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Meghan Markle and Amy Schumer – lessons in gravitas and crossed ankles

The topic on which I’m most often asked to speak is ‘gravitas’. People recognise the need to communicate with presence, power and confidence but often haven’t worked out for themselves how to acquire this magical and mysterious asset. Luckily for them, I’ve spent 25 years doing just that so I can offer some practical tools and guidance.

Two key factors in gravitas are how we feel and how we behave. And there’s a fascinating connection between them, according to the work of the ‘father of American psychology’, William James (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James). He explored the link between our actions/behaviours and our emotions, and suggested that the former drives the latter.  Ie the act of singing makes us feel happy, rather than the other way round (we’re feeling happy so we sing).

I’m a passionate advocate of this theory and I know that it’s helpful for many people in their quest to grow their own gravitas. It might involve working on body language, vocal projection, eye contact. Often it’s about taking up space in the world rather than trying to make ourselves smaller.

How do you for example walk into a meeting room, approach a lectern, proceed to the front of the conference room to present? Do you scuttle or walk slowly, making deliberate eye contact? Do you take ownership of the room? How do you sit in meetings?  Hands under the table? Arms crossed? Do you habitually stand with crossed ankles? This is a classic low power pose which makes us feel less confident and appear to have less presence. A small thing – easy to fix.

I’ve seen two brilliant and entertaining examples of this recently. One was Meghan Markle displaying wonderful poise, confidence, gravitas, presence (as well as a fabulous tiara) as she walked alone down the aisle of St George’s Chapel. No doubt in the rehearsal she had spent time getting comfortable in that space just as we can when preparing for a presentation or a meeting. We can take ownership of the stage or podium or the meeting room before the others arrive so it feels as if it’s our territory and they are our guests.

For another hilarious (if you’re a fan of Amy Schumer. If not, don’t watch this trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I2JrgIQuyE) example of how confident people behave, watch her latest movie I Feel Pretty and notice what changes in her when she suddenly acquires self esteem – stronger posture, more deliberate eye contact, vocal projection and definitely no crossed ankles.

Personally though, I’m drawing the line at a bikini contest. Don’t think William James would approve!