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The Key to Being Better at Business is to Understand Body Language
In business, presentation matters. How you present your ideas with the right vocabulary clearly marks your professionalism as the appropriate business attire signals your investment, involvement and status at a business meeting. Most entrepreneurs, managers and rising stars on the corporate ladder place great importance on honing these two skills – how to talk right in order to get ahead and how to dress right to be taken seriously when they talk.
Little thought is given to another aspect of presentation that does a lot of talking without uttering a single word – body language. If you’re careless about how you position and maneuver your body in any business setting, whether that’s as simple as attending a team briefing or delivering a high-stakes sales presentation, your body might give away what you’re thinking and feeling at any exact moment. Boredom, annoyance, impatience, nervousness, fear and distraction show clearly through things like manners, posture and gestures.
Mastering your body language through discipline clears your communication from any disturbance that might otherwise weaken your message and delivery. Once mastered, body language can help you strengthen your message and help you become even more convincing. Why is that?
Through body language, you open yourself to multitask and exert control over your audience as you talk. You can divert attention to a specific part of a presentation through gestures or emphasize a point you’re making with your hand. This way you manage to hold all eyes on you since human brains are designed to follow movement. Had you remained static all the way through your talking points, your audience most likely would have zoned out and stopped listening. Therefore, body language is a tool of engagement.
Body language also saves you time. Rather than having to stop mid-sentence to request a new slide or for a colleague to not interrupt you, you may do so with simple signals and gestures that get the point across without an actual interruption. No interruption means you sustain focus on yourself. In situations where you’re the party with lower social control (you’re a team leader, but you’re in conversation with the department head), body language can send non-verbal cues that you have to leave or interrupt without breaking social norms. In this sense, body language is a tool for control.
Aside from its advantageous practical use for when you’re doing the talking, body language also factors in your image. Your image as an employee reflects on the image of your company and it’s why the way you carry yourself becomes highly valued. It’s not uncommon for bigger brands with international clout to have strict guidelines pertaining to body language and even organise seminars on adopting the appropriate body language.
They do this, because they know that the right body language enhances the qualities that are most valued in the world of business. These would be confidence (open body language and big smiles), interest (sustained eye contact), intelligence (nodding when listening to signal comprehension and even agreement) and assertiveness (active body language). In recent years, emotional intelligence has also garnered popularity in business, but this perhaps the most difficult one to acquire as it not only requires deep understanding of the emotional needs of people, but also knowing the individual cues of the person in front of you. You have to remember that although there are a lot of similarities to body language within a culture and an industry, each person tends to have unique cues as well that are personal to them only.
Is this really all that important? Yes. Think for a second about the last time you’ve experienced a negative interaction with someone. More often, it all comes down to ‘it’s not what they said, but how they said it’. Science has proven that words are not as effective as you might think. Studies show that less than 10% of all communication experience derives from words. Over 50% comes from body language and the rest is about tone of voice.
So where do we get started?
If you’re pressed for a starting point, eye contact is a simple way to start, but nonetheless has an immediate effect in improving your communication. Eye contact is the easiest way to say ‘Yes, I am listening and being respectful to you as you talk.’ Most people don’t practice eye contact as much as they should. However, there’s the risk of overcompensating and staring too intently – that is something to avoid. If you happen to have difficulty maintaining eye contact, the next best thing is to focus on a part of the speaker’s face that’s on eye level like their ear.
Where would we be without a good posture. Don’t slouch and open your body language. It’s what you’ve always heard – straight back, pull the shoulders back and do not cross your arms in front of your chest. An open body language invites people to talk to you and pay attention to what you say. The finishing touch is to master the art of giving a subtle, professional smile and perfect your handshake, which is the most crucial part of any business meeting.
NOTE: If you’re doing business with a foreign company, it pays to research their culture for body language mistakes. Sometimes common gestures in your culture are insults in others.
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