It’s How You Say It,
Not Just What You Say
First impressions are lasting impressions. Studies have shown that when people first meet you, they make up their mind about you in a few seconds. Although what you say is important, your body language and tone of voice makes a bigger impression on how people ultimately judge you. For example, have you ever been to a presentation where someone starts off their presentation by saying, “I’m excited to be here,” however they say it in low tone and unconvincing manner? They used the words, but failed to convey the excitement through their body language and tone of voice. Or have you ever walked into a meeting and the person who is going to give the presentation is not smiling, doesn’t make eye contact, looks like they don’t want to be there or gives other impressions of being unapproachable?
If you want to persuade, motivate, influence, get people to listen to you and come across as approachable, likeable and trustworthy you must pay attention to the messages and perceptions that your body language and tone of voice is conveying.
The following are guidelines to SOFTEN your image.
Smile - A simple smile shows that you really care. It also
provides a sense of warmth and increases your likeability and approachability. As the saying goes, “A smile is the light in the window that tells people you are home.” One caveat to remember is to only smile when appropriate. Too many times, we have seen presenters smile when delivering badly or disturbing news. For example one client of ours started off his meeting by saying, “We are unfortunately going to have to have layoffs.” While saying this he had a slight ‘smirk’ on his face. This gave the perception that he really did not care. Also, when talking on the phone or delivering teleseminars your smile is also very important. Since the attendees can’t see your body language, your tone of voice and words are the only things that resonate. We recommend that you put a mirror next to your desk and before you answer the phone you look into the mirror and smile!
Open Posture –By keeping an open posture (i.e. don’t cross your legs or
arms) you will appear to be open minded, less defensive, less arrogant and more approachable. This is especially true if someone in your audience disagrees with your comments. Many speakers get defensive and immediately cross their arms. This then becomes a barrier and is perceived as a “you against them” standoff. It makes the speaker look less open minded and approachable.
Forward Lean/Focus – One of the best ways to show interest is to lean
forward or face people when communicating. If you are attentive and interested they will be interested in you. When you are initially meeting the participants focus on each individual and stay away from the temptation to keep looking around the room. This will show that you care. In addition don’t keep looking at text messages, pick up phone calls or do other things that take away your focus.
Territory - In the USA the acceptable distance between two people are 14 to 46 inches. If you are closer than this people will feel uncomfortable and become distracted. If you are further away it might be interpreted as aloofness. The one time you may want to get closer than 14 inches is when there is a heckler in the audience. Get into the heckler’s space while you are delivering your presentation to the audience. When you stand right next to them, they will become a little uncomfortable and usually stop talking.
Eye contact- One of the most important ways to establish trust and rapport is through eye contact. Although some cultures may view eye contact in a negative manner, for most of us eye contact is positive. Good eye contact is important from the time someone walks in the door, throughout your presentation and then afterwards. If you are a little shy or intimidated by certain people in your audience you can establish instant eye contact by playing a game of determining the color of their eyes. By focusing on the color of the eyes instead of seeing them as an intimidating person, you will immediately establish a connection without feeling uncomfortable. This helps you to immediately get eye contact to make a connection. In a business presentation, eye contact should not be held for longer than three to five seconds with any one person. The exception to this is when you are making a point. Always focus on the person you are looking at until you finish the point. By keeping eyes on the person vs. looking all around, your point, idea or statement will have more impact. If you are speaking to a large group, pick one person out in the middle of a section and focus on them. As a result everyone in that area will be thinking that you are looking at them. In a one on one meeting or in small groups you can tell if someone likes or agrees with you by looking at their pupils. If they are dilated this means they tend to agree or like you. On the other hand you need to be aware that lighting or other factors may contribute to the size of their pupils.
Nodding- By nodding, you shows attentiveness, enthusiasm and you validate the speaker. However, by yawning and looking tired, you give an impression that you don’t care. And if you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you. When delivering teleseminars or talking on the phone how you ‘nod’ on the phone can be perceived as positive or negative. For example if you rush the person by your tone of voice or you keep saying, ‘ok’ ‘uh-ah’ ‘whatever’ over and over again, it shows you don’t care and it takes away from building rapport and relationships. One quick caveat with respect to nodding is to be careful when you nod to acknowledge that you hear or understand what the other person is saying. This nodding can be construed as you agreeing with what they are telling you. This is a common mistake that Henry has seen for himself while observing witnesses testifying in official hearings; however this principle can be applied to any conversational situation.
As a summary, here are Ten Non-Verbal Things to Remember and Ten Behaviors to Avoid as stated by consultant James Ruffin, PhD. jamesruffinconsulting.com
Ten Non-Verbal Things to Remember
1. Your clothing and appearance will be the first non-verbal communication to your audience.
2. Make good eye contact with each person you meet, together with a firm handshake, always maintaining a social distance.
3. Body posture should be frontal towards the audience, with hands down to your side or bent at the elbows unless making a point.
4. Never stand behind the lectern unless gathering your notes or briefly working with the A/V equipment.
5. Allow the audience to get to know you by showing true emotion. Passion for the product or defense for your client.
6. Rapport brings empathy. Facial expressions, spacial awareness, and true emotion are key to rapport.
7. Concentrate on your voice. Use pace and tone to accent your words.
8. Hand gestures should be used sparingly and only to make specific points, as these gestures are often misinterpreted across social, economic, or cultural lines.
9. Be attentive of the non-verbal signals you receive from the audience and adjust accordingly. The audience will mirror you if you are in a rapport state.
10. Incongruence between the body, face, and voice will lead to broken connections and lost trust with the audience.
Ten Behaviors to Avoid
1. Incongruence between what you are saying versus what is showing on your face and with your body.
2. Attempting to conceal your true emotion (stress, fear, anxiety, anger, disgust).
3. Invade someone’s intimate or personal space without invitation or permission.
4. Don’t have a blank stare into space, randomly looking around. This shows disinterest and a lack of confidence.
5. Avoid folding your arms across you chest in a defensive posture, play with change in your pocket