How to have more gravitas or ‘executive presence’

I met a senior associate in a city law firm recently at an event I ran for a Big 4 firm, on ‘how to have it all – partnership and a life’. This senior associate then got in touch with me and asked me how she could have more gravitas. Or as it is increasingly known now, executive presence.  

It’s a great question and really made me stop and think. I thought that I would share the advice on this blog post.

1. Posture and body language

Probably one of the biggest drivers of gravitas and executive presence is how you hold yourself, and the body language that you use – whether consciously or sub-consciously. Make sure you sit up straight, don’t hunch your shoulders forward, also try to elongate your spine (but keep your shoulders down). In Pilates you are encouraged to imagine that someone has a piece of string on your head and is pulling you up. This has the impact of making you stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and elongates your spine. However, make sure your shoulders stay down!

In my view, so, much of what people call gravitas is actually their reaction to the other person’s body language. Every so often take stock of your body language and see whether you are projecting an outward confidence in your body language.

2. Language

After body language, probably the next biggest impact on your gravitas is the language that you use. Not just how you say the words, but the words that you actually use. When you are talking are you using words which demonstrate your passion? When you are truly passionate about a subject, it can convey gravitas or executive presence, as long as you don’t let your emotions run away with you. When your self-belief, rather than lack of it, comes through the words you use, this can ramp up your gravitas. Do watch out for weaselly words, umms/errrs, self-effacing words or hesitancy as this will reduce your gravitas. Have you noticed that those people who have huge amounts of gravitas will carefully select their words and tend to avoid using 30 words when just 10 will do. Think about politicians who have professional speech writers, every word has been carefully chosen for them.

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How to make partner and still have a life
How to make partner and still have a life

3. Don’t rush your words

When your think of the folks with huge amount of gravitas they don’t ever speak quickly. Take a look at Obama’s inauguration speech. This is a man who is completely at the top of his game and is the poster boy for gravitas in this speech. He doesn’t hurry his speech and takes his time over his words. Although he is using an autocue, he uses huge amounts of pauses for impact. Next time you need to up your gravitas take your time over what you are going to say. Make eye contact with people around the room and add in pauses to emphasise key words or phrases.

4. Inner belief

If you don’t have belief or confidence in yourself them this will leak out through your voice, words and body language. Therefore, a huge factor in having gravitas is to really believe in yourself, your abilities, your self-worth, your subject and what you are saying.

5. Dress for the image you want to portray

Gravitas, or ‘executive presence’ often from comes from people who look the part. For example, if you are a woman, having your hair pulled back off your face, may give you more gravitas. Personally, due to some dodgy knees and a tendency to suffer from sciatica, I can’t do the high heel thing. However, I do think that for a woman, wearing shoes with a heel can help give more conviction to your image. I could be completely wrong about this.

6. Emphasise key words

Sometimes when people are softly spoken this can impact their gravitas or ‘executive presence’. Whilst there is nothing wrong, per se, with being softly spoken, if you want to add  more gravitas, you may find you need to raise your voice a little, and put some subtle emphasise on key words and phrases.

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