By Paul McNamara. Published on 13 June 2017
You may be articulate, erudite and knowledgeable but research shows that, on occasion, as much as 90% of communication is non-verbal.
Nowhere is this more true than in the first few moments of an interview or meeting, where we make judgements about each other before a word is exchanged. We begin to develop firm opinions about an individual’s motivation and intentions and whether we want to do business with them or not and as these opinions are difficult to change, it’s important to make the best impression possible from the start.
Before you try to convince your audience, convince yourself
Convincing body language is not a self-conscious over rehearsed ‘technique’ – it has to be rooted in self-belief and genuine inner confidence. Success is about harnessing and honing your strengths through posture, movement and gesture, not method acting! So awareness of what sends the right signals and the ability to make the best of body language is really very important in a whole range of professional interactions. It should however appear to be a natural, seamless extension of the real you and not choreography.
So here, in seven steps, we look at some fundamentals – the vocabulary of body language and assertive inspiring communication without words. These aren’t intended as prescriptive stages but could be useful ingredients in your preparations for that key meeting or career defining interview…
Unspoken persuasion in seven positive steps
1 – Where else to begin than in the first few seconds? Even before you shake hands, approach your audience with a positive, upright posture. Not rigid and tense, just comfortable and confident.
2 – Ensure that your handshake is firm, but not an iron grip – this is one of the core body language moves and will set the tone of what follows. A limp and evasive greeting is clearly counterproductive, but a faintly aggressive, domineering clench is also a no-go!
3 – Arm and hand movements are important too. Keep your arms relaxed and at your sides, not crossed in a defensive straight jacket. Hand gestures support key points and underpin your powers of expression, helping to reinforce credibility in your argument.
4 – As with your arms, but a somewhat more contentious point I find, it’s important to keep your legs uncrossed and relaxed. This demonstrates that you are at ease – a clear sign that you believe in your ability or ‘fit’ within the company you’re communicating to. Interestingly, research also shows that we actually retain more with our legs uncrossed – opinion on this remains divided in the EBP office, however and we would welcome your thoughts.
5 – It’s always crucial to keep good eye contact. This doesn’t mean maintaining an unbroken stare of course – decidedly unsettling – but you certainly need to look someone directly in the eye when listening or making a point. You can break off when considering your response or formulating an answer. When you’re addressing a group, ensure that you make contact with each individual, or you’ll alienate members of your audience. And the time-honoured advice about blinking holds true…don’t do too much of it because it makes you look uneasy or insincere.
6 – It’s easy to forget what you sound like in a conversation. Sometimes when you’re anxious to impress, the speed of your delivery goes up and so does the volume. Relax, take good deep breaths and deliver your message at a measured pace. Speak with clarity and confidence.
7 – You might be in a strategically important meeting or trying to make an exciting career move, but that certainly doesn’t mean you should be dour and guarded. Smile and laugh where you would naturally do so – not in a forced, nervous way – just where it feels right. This relaxes the atmosphere and shows you’re fully engaged.
Body language isn’t a monologue!
Always remember to read your audience. When you mirror another person’s body language and particularly their expressions, you’re conveying a sense of mutual respect and agreement. You’re showing that you understand, empathise and have something relevant to contribute. People will be far more motivated to re-engage with you if you’ve shown that you’re on their wavelength.
Look at the experts
Whilst I’d naturally never suggest you adopt the moves of a famous figure, it’s certainly worth taking an analytical look at some legendary communicators in action. The relaxed but ultimately authoritative demeanour of Barack Obama is a prime example, with his measured and powerful yet never strident voice, open and inclusive gestures. The emphasis given to eye contact by the late Steve Jobs, even during quite epic presentations, is another rule of engagement being used to memorable effect. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is careful to mirror the movements of those he is addressing – communicating a warm, empathetic attitude and a message of shared values.
Be aware. Be confident. Be authentic.
There are core elements to making body language sing your praises. You need to be keenly aware of it and able to decode both your actions and those of your audience. You need to convey real confidence, but not at the expense of being genuine. Putting up a screen of rehearsed but unfounded gestures will not fool the incisive and perceptive. So build your body language around a nucleus of knowledge, honesty and self-belief and ultimately it will work for you.
There’s no doubt that nonverbal communication is a key differentiator, and one which the pro’s use to significant effect. From my experience working in HR executive search, your ability to communicate – and really get the person you’re speaking to on-side – can be impacted hugely by following these simple steps. So next time you are about to enter that big meeting or interview make sure you consider your body language and the impact it will have.
- Inc.com – 18 ways to send the right messages with body language
- Inc.com – 5 Top Entrepreneurs and Their Signature Body Language Moves
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