In many ways, listeners hear with their eyes. What is your body language saying about you? When you give a presentation or run a sales meeting, are you coming across as authoritative, confident and credible, or insecure, disreputable and out of your league?
The trouble may start with your posture, gestures and facial expressions. Famed jury consultant Jo Ellen Dimitrius says that when jurors are asked what makes a witness appear confident, they cite "body language" twice as frequently as any other category.
But how do you develop better language skills?
When it comes to body language, simply avoiding the most common mistakes and replacing them with more confident movements will make a big difference. After coaching hundreds of business professionals, I've identified seven body language killers that will leave your audience underwhelmed and unimpressed. Train yourself to avoid them, and you'll see that simple changes can make all the difference.
1. Avoiding eye contact What it says about you: You lack confidence; you are nervous and unprepared.
What to do instead: Spend 90% or more of your presentation time looking into the eyes of your listeners. The vast majority of people spend far too much time looking down at notes, PowerPoint slides or at the table in front of them. Not surprisingly, most speakers can change this behavior instantly simply by watching video of themselves. Powerful business leaders look at their listeners directly in the eye when delivering their message.
During the recent confirmation hearings for U.S Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, newspapers praised him for "looking self-assured." How did Roberts project this image? Instead of reading his statements from notes, Roberts looked his audience of Senators straight in the eye as he delivered his remarks.
2. Slouching What it says about you: You are unauthoritative; you lack confidence.
What to do instead: When standing stationary, place feet at shoulder width and lean slightly forward. Pull your shoulders slightly forward as well -- you'll appear more masculine. Head and spine should be straight. Don't use a tabletop or podium as an excuse to lean on it.
3. Fidgeting, rocking or swaying What it says about you: You are nervous, unsure or unprepared.
What to do instead: Well, stop fidgeting. Fidgeting, rocking and swaying don't serve any purpose. I recently worked with the top executive of computer company who had to deliver the news of a product delay to a major investor. He and his team actually had the event under control, and had learned valuable lessons from the failure. But his body language suggested otherwise.
His biggest problem was rocking back and forth as he delivered the presentation. It reflected a lack of competence and control. By eventually learning to move with purpose, he avoided career suicide. The investor left the next presentation confident that the project was well under control.
4. Standing in place What it says about you: You are rigid, nervous, boring -- not engaging or dynamic.
What to do instead: Walk. Move. Most men who come to me for presentation coaching think they need to stand ridged in one place. What they don't realize is that movement is not only acceptable, it's welcome. Some of the greatest business speakers walk into the audience, and are constantly moving... but with purpose!
For example, a dynamic speaker will walk from one side of the room to another to deliver their message. But if there's no one in a corner of the room, it doesn't make sense to go there -- it's not moving with purpose. When I tape my clients on video, I actually want to see that they move out of frame once in a while. Otherwise, they appear too rigid.
5. Keeping hands in pocket What it says about you: You are uninterested, uncommitted or nervous.
What to do instead: The solution here is too simple: Take your hands out of your pocket. I've seen great business leaders who never once put both hands in their pockets during a presentation. One hand is acceptable -- as long as the free hand is gesturing.
6.Using phony gestures What it says about you: You are overcoached, unnatural or artificial.
What to do instead: Use gestures; just don't overdo it. Researchers have shown that gestures reflect complex thought. Gestures leave listeners with the perception of confidence, competence and control. But the minute you try to copy a hand gesture, you risk looking contrived -- like a bad politician.
President George Bush Sr. used gestures that were often incongruous with his words, as if he had been overcoached. It was like watching mismatched audio in a bad B-movie. Dana Carvey made a career out of impersonating Bush, distracting hand gestures and all, on Saturday Night Live. You may not command quite as wide an audience as President Bush did, but, nonetheless, the last thing you want is for your own colleagues to make fun of you after a meeting.
7. Jingling coins, tapping toes & other annoying movements What it says about you: You are nervous, unpolished or insufficiently concerned with details.
What to do instead: Use a video camera to tape yourself. Play it back with a critical eye. Do you find annoying gestures that you weren't aware of? I once watched an author who had written a book on leadership discuss his project. He couldn't help but jingle all the coins in his pocket throughout the entire talk. He didn't sell very many books that day, and he certainly didn't score points on the leadership scale.
Nervous energy will reflect itself in toe-tapping, touching your face or moving your leg up and down. It's an easy fix once you catch yourself in the act!
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