Our body speaks louder than our words. Everyone on the planet—no matter how sophisticated, educated or enlightened—can read body language. It is an unconscious thing whereby we can tell what is really being said by someone. Although it may be just a ‘feeling,’ your intuition is probably correct.
Decoding Body Language
Often, we are not even aware of our body language. We may be nervous, upset, worried or even trying to hide something (this is always a recipe for disaster if you are speaking to a team you are leading!) Here are some examples of body language that alert a listener that something is not in alignment with what you are trying to communicate:
- Avoiding eye contact. This can be a sign of low confidence in the subject or low self-esteem, fear or that the person is lying.
- Too much eye contact. Yes, you can have too much eye contact which makes the listener feel uneasy and wonder if you are exerting force to have them agree with your point by ‘starring them down.’
- Crossed-arms. This could show discomfort, defensiveness or they are trying to create a barrier or separation between themselves and the listeners.
- Over-use of the hands. Yes, you can have too much going on with your hands. This sends a signal to the listener that the speaker is nervous (or… they might just be Italian).
- Looking at a watch, clock or phone. All signals of impatience, anxiousness or boredom.
- Hands behind back. Mistrustful or secretive.
Improving Your Body Language
I often get asked, “What should I be doing with my body language when I am addressing a group (large or small) with an important message?” My answer is always the same… If you have an important message—whether you are on the factory floor, on a stage, meeting room or leading a ‘Town Hall’ meeting with team members—you should make sure that you:
- Know your material really well. Most people spend about 80% of their preparation time making a cool slide deck, complete with groovy graphics and fancy transitions, and 20% (if that) on preparation. When you are well prepared, your brain will be freed up to pay attention to things like body language.
- Rehearse in front of a tough critic. Never rehearse in front of your dog – he loves everything you do! Part of your preparation should be with someone that you trust to look for and tell you honestly what you are saying, doing with your body and if they are in alignment. If that is not an option, rehearse your message in front of a video camera and then watch it for body language. Get over the fact that your voice sounds different on video than it does in your head! And while you’re at it, get over the fact that video adds 15 pounds on to you. Look for content and body language as if you were a neutral third party.
- Watch others. Watch other people engage in a conversation around the coffee machine or on the street. It is natural, easy and comfortable. Then practice until you can deliver any kind of message in front of a team member or audience with the same ease.
Robert Murray is a Vancouver, BC based Business Strategy Consultant, #1 Best Selling Author, and International Keynote Speaker. For further advice, insight and inspiration on how to unlock your inner leader, follow Robert on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
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, Body Language
, Employee Engagement
, Public Speaking