notice the feeling of relief. Your breath gives you a quick way to settle down the nerves.
6. Practice active listening. The best speakers are always the best listeners. To show gravitas, don’t commit the cardinal sin of repeating what’s already been said. People take you seriously when you respond with something relevant that shows you’ve been paying attention. The key to owning any encounter is to turn up, listen, speak your truth and don’t be too attached to an outcome.
7. “Talk low, talk slow, don’t say too much.” John Wayne offered this advice. Researchers have found that voters tend to prefer political candidates with a lower voice. A low voice shows that you’re relaxed and in charge.
8. Put the brakes on. If nerves speed you up, consciously put the brakes on. Speak in short sentences, with a full stop between each one. One thought, one sentence. Take a relaxed breath in between (think of breathing in a lovely smell). By slowing down, you can take your audience with you. Natural pauses raise the audience’s perception of the speaker’s intelligence.
9. Show teeth. If you want gravitas, you need to be able to do what’s called “showing teeth.” No, it doesn’t mean showing off your pearly whites. Instead, it means that you can push back when required. The best way to approach an opposing viewpoint is to remember why you’re there. Think: “Who am I? Who are we? What’s our common purpose?” Then you can stand up for your beliefs in a way that works for the group.
10. Stand firm. Gravity is intrinsic to having gravitas. The Sanskrit word “guru” means “weighty one.” Staying grounded signals to your audience that you’re not a pushover. Find the points of support between your body and the earth. Focus on the feeling of your feet on the floor (or, if sitting, your bottom on the chair), moving your mind away from anxious thoughts. Try it — it has real power. It brings you “down to earth” when under pressure and communicates presence and calm to others.
About the Author
Caroline Goyder has an international reputation as an expert speaker and trainer with senior management within organizations as well as private individuals. She worked for many years at London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama as a voice coach before launching her own company. She is regularly sought out by the media, and her extremely successful Ted Talk has had over 7.5 million viewers. Her new book is Find Your Voice: The Secret to Talking with Confidence in Any Situation (Penguin Random House UK, Jan. 30, 2020), along with previous books Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority and The Star Qualities: How to Sparkle with Confidence in All Aspects of Your Life. Visit www.carolinegoyder.com, or find her across social media: @Carolinegoyder.
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