The cliché says that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Unlike most well-worn platitudes, there’s more than a grain of truth in the advice – especially in business, where the direction of your career may depend on it. There are countless blogs on appearance and how to dress to impress, but there is another factor that tends to get overlooked at pitches, presentations and interviews. You might not be able to speak “Body Language”, but it’s the one form of communication in which the majority of us are fluent readers, and it’s just as important in getting your message across than what comes out of your mouth.
Like Madonna sang, it’s all about striking a pose, but before you go Vouge-ing in the boardroom you may want to read these tips to think about how important your body language is in the workplace:
Prepare and centre yourself
Arrive early, and if presenting make sure you have everything you need. Many a great presentation has been undermined by rebellious audio/visual equipment or software glitches. Giving yourself plenty of time to set up and make sure everything is in working order will free up mental space to concentrate on the meat and potatoes of the presentation – the content of your message, and how you present yourself.
It may seem obvious, but in order to convey the right kind of body language you’ll need to be aware of your body. This isn’t as daft as it sounds as we tend to spend too much time in our heads without paying attention to the flesh and bones beneath. There are simple mindfulness exercises that you can download that will enable you to check in with the rest of your body, relax and centre yourself before you begin.
Power, status and confidence
Granted, this may sound the title of a New Order album, but you’ll need to exude these three elements in order to pitch, present or interview your way to brilliance.
Some advocate developing a powerful mindset in order to control their body language. The logic suggests that you can prime yourself beforehand by recalling the emotions you felt during past successes. Your mind will exude confidence and power, and your body is meant to fall in line. But for those who prefer to be in the moment a good, solid stance will work wonders.
Don’t slouch, or you’ll look like a mardy teenager. Instead root yourself in place by standing with your feet in line with your shoulders; this will give you balance and enable your body to move freely. Let yourself be at ease and remember that standing to attention is for the military.
Also, the taller you stand the more status you’ll appear to have.
It’s perfectly normal while speaking to gesticulate – imagine how stilted and boring weather forecasts would be if meteorologists stood with their hands at their sides for the whole broadcast. Don’t over-animate your hands though – unless you’re going for an interview to become an orchestra conductor.
Own the space
You’ll hear advice telling you to “own the space”, which doesn’t mean dominate the room like an aggressive alpha, it just means you need to have control over your personal space. Don’t shrink into yourself, or you’ll literally become a wallflower. The key to achieving this is concentrating on openness and standing up straight, keeping your shoulders relaxed. If presenting or pitching, it’s fine to move around if it’s appropriate, but make your movements deliberate rather than tentative, or you’ll come across as indecisive.
A smile goes a long way and is a great tool in helping those around you to relax and build rapport. Try not to force a manic grin though. That could be particularly scary.
Likewise, eye-contact is a simple yet often overlooked tool in building rapport. Shifty, nervous eyes are likely to undermine your message. Try not to stare though, or go bug-eyed. Treat it like you would an ordinary conversation. Remember, if there is more than one person in the room, make sure to make eye-contact with all of them. This way, everyone will feel engaged and involved.
Work out your poker “tell”, and stop doing it
Poker players have a “tell” – a gesture or tic that indicates their opponent is bluffing. Chances are that your own business tell will manifest itself from good old-fashioned nervousness. Be aware of how your body reacts in pressured situations; be it hand wringing, top tapping, or nose picking (ugh). Whatever it is, being aware of your go-to nervous tics is most of the battle. Work to eliminate them by making yourself comfortable and adopting a more neutral pose. Don’t find yourself another fidget to replace the old one!
Some useful don’ts
An old wives tale to relieve nerves when speaking in public is to picture the audience naked. Don’t do this – at best it’s distracting, and at worst just plain pervy. Keep nudity, either real or imaginary, to an absolute minimum.
You should also be aware of over familiarity and other people’s personal space. They’ve probably had enough close contact with strangers on their morning commute, so it’s best not to carry it on through their working day.
Many volumes have been written on body language and these are but a few simple tips to add to your arsenal. Like most tricky situations in life, confidence is the key. Keep that in mind and you’ll find most of the hard work done. Good luck!