Caroline Goyder - Influence

Caroline Goyder - Influence

The four pillars of influence and gravitas for a competitive edge

So, what is the ‘difference that makes the difference’ when it comes to competitive edge in the world of work? Following interviews with 268 senior executives The Centre for Talent Innovation  (CTI) in New York isolated three key qualities for success in professional life:

•             Gravitas - telegraphing you have what it takes

•             Influence communication - getting the message across

•             Appearance - looking the part

Why do gravitas and influence matter? Because if you show up in a manner that commands respect you will stand out.  Adecco in the US recently found that 44% of employers named ‘soft skills’ as the biggest gap – and above all what mattered was communication.

The good news is that there are four influence and gravitas pillars you can use when prepping for an interview, a phone call or a key meeting with senior people. Get these pillars on a post-it, keep them on your wall and apply them each time you need to earn the respect and confidence of those around you.


When Woody Allen’s line “eighty percent of success in life is showing up” is quoted it makes it sound easy. It’s not. Showing up means more than entering the building on time. It’s about showing up with focus and forethought. Or, the five Ps – Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. I guarantee that anyone you see in the world with influence and gravitas has taken the time to prepare. They seem relaxed and conversational because they’ve put the work it. It’s important to understand that preparation applies just as much to meetings, phone calls and interviews as it does to being an Olympic athlete.


Listening is the influence skill. And the kind of listening you need to be doing is listening to understand, rather than listening to give a smart reply. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe.”

The steep learning curve you hit as a graduate makes the ability to listen even more crucial. Nerves can make us all jabber. Don’t. If in doubt, stop, listen, learn. And know that being fascinating and influential is often simply about being fascinated. Never, never allow yourself to glaze over into boredom. People read it in a micro-second.. Flex your listening muscle. To get your focus back, adjust your frame of attention. Everyone is interesting. What if you had to play them in a movie? Or write them as a character in a novel? Find what is unique and interesting about all the people you meet. The focus and attention you give to others will help you stand out in a world where so many people switch off.


Speaking your truth as a graduate requires the coda to obey the Quaker maxim, “don’t speak unless you improve the silence”. Less is more as a graduate. You need to be clear, honest, direct but you must, must make sure that you speak to the common purpose, rather than the wilful demands of your own ego. If in doubt ask yourself “Who am I? Who are we? What’s the common purpose?” It will help you evaluate the value of what you are planning to say.

It helps to have a structure to pull ideas together as you listen. When you’re under pressure the old news reporter structure will help, and it’s something to practise on campus so you have it ready when needed.

Headlines: Tell us the angle and why it matters – the ‘so what’?

Offer three key points in descending order of importance

Wrap: Sum up pithily 


The final pillar - flexibility - is an influence essential. It’s key that you can flex your thinking between your perspective and that of others. If things don’t go your way, remember that it’s rarely personal. A simple maxim to help you find this flexibility of perspective under pressure is the actor Bill Nighy’s rule to think “how can I help?” He told me many years ago that he learned it when auditioning other actors for movies – an A-lister’s prerogative. He realized that actors who were too needy, too fixated on their desired outcome, were alienating. Far better, he realized, to walk into the room and think “how can I help”, because it allows you to access an empathetic, attentive, relaxed you.

The full article on Influence and Gravitas can be found in our Future Ready magazine. Make sure you grab a copy at an EY event on your campus.

Caroline Goyder is the author of Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority (Ebury 2014)

Caroline  Goyder
  • Caroline Goyder

About the author

Caroline Goyder worked as a voice teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama; she has spent the last ten years developing a system to help clients perform with poise, presence and power in everyday life. RED magazine recently called Caroline one of Britain’s top coaches, and her recent book 'Gravitas' has been met with critical acclaim.