One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from an old sales manager of mine who said, “It’s not just about what you say, but HOW you say it.” You can be the most educated person in a room but if you come off like a robot, people won’t listen to you. Effective communication is all about influence, whether you are speaking to a crowd, someone you just met, or someone you speak to every single day. There are some key elements to managing your body language that can really open people up to you and what you are saying. It’s like the difference between someone hearing you and captivating someone.
Here are 8 ways to increase your influence over your audience with effective body language:
Straight not Rigid
Posture is one of the first things people notice about you. The key here is to stand tall, without appearing rigid. You’re exuding confidence and strength, not standing at attention for a military-grade inspection. If you appear weak with your shoulders hunched and stooped over, people are going to sense weakness. If you walk around like you have a rod in your spine people are going to perceive arrogance. So stand up straight. relax your shoulders, and hold that head high.
I am a Texan, so handshakes are kind of a big deal to me. I was taught from a young age that the first thing you do when you introduce yourself to someone is shake their hand. Handshakes are not meant to be a battle of wills. You’re not trying to crush the hand of the other person, although there are specific times when a firmer than normal handshake is required. For instance, the first time you meet a boy who is going to take your daughter on a date. In normal, more civil, circumstances you want your handshake to be firm, but not crushing. A lot can be said in a simple handshake, so make sure you are putting out the message that you want to be heard.
Position Your Body Accordingly
Your stance is extremely important to setting the mood of a conversation. Opening your stance to the person you are talking to gives off a sense of vulnerability to them. This makes you seem more approachable and personable. If your hips are off center, or you are turned even slightly to the side, you give off an impression of being shut off or defensive. Keep both of these things in mind when you are talking to someone, because both stances have good, practical applications.
Don’t be a Leaner
One bad habit of mine that I had to break was the tendency to lean on things when speaking to people. The simple act of leaning back against a wall or putting a hand on a wall can make you appear too casual. Again, this kind of goes back to the posture thing. You have to send a message with your entire body, and if that message is “I can’t even stand up on my own,” people aren’t going to listen.
Pay Attention to your Neutral Face
I have a serious problem with “resting bitchface syndrome” (RBFS). I don’t mean to look mean, I just always seem like I am scowling. I remember one time in my old office where I saw a woman walking down the hall who I’d see a couple of times a week. On this particular day, we happened to strike up a conversation, and she said: “you’re so nice, I always thought you were mean.” I asked why she thought that, and she said I just looked mean. It never occurred to me that my RBFS gave off that impression, so I’ve always made it a point to smile at people when I see them, so they don’t get the wrong impression.
Constructive Eye Contact
Eye contact is probably the most important aspect of body language that people mess up. If you are talking to someone and your eyes are shifty, it seems like you are being deceptive or aloof. Then again, if you intensely glare into someone’s eyes the entire time you are talking to someone, you might give off a serious serial killer vibe. Find that happy medium between intensity and diversion so that when you make eye contact throughout your interaction it puts weight behind what you are saying.
Match their Body Language
One important aspect of body language in a conversation is to pay attention to the other person’s body language as much as you pay attention to yours. One technique that works if to mirror what they do. If they cross their arms, cross yours. Use their body language to steer yours. Again, this makes someone take notice of your body language and allows you to change theirs by changing yours. I honestly recommend consciously trying this one just to see how well it works.