When it comes to making an impression on the people with whom you’re communicating, people often refer to having prominence or gravitas. These two factors heavily influence your presence with an audience. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Leadership Presence’ or ‘Executive Presence’, but the concept applies just as meaningfully to anyone who wants, or needs, to communicate, regardless of official title or position.
The concept and definitions are pretty straightforward and self-explanatory, but just in case…
Prominence can be defined as the conspicuousness with which way you present yourself, or with which you’re received. It’s how much, or how little, you’re noticed.
Gravitas is your seriousness. It’s the authority with which you conduct yourself and communicate. A good level of gravitas, when required, can encourage feelings of trust and respect in others.
If you think of your Prominence and Gravitas as being on two sliding scales, controlled by two internal dials, then the key to successful communication is to dial these up and down to best meet the needs of each situation or each communication.
By way of example, here are a couple of famous faces dialling their prominence and gravitas up and down to suit the environment:
And whilst, they’re most commonly applied to face-to-face situations, they do in fact apply to all methods of communication and should be considered when constructing any message that is going out to your people, be that by written word, video message or in person.
Whilst it is true that we are all born with differing levels of both, it is not true that they can’t be worked on, practised, or learned. So, here are a few Guru tips to help you with yours:
To boost your prominence, you could:
If in person or on-screen, use your clothing to stand-out. Introduce some stronger colours or some high contrast. (Gentlemen, you do not need to raid the wardrobe of Liberace to accomplish this. Small splashes such as a bold tie could just do the trick!)
Vary your language, tone of voice, and volume and speed of delivery to be noticed. (No, that doesn’t mean shouting and/or swearing. It’s entirely possible, and really rather easy, to be noticed for all the wrong reasons!)
Control your body language and non-verbal cues to make an impact when needed. Be purposeful in your approach, “work the room” (literally or metaphorically) with an appropriate level of energy, and always maintain eye contact.
Trying to be prominent in writing can be a little harder, but good articulation and appropriately expressive language will help. Formatting with headings, bold text, bullet points and carefully chosen images can also increase your prominence on the page or the screen. (However, please avoid rows of exclamation marks or emojis, and, as a favour to me, never ever use “Keep Calm and…” or Comic Sans as a font!)
To boost your gravitas, here are a few tips:
Be serious, focused and earnest.
Be deliberate and considered. If face-to-face or on-screen, sit still and don’t fidget. Gesticulating is fine, but don’t overdo it as it can become distracting or comedic!
Be precise and concise. There is often a temptation to keep going after a point has been made. There should be no need. Endlessly repeating, unnecessarily explaining, or rephrasing something does not make the point clearer. It may undermine rather than underline what you are saying.
If talking, use a strong, confident tone. You don’t have to be an amazing public speaker, but if you suffer with nerves, make sure you are completely clear on what you need to say and how you are going to say it. Practise what you are going to preach. You don’t need to be loud, but you need to convey passion, certainty and conviction.
If interacting with others (in person or on screen), then show that you are actively listening. Focus all of your attention on that other person whilst they are speaking and maintain eye contact.
Don’t fear pauses. A brief, well-placed silence after making a crucial point can underline its importance and give your audience a chance to take it in.
Presenting gravitas in writing is quite easy: good articulation and a careful choice of vocab’ (along with that complete avoidance of Comic Sans) is a great start. Use confident language, keep it concise, and format it to look professional.
Your mindset going into a comms is probably going to be the most crucial factor. Believing that you deserve to be heard, that you are making important points or disseminating relevant information, and that your audience is going to want to, or needs to, hear what you have to say should turn both dials up!
As more and more of our comms utilise video content for maximum impact and exposure, both prominence and gravitas can be carefully controlled via the content, script, presentation styles, additional visuals and even the editing.
Prominence + Gravitas + Slick + Professional = Engaging + Impactful
Considering the levels of prominence and gravitas you need in all of your channels should be a factor when working on your comms strategy. Whilst looking at your objectives, key messaging requirements and audience profiling, considering how to build these in, and how much to build these in, will help in the shaping and implementation of your strategy, channels and individual messages.
Of course, there are always going to be times when one is more important than the other, or when one dial needs turning right down. I’ve written a few times about how a leader showing vulnerability or humility in their comms is not a leader showing weakness, so don’t confuse gravitas with a cold, hard, autocratic approach. And don’t assume that all comms will require maximum gravitas. Read each situation, know your audience and tailor your comms to hit the right spot each and every time.
If you’re so young that you’ve never known anything other than touch-screen technology, and you’re struggling with the concept of “dials”, then pop me a postcard and I’ll come up with another analogy! You may also need to google Liberace.
ps Just for fun, why not have a think about celebrities or the people on your telly and whether you think they have prominence, gravitas or both? To start you off…
David Attenborough: more gravitas than prominence, I’d say.
RuPaul: the other way round most of the time but, as in the video above, has been known to ramp up the gravitas when out of drag or talking about LGBTQ+ rights.
Boris Johnson? Keir Starmer? The Queen? Lady GaGa? Alan Carr? Jimmy Carr? Trevor McDonald? Ronald McDonald?