Posted: Wed 19th Dec 2012
Communication isn't confined simply to what you say and how you phrase it; when you attend meetings or give presentations, your body language will be an integral element of your message, writes Enterprise Nation editor Simon Wicks.
Poor body language betrays lack of confidence or may even arouse suspicion; positive body language reinforces sincerity and conviction - and it makes other people feel confident, too. It's not a random thing - by paying attention to your looks and gestures when speaking or listening to others, you can create a strong and positive impression that fosters trust and is likely to make you feel more self-assured, too. Here are some body language basics to help you make a good impact on the people you do business with:
Mind your appearance
The first thing people will notice about you is your appearance. It says a lot about you, before you even open your mouth to speak. So it's worth thinking about how you want to be perceived - and this may depend on what you do, what kind of meeting you're attending and even the location. Is it a formal meeting to discuss a contract or a quick catch-up with a well-established contact? Do you want to appear serious and business-like, or fun and creative? Over and under-dressing can make you and others feel uncomfortable and inhibit communication - turning up to casual meeting in a suit could be as out of place as appearing in jeans and a t-shirt for a contract negotiation. Make the effort to dress appropriately; but always try to feel comfortable and like yourself.
Looks and gestures
Positive looks and gestures reinforce spoken messages and can instil confidence that you are trustworthy and know what you're talking about. If you're hesitant, people will pick up on that and may ask themselves why; likewise, if your body language is overbearing, that can be intimidating or irritating (just like talking over someone when they speak).
Shake hands. A hand shake sets the tone for a meeting. A straight, reasonably firm and relatively brief handshake is welcoming and instils confidence.
Stand up to greet people if they come into the room.
Maintain good eye contact - especially when making important points and when listening to others.
Don't fold your arms. This is a very dismissive gesture and says, quite simply, that you're bored or fed up.
Nod while listening to show you understand. Giving this kind of feedback when people are talking is encouraging and helps with their own confidence.
Sit up straight or lean in towards people a little - it shows that you're interested. Be very wary of leaning back during meetings as it implies that you're trying to put a distance between yourself and others . This is a matter of context, of course, and leaning back may be an indication that the business of the day is over and it's time to relax.
Use your hands a little to illustrate a point, but not too much. A little gesticulation helps to reinforce what you're saying, but too much is just distracting and may dilute your message.
Don't look at your phone during a meeting. This tells people that you're far more interested in what's going on elsewhere than what's happening in the room. It's extremely rude.
Be aware of what and when you write things down. Â When you make notes, it tells people that these are the important points you want to remember.
Smile. Smiling - when appropriate, of course - relaxes people and will make you feel more relaxed, too.
Mind your unconscious gestures. It's worth asking people you know well whether you have any irritating gestures that you may not be aware of. Do you persistently click a biro during meetings, for instance?
Preparing for presentations
Presentations are nerve-wracking. But when your nerves are too apparent, it will dilute the impact of what you're saying. Listeners can become impatient, distracted or simply not take you seriously - even if what you're actually saying is excellent. People respond to self-assurance. This is easily said, of course, but with practice you can learn to at least appear self-assured and in time you will feel it, too. You don't have to crack jokes or provide flashy visuals (which can be distracting anyway); you simply have to stand and speak in an assured way. Here are a few tips to help you:
Know what you want to say, inside out.
Project your voice and speak out to the audience, not to the floor or just one or two people.
Stand confidently and openly. This will actually help you feel more confident, too.
Keep excessive physical gestures under control - you want people to listen to your words, not get distracted by lots of movement. On the other hand, a limited amount of expressive gesture is natural and can help to reinforce important points.
Learning to give a good presentation takes time. But you can practice and improve privately by making and watching videos of yourself presenting, even using a smartphone or video conferencing software that enables recording. Though it's excruciating to watch yourself, it's a valuable exercise. Ask yourself: Is your speech halting or fluent? Do you have any particularly distracting gestures that you weren't aware of? Are you convinced by your presentation? It's worth taking the time to get it right! With thanks to Chloe Askwith, author of How to Negotiate for tips and guidance.
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Photo credit: Jiung Kang Too