Do you feel comfortable when you talk to a person not looking you in the eye? Or standing with arms crossed?
How long can you focus on what the person is actually saying when his speech seems to be pure rambling? How long can you actively listen without backing off from the conversation? Those questions present real struggles in everyday communication – but are in fact just basic presentation issues.
You see, we present in almost every minute of our lives: when telling your colleagues a story about a troublesome traffic jam, trying to sell a product or convincing your wife that it’s time to send your kids away for the weekend. It’s there. Always. But what does “presentation” mean? It’s all about content: the organization of it, the choice of arguments, the displaying of reasons and causes properly. Such delicate topics of form as body language and tone of voice have impact on the content, too.
Even if you don’t need to convince anybody to your idea or if you lack a .pptx, you can gain so much more if you present well. You can become a brand in yourself. Take Steve Jobs, for example. Not only do we admire him for his minimalistic, characteristic presentations, but also for the way he talked, dressed, and moved – for the way he communicated. When you do it right, you impress others; that’s half of the success. What should you then pay attention to? Let’s take a look.
Body Language in General
Know Amy Cuddy? She’s a badass veteran when it comes to non-verbal communication. Her study showed that, in short, if you want to feel confident, you need to go with a “power posture”. Here, you can learn more on that. Recent studies try to debunk this theory; however, whether it’s true or not, we like and respect power postures as long as they appear natural to us. I’m simply amazed by how quickly we can judge if one’s behavior is fake or trustworthy, and whether we should trust this particular person or not.
Being a linguist, not a neuroscientist, I won’t elaborate on the science of this phenomenon. However, we must assume in everyday communication that the other person feels the incoherence of our body language. And, as human beings, we hate incoherence. That’s why we don’t like when people avoid eye-contact. It is widely known that liars do that. Moreover, shy people are guilty of the same misdemeanor. Whether our interlocutor lies or is scared, we don’t like the lack of eye-contact as we cannot read their intentions, and above all, we feel that the interlocutor does not pay attention to us.
Moving on, how would you feel talking to an interlocutor with such a body posture?
Apart from the facial expression, the crossed arms would probably make you feel more reserved towards this person. The arms naturally state a barrier in a conversation. Sometimes it feels extremely comfortable to cross them, however; bear in mind that while establishing new rapport, this posture may be perceived as one’s reserved attitude.
One of the vital “tools” of body language are hand gestures. They can boost or decrease your credibility in no time. You probably have experienced the trouble of what to do with them, when the situation is awkward. The same with conducting any kind of presentations; that’s why so many during a public speech use pointers or simply hold a pen in their hands. It seems that we rather trust more the people whose hands are expressive than those who e.g., hide them behind their back. Don’t we? Try to observe this on next possible occasion. If you have an opportunity to talk with a person hiding their hands under a table, monitor your feelings regarding this body language cue.
Apart from vivid gestures, your handshake is also crucial. Most meetings or presentations start with it. By the strength of it, we tend to detect how engaged and open a person is. On the other hand, what is the worst nightmare in meeting new people? Yes, a sweaty palm and a weak handshake. It usually evokes such strong feelings in us that the experience may completely ruin the first impression.
But how to appear more confident with your hands? One of the most common power postures is hands steepling.
Take a look at those two alternatives: who would you rather trust with your life-time savings?
What about these two postures? Which one appears to be more confident?
Pro tip. If you talk to a customer or give a presentation, and aim at convincing your interlocutors, you’d better show that you are confident and dedicated to the idea. So if you fancy having your hand in a pocket, at least take the thumb out.
What to avoid? Depending on the situation, our hands may do all sorts of pacifying behaviors that indicate doubt, nervousness or stress. Look around and you will notice it with ease. These are some of them:
To sum up, here are some of the most basic tips that you can use while presenting:
This is a zone that makes your hands visible, without any awkward positions. Try to vary the hand language in this area. Everything else must be done intentionally, with clear purpose to highlight the content.
If you need to show something specific, avoid pointing. Instead use an open palm.
As mentioned before, try to keep your hands in the safe zone. Drawing attention to your genitals is always a bit awkward for the viewer.
Your hands hold great power; the one of highlighting the content. Try to emphasise what you’re conveying instead of pointless movements. Make them visible, descriptive, and coherent with what you preach.
Resting B*tch Face
Hard nut to crack. It happens so that we do not control our facial expressions. If your interlocutor pays attention to your reactions both on your face and those evoked in your body language, having a resting bitch face is a conversation- or relation-killer. If your face expresses disgust, boredom or anger, how can the interlocutor be happy about talking with you?
How confident will they be in the convo? Correct! Neither happy, nor confident. Your partners might also get angry as your facial expression can be a sign of clear disrespect. “But I was born this way!”, you might say. Not really. You just haven’t practiced expressing feelings enough. Remedy? Mirror training, a spoon of consciousness, and a dash of good will. Et voila! I know, you might say that everybody around you is aware of your facial expression problem. But what about meeting new people? Think about it.
Hands, shoulders, knees and TOES…
Your body posture is determined by two main areas: shoulders and legs. To keep a coherent position, both need to face quite the same direction. If both toes face different direction than the interlocutor or audience in general, even when the shoulders are directed towards the crowd, it may be that the person feels uncomfortable in a given situation. We simply tend to direct the toes towards a thing or person that caught our focus. Thus, feeling uncomfortable, we direct our focus elsewhere, not on the source of our stress. That’s an easy way to judge what the interlocutor is focused on.
What else can we learn about legs movement? It may happen so that while standing we shift the weight from leg to leg. We may be also rocking a bit. That can be a pacifying sign which shows a bit of nervousness from our side. How about their legs positions?
The weight in both cases isn’t put on one leg only. Their position is firm, and probably you will agree that they don’t seem to be stressed, won’t you?
The last leg posture that is may be good to avoid is crossing legs while standing. Not only is it unstable for you, but also the look of that is not natural. It seems to be a kind of barrier as well.
To learn more about body language and how certain postures look, the best way is to observe people, their emotions in the conversation that you either witness or participate in and their body language that changes along. Then, try to remember the best positions that evoke trust and friendliness in others. Be more conscious of your body in order to avoid body language faux pas! Remember, non-verbal communication is as important as the verbal one. As an example, when we were kids, the non-verbals were all that we had!
All of that is of course in a nutshell. If you have any other experiences or ideas on the large subject, let us know! Should you need any guidance, workshops or simply piece of advice, we’re here for you.
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