Sunday, April 20, 2008

Warning: Do You Recognize These 8 Body Language Killers?

“A significant amount of communication occurs through body language. Though we can’t see our own, everyone else does. If you’re saying one thing and thinking another, your body language may well give you away.”

- Gerri King, Ph.D.

Did you know that 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice)? That means only 7% involves your actual words. And when the spotlight is on you — whether one-on-one in a job interview or when making a presentation to a large group — you need to communicate effectively on all levels.

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. Here you will find eight 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.

Mistake #1. Avoiding eye contact.

Do you read directly from a PowerPoint presentation instead of addressing the audience? In a one-on-one conversation, do you glance to the side, down at your feet, or at the desk? Ever catch yourself looking over the shoulder of the person you’re talking to? What it says about you is that you lack confidence, you are nervous and unprepared.

The winning technique: Keeping your eyes on your audience. Spend 80% to 90% of the 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.

Mistake #2. Blocking: putting something between you and your listeners.

Another common mistake is putting something between you and your listeners. Crossing your arms, standing behind a podium or chair, or talking to someone from behind a computer monitor are all examples of blocking, which prevents a real connection from taking place. Even a folder on a desk can break the connection and create distance.

The winning technique: Staying “open.” Keep your hands apart and your palms up, pointed toward the ceiling. Remove physical barriers between you and your listeners.

Mistake #3. Fidgeting, rocking or swaying.

What it says about you is that you’re nervous, unsure or unprepared. So, stop fidgeting. Fidgeting, rocking and swaying don’t serve any purpose. Let’s imagine for a second a top executive of a computer company who has to deliver the news of a product delay to a major investor. He and his team actually have the event under control, and they have learned valuable lessons from their failure. But his body language suggests otherwise.

His biggest problem is rocking back and forth as he delivers the presentation. It reflects a lack of competence and control. By eventually learning to move with purpose, he can avoid career suicide. The investor will leave the next presentation confident that the project is well under control.

Mistake #4. Keeping your hands in your pockets or clasped together.

Keeping your hands stiffly by your side or stuck in your pockets can give the impression that you’re uninterested, uncommitted or nervous — whether you are or not.

The solution here is too simple: Take your hands out of your pocket and use them for purposeful, assertive hand gestures. Engaging both hands above the waist is an example of a complex hand gesture that reflects complex thinking and gives the listener confidence in the speaker.

Mistake #5. Standing or sitting perfectly still.

Ineffective speakers barely move, staying in one spot during a presentation. What it says about them: They are rigid, nervous, boring — not engaging or dynamic.

The winning technique: Animate your body, not your slides. Walk. Move. Most speakers 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. He points to a slide instead of reading from it, places his hand on someone’s shoulders instead of keeping the distance.

Mistake #6. Slouching, leaning back, or being hunched over.

Poor posture is often associated with a lack of confidence and can reflect — or be presumed to reflect — a lack of engagement or interest. What it says about you: You are unauthoritative; you lack confidence.

The winning technique: Keeping your head up and back straight. When standing stationary, place feet at shoulder width and lean slightly forward — you will look far more interested, engaged, and enthusiastic. 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.

Mistake #7. Using phony gestures.

What it says about you is that you’re overcoached, unnatural or artificial. 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. 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 and friends to make fun of you after a meeting.

Mistake #8. Jingling coins, tapping toes & other annoying movements.

What it says about you is that you’re nervous, unpolished or insufficiently concerned with details. 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!

Dynamic and powerful body language will help you kick up the power of your presentations, whether you’re interviewing for a job, climbing the career ladder or occupying the corner office. So work on your body language. Pay as much attention to it as the words you use, and watch your influence soar!

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