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‹ View all articles 26th March 2013

How to find gravitas in public speaking

Delivering a Talk

Gravitas is something that people often worry about lacking, especially in the heady world of public speaking. "Will I have enough gravitas to make them see my point?" "Do I have enough gravitas to influence the board?"... and so on. So how do you 'get' gravitas in public speaking?

Gravitas and the word gravity have a fairly clear connection. Gravitas is actually having “weight” as a speaker, both literally and in the words that you say. What springs to mind is the Sanskrit word Guru which actually means “heavy one” or one who cannot be pushed over.  I’ve always loved the idea of a big yellow fellow sitting on a rock with a smiling face and a solid appearance.  You just couldn’t physically push him over because he’s so grounded, he has so much gravitas.

How do you find that sort of gravitas for yourself?  Now that you know exactly what gravitas is... you can start by asking yourself a few questions.

Do you orientate yourself to the sky or to the ground?

[caption id="attachment_3635" align="alignright" width="195"] Being 'grounded' or a 'down' person[/caption]

Typically people tend to orientate more towards the sky; or a sense of 'up', or more towards the ground; or a sense of 'down'. Which are you?

'Up' People

Are you a person that leans towards the sky? Do you have a greater sense of “up”?  If you have too much “up” you may typically be someone who loses your sense of being grounded when you’re speaking. You might feel like you are 'spacey' or have an out-of-body experience. You might physically lose your balance at some points, or you might just not feel that balanced in your feet. This suggests you're an up person.

Up people have high energy, are very enthusiastic. You might find that a lot of your gestures are upwards looking towards the sky, hands up in the air et cetera.

'Down' People

Are you more focused on your sense of “down” or feel pulled down by the floor? Do you sometimes struggle to get moving with your speaking, or find that you take a long time to make a point? Are you relatively comfortable with pauses and silence as you speak?

If you have a strong sense of down you might find that your energy is a bit lower and you feel glued to the floor. You won’t be likely to move around much but feel the most comfortable in a state of stasis.

It's all about the ups AND downs...

Neither of these natural tendencies are good or bad. What we’re looking to achieve to build gravitas is a mixture of both up and down.

Up + Down = Gravitas

Gravitas is finding ground, as in connecting yourself to the floor; but also about finding enough energy to engage your audience. You’re not so high up in the clouds that your audience don't see you as stable; nor so grounded that you lack the power to create change. It’s about creating a balance of powerful energy with solidity and groundedness.

Strategies for building gravitas

Building more solidity (getting more 'down'):

  • Take notice. It might simply be enough to just notice “I am in connection with the ground… the ground is not moving. I’m safe, my message is secure. As a result I have gravitas. I can stand here, stand my ground and bring the audience to me.
  • Imagine that. Try thinking of roots going down from your feet as if you’re digging deep into the earth as a large leafy tree.
  • Yoga techniques. (yes yoga) Picture in your mind’s eye that you have nostrils in the bottom of your feet and that you’re breathing up from the ground into your body.
  • Feel. Feel your weight. Gain awareness of your limbs and trunk and how solid your feet feel against the floor. Stomp your feet a few times and feel the firm ground beneath you.

Building more energy (getting more 'up'):

  • Pull your energy up. Notice if you've got a sense of excess heaviness in the body and literally choose to move that energy higher up your body. Usually having your energy in your chest is a good, energised place to speak from
  • Connect to your enthusiasm. Understand why you wanted to speak about this message in the first place. If you're not passionate about your subject, neither will your audience be.
  • Switch on the lights. Allow yourself to shine on your audience. Give yourself permission to be seen!

For both types:

  • Build your belief in your message. Gravitas, in a broader sense, is your sense of belief in your message and your self confidence in sharing that message.  Remember, your message is always going to be beyond you. It’s not you. It’s not about you, even if you’re telling your personal life story. Let’s be honest the audience cares more about themselves than you. They care about how your message impacts THEM and their perception much more than what you are thinking or feeling. Your audience and subsequent impact on your audience is the point of your speaking.

So whatever your message is… it’s going way beyond you.  Gravitas is allowing yourself to actually SEE that your speech is what is most important.

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