Episode 12: Caroline Goyder – How to increase your gravitas

There are three more interviews with Caroline, as well as dozens more training films made by Rob Woods, in the Bright Spot Members Club. Follow the link to find out more about our 25% discount on annual club membership.

Episode Notes

If you’ve ever needed to represent your charity at a meeting with someone important – eg a powerful supporter or a Board Member – then you know how easily those differences in power can harm your performance and increase your stress levels.

In this episode Rob Woods interviews the best-selling author, voice coach and gravitas expert, Caroline Goyder. Caroline originally trained as an actor at Central School of Speech and Drama. She is the pioneer of The Gravitas Method and for 16 years she has coached actors, business leaders and fundraisers in how to speak with more confidence and authority, so as to reduce stress and improve results.


  • Some elements of relationship fundraising are not easy, especially meetings with major donors, agencies, trustees, corporates, where there is a difference in perceived status and you need to understand and to an extent, operate in their world…
  • Caroline likens some high-pressure fundraising situations (eg with powerful corporate or major donors) to a performance. Of course, to do well you have to be present and be yourself rather than run-through an unchanging script. But what’s useful about seeing these moments in this way is it can help us prepare ourselves more deliberately, in the same way that outstanding sports people or musicians do.
  • Caroline explains a range of ideas for how to do this, that she sometimes uses with her clients who need to be at their best on important occasions.
  • Bill Nighy’s tip to Caroline was to ‘flip your focus’ – ie Focus OUT not IN! It’s natural to put the pressure on you the fundraiser, with unconscious and conscious questions to yourself along the lines of ‘what if I mess up?’ ‘what if I ask for too much / too little / offend her?’ etc. Flip it and realise that the other person is under pressure too (they must not give to the wrong charity / wrong amount etc). Once Bill Nighy learned that those casting a film are under pressure, in future auditions he was able to switch on compassion ‘how can I help them’ which took him out of self-focus ‘what if I mess up?’. As obvious as it sounds, when you truly seek to help others rather than look good / not mess up / serve your ego, you release more oxytocin, your energy softens, your confidence increases.
  • Practice being present and grounded. Caroline does yoga in the morning. Or practice meditating / mindfulness, even if only briefly each day. If you need help / sometimes lose willpower, the Headspace app is well worth trying – its free to try and very affordable if you keep going and makes a big difference.
  • When meeting relatively serious / task focussed people (eg Directors of Finance / major donors who work in finance / banking are more likely to spend a lot of time in this mode), you can feel and convey more gravitas by a simple change in body language – Move from palms facing up, to your palms facing down. Try it now, and say the days of the week with the two difference gestures. This physical shift helps you project STRENGTH ahead of WARMTH. (Obviously there are other times when you need to feel and project warmth more than strength.)
  • Prof Amy Cuddy has conducted lots of research into the impact of changing your physiology, to release different hormones, to affect your confidence and performance. Check out her inspiring TED talk ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You are’. I also explore the implications of these ideas for fundraisers in my book The Fundraiser Who Wanted More.
  • Warm up your voice, and increase its variety, richness and power by practicing singing at home / while driving, even if you feel you’re no good at singing. It warms up the vocal folds and helps you tune into your playful side.
  • Practice pausing when you speak. In addition to giving the listener time to think and process what you said, it also helps you breathe in, which oxygenates your brain, so you think more clearly about what to say next.


‘You already know how to speak confidently…with people you trust, you speak with ease and confidence. Its my belief that if you can find your voice in those moments, you can find it any situation.’

Caroline Goyder

‘Pause more. When we pause, we stop and think, we breath in. And what that does is refuel the voice. So you’re re-fueling, your brain is being oxygenated… and they’re having time to consider what you’ve just said.’

Caroline Goyder


The Bright Spot Club – www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join . We designed this club to help you raise more money through practical training films, live webinars, a fabulous supportive community and live events with Rob Woods. Among many other things, it includes three longer film interviews with Caroline Goyder, including Winning Hearts and Minds and Grace Under Pressure.

Find Your Voice, the great new book by Caroline Goyder. Special Offer for Fundraising Bright Spots listeners – if you send a copy of your receipt by email to Caroline at her website at carolinegoyder.com, she will send you her Confidence Boosters audio course, which is normally £10 and the full set of her Gravitas Method audios, which are normally £50.

The Fundraiser Who Wanted More –  the book by Rob Woods.

Headspace – a meditation app.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You are’ – the TED talk by Amy Cuddy.

Transcript of Episode 12.

Rob:                 Hey there folks. This is Rob Woods and welcome to episode 12 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and he wants ideas for how to raise more money, really enjoy their job and make a bigger difference. To introduce today’s topic, if you’ve ever needed to meet someone important, perhaps they’re a major donor or a trustee or someone powerful at a corporate partner. Or maybe you just need to sometimes work with and influence, important people within your charity, then you know that those differences in status and power can all too easily have a negative effect on how you feel and how well you speak and your results. If you recognize this is an area where you’d like to increase your skill, then you’re going to find this episode well worth listening to.

Rob:                 I recorded today’s interview at a fundraising conference a couple of years ago. I’m sharing it now because members of the Bright Spot Club have told me they absolutely love the down to earth nature of the tips you find in this interview and in the other training bundles that this expert teacher has made with us.

Rob:                 So I’m thrilled to introduce you in a moment to Caroline Goyder. Among other things, she’s a voice coach and a gravitas expert who has spent her career helping not only actors but also chief executives, politicians and fundraisers to feel and project more confidence and gravitas when they need it most. She’s the author of several excellent books and if you like Caroline’s ideas, I recommend you check out her brilliant new book which is called Find Your Voice. And if you email Caroline your receipt, then as a thank you, she will send you both her new Confidence Boosters audio course, which is normally 10 pounds and the full set of her gravitas method audios, which are normally 50 pounds. Caroline’s website and contact email are at carolinegoyder.com. And do check out our episode notes on our Bright Spot website to find those.

Announcer:       This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by the Bright Spot Members Club. As a practical alternative to one-off conferences and courses whose impact can fade all too quickly. The Member’s Club is an online resource that gives you ongoing access to a whole library of video training courses, monthly coaching webinars, and live training events. It’s all designed to help you learn, enjoy your job, and raise more money. To join the 300 fundraisers already in the club or just to find out more go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:                 Today, in this, the first of four sessions I recorded with Caroline for the Bright Spot Members’ Club, we explore tactics that any fundraiser can implement to increase their gravitas. We cover several different ideas, including how to make a particular physical shift that has an immediate impact on your gravitas. And a mental trick for reducing nerves that Caroline was taught by the actor Bill Nye. We join the interview at the point where I’ve asked Caroline about her background and how it helps her in the work she does now.

Caroline:           So I started out in acting. I went to drama school, trained as an actor, and then ended up teaching actors how to have confidence, presence, voice, power, and those skills started to become really interested … other people started to want to know about them. People in corporates, people in charities in particular. And I started to find myself at Central School of Speech and Drama teaching people who weren’t actors. And it was more fun to teach people to speak their own words.

Rob:                 Right. Yeah, that makes absolute sense. And then from what you found from coaching fundraisers so far, what are a couple of the common things that could cause them to not actually feel as confident as they’d like?

Caroline:           It’s fascinating. I love working with fundraisers, because fundraising is incredibly important and it’s also incredibly tricky. I often think about people working with corporates, going in and working with very credible, very authoritative people, having to match that kind of power when maybe it’s not your world. Or going into major donor meetings where people might seem quite daunting, and there are all sorts of moments for fundraisers where you’re having to show up in situations that may not be your comfort zone. And that’s different from a lot of other jobs. And I think it’s a kind of performance with a really important purpose.

Rob:                 Mm. Yeah, absolutely. There are many things in including the pressure put on you by yourself or by your colleagues, because if this is a big deal and probably several people in your charity know about it. But I agree one of the biggest ones is this being in another world where there’s a power dynamic and it’s clear that the person you’re asking for money or pitching to is pretty important. That’s a big one, isn’t it?

Caroline:           It’s tricky. And again, what you’re saying about the pressure on your shoulders to get that ask, that moment, right. Is scary. I liken it to being on stage, actually. I think it’s the same kind of pressure. And getting it right can be so important for your charity, and getting it wrong will be really hard to feed back at the ranch. So yeah, that moment of pressure is a kind of tough performance. And what you need are a performer or a sports person’s toolkit for coping with that kind of pressure.

Rob:                 Yeah. Yeah, because if you’re a sportsperson, if you’re Usain Bolt, you don’t just hope you’re going to be feeling good on the day. You’ve done certain things which can help you have a certainty that if I do these things, then actually I will be able to perform at my best.

Caroline:           Exactly. There is a set of strategies, assessive skills that any sportsperson will use that equally any actor or opera singer will use. Any musician. And they’re skills that anybody can learn.

Rob:                 Well, that’s very reassuring from the start, because I think it’s contrary to what some of us may have been led to believe. So let’s get into it. What are a couple of the starting ideas that you help people to do from within that toolkit?

Caroline:           The first part of the toolkit for me, and this is not always the first part of the toolkit for other people, is to really step into the audience issues. That’s not a new idea. It’s something that we talk a lot about in terms of influence. For me as a performer, if I think it’s all about me, the spotlight is on me, particularly as an introvert, that’s horrible. It would be very off-putting, I would feel very self conscious, very nervous.

Rob:                 Yes.

Caroline:           So if you flip the spotlight. And if you remember that your audience are just as worried about getting it wrong as you are.

Rob:                 Yes.

Caroline:           If we take the example of a major donor, they may have a couple of charities talking to them. They may be trying to juggle who they give money to. They may be worried that they’re going to make the wrong decision, that they’re going to give the money to the wrong charity. They’re not going to look after it in the right way. That’s a risk.

Caroline:           And if you can put yourself into the shoes of that person, juggling that risk. Worrying about their decision. Trying to reconcile a couple of different pressures on them. Then you start to realize that actually your job is to help them rather than to get it right yourself. And if you go in thinking, how can I help? It really flips that mindset.

Rob:                 Yes, absolutely. That makes absolute sense. And so in advance of the meeting, to deliberately ask oneself that question, and then even the half hour before, if you’re not as relaxed as you’d like to be, just keep going, “How can I help this person today?”

Caroline:           Exactly. Now I was taught this by the actor Bill Nye, who is a very interesting, very charismatic man. And he said to me, I learned this years ago, that actors when they get to a certain level cast their own movies. They will be sitting with the casting director watching other actors come in who are going to be playing with them. And he said, “I used to think as an actor going into those auditions, God, it’s all about me. What if I mess it up?” And he realized, he said, “Sitting at the other side of the table with the casting director, we were just as worried about getting it wrong.”

Rob:                 Yes

Caroline:           And so that idea that yes, you really focus, you might be sitting there half an hour before the meeting rather than going, “Am I going to mess up? Am I going to be nervous? Am I going to be self-conscious?” Think about this simple question, “How can I help?” And what he said about that is it takes us into compassion.

Caroline:           Which is a very generative, very powerful space. We’re at our best in compassion. Certainly in charities, possibly not everywhere.

Rob:                 Yes. And it’s hard to feel both compassion and fear at the same time. If you’re doing one of those, it will dominate…

Caroline:           Exactly.

Rob:                 … your physiology, and therefore, there’s probably still be some adrenaline, but to be, if you’re a genuinely caring, because you’re looking out and not in.

Caroline:           Exactly. And there’s a hormonal thing. It’s oxytocin. Which is the care connection hormone. Rather than adrenaline. And oxytocin dampens down adrenaline.

Rob:                 Ah hah. So, so literally you will feel calmer.

Caroline:           Exactly.

Rob:                 Yes, fabulous. So check your focus is on how can I help them? What’s another idea?

Caroline:           So another thing that I learned as an actor and religiously use is to get physically present. So if I have to do any kind of speech or pitch or meeting or interview, I will spend a bit of time in the morning, personally for me, it’s yoga. I do some very, very relaxing, grounding yoga, which is just about breathing and getting into the body. And I get up a bit early to do that. Because once the mayhem of your morning kicks off, the family wake up, there are things to do, then it’s over. But if you can carve out half an hour just to get physically present, that sets your state up for the rest of the day. And it gives you a kind of groundedness that relaxes others as well.

Rob:                 Yeah. And the reality is doing some calm breathing immediately before the big deal may help a bit, but really you’re saying it’s a bit late. Let’s practice it as a normal … you don’t have to be doing yoga all day every day.

Caroline:           No.

Rob:                 But if within any typical week, like when you’re waiting for someone or whatever, you’ve got a few moments where normally you might play with your smartphone or whatever, there’s always 10 minutes now and again in a person’s day, practice being present.

Caroline:           Exactly.

Rob:                 So that your body is good at it in advance of the big meeting. Is that advice you’d give?

Caroline:           Exactly. It’s setting us up for a calm, present state under pressure. And there is a fantastic app called Headspace, which is you get five, I think you get 10 days, 10 minute mini-meditations. And I often recommend to people you can do it on the tube.

Rob:                 Yeah. And is there a voice that guides you through?

Caroline:           Yes. That’s key.

Rob:                 Whenever I try and just do this on my own, then sometimes it works and sometimes the little voice just kind of distracts me again. But whenever I’ve done it and there has been a voice asking me to do certain things with my breathing or my focus, it’s helped a lot. So that the app is called Headspace.

Caroline:           Headspace and it absolutely guides you. And I think most people struggle with doing it. I mean I agree it’s easier at first if someone guides you.

Rob:                 Yeah, so that’s a great tip. Apart from being present, what’s another trick that you’ve used to help people?

Caroline:           I think understanding your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your style is really important. So we all have habitual ways of showing up. And one of the things that you learn in acting is that that’s not necessarily you. That there are lots of different uses. There’s a Walt Whitman quote, you know, “I contain multitudes.”

Caroline:           So for example, I was talking to a charity recently and one of them was having to go in and talk to big groups of volunteers and she was an athlete. She was very competitive. She’s a triathlete, very good triathlete. And she said, “When I go into the room there’s a kind of sense that I want to tell them stuff and I’m almost competing with them, because that’s what I do. I get up every morning, I train for two hours, I go home, I train for two hours.” And so we talked about what it would be like if she looks at the audience as old friends. And rather than trying to compete with them she softened. And she gave me some feedback recently. She said, “I did a talk to a group of volunteers and someone said they saw my softer side.”

Rob:                 Yeah.

Caroline:           And so we can all flip, we can all change our style. If you are going into the room with a very senior person in finance, then you’re going to want to go in with an authoritative credible style. And that has a certain low voice tone that communicates power. Now a quick way to get into that is to focus on task. So rather than focusing on building a friendship with them, you focus on getting a task done, which works well in finance, they’re tasky people.

Rob:                 Yes.

Caroline:           And a really simple trick is palms down as well. Palms down gesture often takes you into a more task style.

Rob:                 If we had a TV camera, then we could show the listener or viewer. Just say a tiny bit more. What do you mean by palms down?

Caroline:           So if you think of when you gesture, have your palms facing to the floor. I if I say the days of the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. There’s a sense that my voice is more newsreader. Here is the news.

Rob:                 Yes.

Caroline:           And that style has a certain strength, which is one of the ways we survive in life. We can either survive by strength or warmth.

Rob:                 Yes.

Caroline:           And strength communicates often with major donors, in corporates, in finance, with anybody who’s got a kind of leadership role in a big organization, because they’ve got a lot on their plates. So task is key.

Caroline:           Other audiences are different. A group of volunteers might want more connection, more approachability, more warmth. So we’ve got this binary of strength, which is the newsreader style, and warmth, which is how we show up with our kids, with our friends. How some people show up all the time at work. And if you want more warmth, you just turn the palms up. And you imagine talking to old friends. And it’s softens, it softens the energy, it softens our eyes, it shifts the hormones in the system. And that changes the voice.

Rob:                 So, what I found interesting is even while Caroline is talking to me, I started putting my palms down and I started to feel different.

Rob:                 And I realized that the Rob that shows up most of the time is a palms up Rob. And so it felt weird to put my palms down, but I was accessing that other part within me that can do the other. The more task and strength.

Caroline:           Exactly. And these are really straightforward binary archetypes. Now when actors are playing character, there’s a whole raft of options to play with. But I think these are two good things to think about. When you walk into a meeting, do you need to play strength, palms down, focus on task. Do you need to play warmth, palms up, focused on connection, on warmth. And then it’s finding the balance.

Rob:                 Yeah, and I was fascinated by the fact that I didn’t particularly think strength. I did the body gesture that Caroline recommended and instinctively something in my physiology felt more of that. Led not by focus or idea, but by physiology. You got any other tips in terms of things we can do with our body? It may not initially feel comfortable, but if we practice doing certain things with our body, it will kind of then cause us to feel more of confidence or gravitas that might help us?

Caroline:           Definitely. I mean there’s all sorts of research by a scientist called Amy Cuddy, and she talks about something called the power pose. She has a great Ted Talk, so she’s worth looking up. It’s Amy C-U-D-D-Y. And her research is all about the power of posture on our emotional hormonal balance. And what she realized was that in the animal kingdom, when animals are frightened, they tend to either puff themselves up and make themselves big, if they want to fight. Or if they want to run away or hide, they make themselves small.

Caroline:           So she thought we’re basically saying we come out of the same kind of evolutionary process. So perhaps that also affects us. And so she looked at what happens when humans make themselves very big. When we as human beings make ourselves tall. And what she realized is that that ramps up testosterone and it damps down anxiety. So that simply by standing up straighter, doing what she calls the power pose, you shift your hormonal state and that gives you a sense of more confidence.

Rob:                 Yeah. And I highly recommend this Ted Talk. There is a reason why it’s the second most viewed Ted Talk in history, more than 20 million times. My grandmother always advised me to sit up straighter, but she said that to be polite, and that didn’t, no wonder I kept slouching. But watching, spending 20 minutes watching Amy Cuddy with the science behind it, of how within just two minutes you feel different if you have the discipline to go to the bathroom before your big meeting and do this? You walk out literally standing taller, and then you’re not doing it on purpose, but the hormones are already helping you feel more alpha. If some level of more alpha is what will serve you on the day of that important meeting.

Caroline:           Absolutely. And what actors would say is that it’s a kind of still grounded power, that it says I am worthy of your attention. And it’s important to keep that power relaxed. Because as soon as tension hits the system, then we start to kind of play I’m bigger than you. And that can have a negative effect.

Caroline:           So it’s something about if you do your grounding work at home and then you do your power pose and it comes from a really relaxed place. That’s when it’s most powerful. It’s a kind of strong ease.

Rob:                 Yeah. Yes, that’s right. Because clearly we are all right to fear the idea of coming across as aggressive or arrogant. So we shouldn’t be misled by the idea of testosterone, but we need testosterone, some of it to perform and find that strength. But equally if that’s all you do, then you might come across as aloof or cold or competitive.

Caroline:           Exactly.

Rob:                 So that’s where the Bill Nighy focus of how can I help you. Doing both those things?

Caroline:           Balance. Yeah, balance is everything. We want to have a calm, strong sense of ourselves and a trust in what we offer, and then we want to be able to open up to others.

Rob:                 Yeah. And if there was one more idea or little exercise that you do with people that you coach, either consistent with these or something else, what would a last piece of advice be to someone who wants to feel more confident?

Caroline:           Well, I mean as a voice coach. The voice is a very unrecognized, underestimated part of who we are. And certainly in UK culture, there are other cultures where it’s more recognized. And simply in the morning putting the radio on or putting a favorite CD on and singing, really enjoy singing. It doesn’t matter if you make some bum notes. I’m a terribly tuneless singer. But it really doesn’t matter because it opens up your voice. There’s a resonance in your system. Literally you are resonating your system. And then when you walk into a meeting with someone that you need to impress, where you need to feel confident, your voice, it’s like a warmed up engine. It just starts and it makes you feel more present. It makes you feel more resonant in that space and that has a huge effect.

Rob:                 Yeah. Okay, so practicing with the voice. And at its simplest, singing to the radio.

Caroline:           Sing.

Rob:                 We can all do that. Doesn’t really matter if you hit the wrong notes, you are just bound to be finding more range and variety and strength in your voice.

Caroline:           You’re just warming it up, because the voice is just air hitting the vocal folds, vibrating in the body. And simply by getting that air onto the vocal folds, making sound, you’re warming it up. It means that when you get into a room, your voice will be there for you. It won’t be squeaky, it won’t be thin. It’ll have a lovely round resonance that will make others feel good.

Rob:                 Excellent advice. And there’s one more thing I wanted your advice on. I follow you on Twitter and you sent a tweet recently about just how vital it is to pause. And how most of us rarely understand that power. What’s your tip about why we should pause, how to do it, how it helps?

Caroline:           So pauses are good for a couple of reasons. When we pause, what we’re doing is closing our mouth really simply and inhaling. We’re breathing. Because we speak on the out breath.

So when we stop and think, we breathe in. And what that does is it refuels the voice. It refuels the brain. It’s a little pit stop in our speech. For the audience, it has a different effect. The audience, it gives them time to think about what you’ve just said, so you’re re-fueling, your voice is being re-energized, your brain is being oxygenated, they’re having time to consider what you’ve just said. It also says that you have an ease and control. You’re not worried. You don’t have to fill the silence. And that in any kind of pitch or ask situation is really powerful.

Rob:                 So there we are. Caroline was sharing various techniques she teaches her clients to reduce your nerves and increase your personal presence. I recorded this a couple of years ago, and ever since this interview I’ve taken advantage of some of the techniques we talked about, including things that help you find and convey strength as well as warmth. And I can tell you they really do work. But obviously you need to find a way to put them into practice which takes a step on from just being aware of them intellectually.

Rob:                 I’ve written a summary of the key ideas in the episode notes on our Bright Spot Fundraising website. And that includes Caroline’s website details and details of the special offer on her excellent new book, Find Your Voice. If you found the ideas helpful, do remember to hit subscribe today so you don’t miss out on any of the other sessions, and I’d be incredibly grateful if you could spare a moment to share it on with anyone else who you think might find it helpful.

Rob:                 And if you’d like to hear the other three interviews I did with Caroline, including one on winning hearts and minds and another on how to have grace under pressure, then these are all available along with a huge library of other practical training bundles and inspiring live events for fundraisers in our Bright Spot Members Club. To find out more, go to brightspotmembersclub/join. There are now over 300 fundraisers in the club, so do check this out if you’d like more in-depth training sessions from myself, Caroline, and dozens of other experienced fundraising trainers.

Finally, thank you so much for listening today. I really appreciate and respect the effort it takes to keep on honing your skills. And I look forward to speaking to you again in the next episode.