I was interested to receive a question from a well-respected colleague as to whether Gravitas is indeed for women or whether this makes them appear arrogant or not meeting gendered expectations of being ‘nice’?
I have no hesitation in answering that Gravitas is EXACTLY what is required. So let’s see why?
First of all, Gravitas is one of the three Foundational Virtues of Ancient Rome, the other two being Dignitas (dignity) and Pietas (respect). OK, so far no gender conflict. Dignity and respect seem pretty universal to me.
Next is that Gravitas was broken down into five pillars:
The first, ‘Invention’ is about having the knowledge within you to speak. Nothing today negates women here.
The second pillar is the ‘Arrangement’ of your material and this is where the whole field of Rhetoric comes to play. This is good practice for any human, but today, we have little place for debate. Our needs are more simple. I find that the three key structural areas are presentations, handling difficult questions and feedback. More contemporary frameworks are used, but these are still rely on solid psychologically-sound progression of thought.
Thirdly is ‘Style’. This is the choice of vocabulary, sentence structure and turn of speech and little here is gender based.
Next is Memory and this, being a personal internal process, is definitely not a gender issue.
Lastly is Delivery, this is where the issue may falsely arise, so let’s look more closely at the key ingredients of Gravitas delivery: eyes, voice, gestures and movement.
Would one consider aggressive eye contact? This is actually well researched and the key to softening the eyes is to have movement. This may be through nodding, changing the shape of the face through smiling or, the most important aspect, blinking. Even the blink rate is studied and shown to be fifteen blinks per minute for the look of ‘listening’. All of this can lead to a very soft eye contact and there is no need to fear aggressiveness as long as one knows how to soften and the rules for eye escape (more of that in another post). In fact, the softness of eye contact may be an area women can lead the way in the new era.
The Romans never spoke of the depth of pitch, the area where men have an advantage. They spoke of clearly producing the voice and this again is great for all humans. They spoke of emphasis, tone and pace and nothing here negates women. Of course, male voices can be louder, but womens’ voices have an advantage in that higher pitches carry further.
Gesture and Movement
This is where I believe that, not only is this appropriate for women, but they are an area where women can strongly lead the way. These elements of movement and gesture have almost completely disappeared from current presentations. We sit at tables, we take up the moist powerful spatial position in the room with PowerPoints and we stand robotic behind lecterns in the weakest part of any room.
Women can lead the way by recognising that different areas have different psychological meaning and that gestures free the body and bring it to life. This is like a dance and there need be nothing necessarily masculine about it.
Next is the fascinating point that while we associate Gravitas today with weight and seriousness, this was never the intention of the Ancient Romans. In fact, during the Roman period they spoke of the balance between weight and levity. This consisted of humour, humility and wit. We only lost this elements of gravitas when in 1687 Isaac Newton redefined Gravity as a one-way weighty force. It is time to rebalance and this is in women’s’ favour.
So, you may ask, why did only men become Orators? Well, actually in Ancient Rome the women weren’t included anywhere. In theatres, they played no role and in the audience, they sat with the slaves, the lowest level of society. Today, women play an equal role in theatre and, likewise deserve a similar place in leadership.
It seems that not only is Gravitas relevant for women, but that woman can work with the sound rules of Gravitas and rebuild a new way for Presence and Influence moving forward that will be female led, strong and yet soft and flexible, with wit and humour and finally recapture audiences who have been tortured by the shicking downward spiral of skills over the last fifty years.
Let me hear your thoughts..