The Art of Gravitas

“Gravitas allows you to rise to great heights while keeping your feet firmly on the ground. The world notices your substance as well as your style. We listen to you, remember you and act your words. When you find your roots and your wings, the world sits up and listens” – Caroline Goyder

You may have heard about gravitas or “executive presence”, and may be aware that this is something you need to have as a leader. There is no strict definition of gravitas, but research gives us some pointers as to what people define as gravitas. Gravitas is not just one trait, but is a characteristic that consists of several different elements. These elements require time and effort to build, and can be built piece by piece, day by day.

Showing confidence in one situation does not mean you have gravitas, but instead, it is demonstrated through the way you behave and carry yourself in an array of situations. In this blog, we will give you a summary and some tips on how you can work on your gravitas.

1. Know yourself and know your audience. The very first thing you need to do before entering into a courageous conversation is a fact check; that is, ensure everything you are planning to say is accurate. Look at the situation from different perspectives and make sure you are not being biased. The first step is knowing yourself. However, knowing yourself is not a one-time task, but a journey that requires constant adaptation. You must continue to monitor yourself, other people and the situation, i.e. adjusting your impact in real time.

2. Posture and body language. Remember that 80% of your communication is non-verbal. This is a much quoted but often downplayed statistic. One of the greatest drivers of gravitas is the body language you use – consciously and unconsciously. Does your posture match what you are saying?  What gestures are you using to emphasise key points?

 3. Verbal language. Not just the words you say, but how you say them. Try to cleanse your speech from verbal mannerism such as “um”, “like” and “you know what I mean”. These may sound like nervous ticks. Remember to also pace yourself when you speak. Speak slowly and emphasise key words. If in doubt, less is more in terms of the number of words you use – be punchy and concise.  Avoid giving too many details unless asked, especially when speaking to a senior audience.

 4. Calmness. Just as it is important to be calm in your speech, it is also important to relay a general air of calm. This is particularly of importance when you are under fire, always maintain your calm, confidence and assertiveness. Remember, your contribution to any conversation remains constant whoever is in the room.

 5. Humility and kindness. Arrogance and gravitas cannot co-exist. When you are arrogant, people may interpret it as insecurity, a characteristic very far away from gravitas. Truly confident people have nothing to prove, and are therefore open and kind to others, even those they do not respect.

Give it time and remember that gravitas and a solid reputation is not something most people can establish overnight. Practice makes perfect, and seek feedback on your impact from trusted sources whenever you can.

Do you have any colleagues who have gravitas? Or can you think of any public figures that do? Contribute to the conversation below.


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