There is a language that we all speak, but few are conscious of: the language of our bodies.
When we are talking to others – either face-to-face, or from the front of the room, our posture, gestures, eye movements and general demeanor communicate far more than our words.
If you are unconsciously giving out the wrong signals, the meaning behind your intended message will be weakened or lost.
Body language is a vast, fascinating subject, but from a business point of view, there are several pointers that can help to strengthen your message. The aim is to match your audience’s unconscious template of what makes a person trustworthy and believable.
1. Personal Space
Everybody has a personal space threshold. Generally, Americans and Northern Europeans prefer to stand about a meter (3 feet) apart. People from Southern European and Asian countries are comfortable a little closer. Folks who live in rural areas like a little more space. Social situations allow closer proximities than non-social.
Be aware if the person you are talking to is backing up, and try not to intrude on their territory.
2. Eye Movements
Many people are nervous about making eye contact – it is vital to overcome that fear if you want to be respected and believed. An evasive or indirect gaze sends out a strong signal of untrustworthiness.
When speaking to a room full of people, it is essential that you allow yourself to make – and maintain for a few seconds – eye contact with everyone in the room, over and over.
Experts say that the first five seconds of a meeting are more important than the next hour. Check all the obvious things like hair, teeth, fingernails, shoes, breath, immediately before the meeting. But also make sure you are putting on your best front, well in advance.
Even if the dress code is casual, there is a world of difference between dirty jeans and a crumpled T-shirt, and freshly laundered casual trousers and a polo shirt. Remember – dress to respect yourself and you automatically respect your audience.
Your hands are like semaphore flags. They send a message whatever position they are in.
Take a look at prominent politicians – they almost all use their hands to reinforce their words sending visual signals directly to the right-brain of the listener to augment the words which normally address the left-brain.
You have to think of your hands and arms as every bit as important as the charts and slides you are presenting.
There are five places your hands can comfortably be:
– 1. In your pockets. Don’t do it! It might feel natural, but the signal this gives is anything but. You will look uncomfortable, casual and unsure of yourself.
– 2. Clasped behind your back. This looks aloof and superior, and should be avoided.
– 3. Relaxed, by your side. This feels very unnatural to most people, but actually looks good to the audience. It makes you seem to lack tension.
– 4. On your hips. This is a very positive position. It sends out a message that you are comfortable and self- assured. Don’t overdo it. This stance is best used at moments when you stop speaking and are allowing the audience a moment to absorb your message.
– 5. Gesticulating. Learn the messages that your hands convey and use them to emphasize your points: an open hand denotes honesty; a closed fist, aggression or evasion; a pointing finger, hostility. Also be aware of cultural differences. The American thumb and forefinger gesture meaning ‘okay’ may be insulting in Denmark.
5. Read the Room
are not the only one who is communicating non-verbally. Learn to recognize the
unconscious signals that your audience is feeding back to you.
* A tilted head and direct eye contact indicates attentive approval.
* Raised eyebrows and forward-leaning posture denotes attentive alertness.
* Indirect gaze, accompanied by pen or finger biting show uncertainty.
* Folded arms can indicate hostility.
* A hand to the chin show that you are being summed up.
Finally, learn constantly. Whenever you watch a presenter, try to work out why they are good or bad. Every time you make a presentation, try to detach yourself and see how you can be even better next time.
Adapted from Martin Avis – “Do You Shout Even When You Are Silent”
Be aware of what you “say” even when you aren’t speaking!