You cannot research body language without acknowledging Amy Cuddy as the celebrity expert in the field; with over 56 million views, her Ted Talk video has brought awareness to the fact that how we hold our body affects how we FEEL. ( If you are somehow not familiar with her talk, take about 20 minutes to watch).
However, the fact remains ( and I deal with it daily) many people are still a bit confused about body language an how it can enhance or detract from what we are trying to message. We worry, “Am I doing the right thing?” “ Am I being perceived as competent, and confident?” and the phrase made unforgettable by Ricky Bobby, “What do I do with my hands?”
It’s a topic worthy of discussion and self-awareness; In first impressions, discussions or arguments at home and at work, and in presentations of ALL kinds, your non-verbal communication makes up 55 to 80 % of your overall perception.
Why the discrepancy in those numbers?
In non-verbal communication there are many areas and some researchers categorize them differently.. putting body movement and gestures in one category, instead of separate, is one example. No matter what, we are safe to say that the actual words that come out of our mouth are the least of what people react to.
The different types of non-verbal cues we give include:
Gestures. We have the hand movements that we are comfortable with, but in certain situations,( like on camera) or different cultures common gestures can communicate the wrong thing. Too much, or repetitive hand movement can create a perception of the presenter being ungrounded, or not confident. Worse yet, in certain cultures a gesture that may be positive in meaning here in the US could be offensive elsewhere.
Eye Contact. This is especially important in communicating trust in all circumstances. We instinctively judge our personal safety upon first meeting someone based on the quality of eye contact. Not making it at all, for example, will immediately alert us to not relax with this person. Looking over our shoulder as they greet us will leave us feeling dismissed.
Space. While different cultures may vary in the literal space of comfort around each person, we all have that boundary, that, when crossed instantly makes us uncomfortable. “Close talkers” in a business scenario for instance, are often avoided. Intentional invasion of space can clearly signal intimacy or aggression.
Facial expression. The human face is capable of conveying countless emotions without saying a word, and facial expressions are universal. As an actor, I became aware of nuances in expression, usually the smallest movements are not intentional, but say a ton; like the slightest squint of an eye, or the stronger set of a jaw before answering a question.
Posture and body movement. As a presentation coach for keynote speakers, I dedicate a good amount of energy and time to this category. Storytelling and content delivery with intentional movement and posture can increase retention and attention in your audience immensely. Off stage, even our first impressions when we walk into a room are set off by posture and movement. Make sure yours is saying what you want it to!
Vocal tone. Your voice can indicate anger, even if your words are “That’s fine.” You can be read as confident, or weak, sarcastic or sincere and it may all depend on your tone, pace and timing as you speak. I once had an acting coach that was furious at me for sounding insincere. I would be in tears with her and then eventually I realized it was my regional accent (I now can easily recognize a sing-song pattern to the speech of people in that area) that she reacted to so viscerally. I consciously corrected this and never had that note again.
As an actor I studied non-verbals as part of my craft, but now in my equine assisted communication and leadership coaching I can see more than ever how important our body language and energy are in creating relationships of all kinds. We sometimes cannot see for ourselves where we may be sending the wrong message, that’s why I am an advocate for coaching in this area.
I have free consult calls, at no obligation. If you have something coming up that you would like to “knock out of the park” with success, schedule a call here: www.Calendly.com/SandraDee