Let your body do the talking: how to inspire and impress at work
By paying attention to your body language you can exude confidence in all aspects of your work
Some people are impressive before they’ve even said a word. They stride into the room, radiating an aura of leadership, and everybody pays attention. Having that sort of commanding presence isn’t as intangible as you might think.
By paying attention to your body language, you can exude confidence in any situation, whether that is in an interview, on your first day in a new job, delivering the pitch of your life to a roomful of potential investors or standing in front of a 1000-strong audience at a political rally.
Ultimately, shaking off first-day or interview nerves and inspiring confidence requires a shift in your mindset, says Ramona da Gama, business strategy and growth coach, who has worked with clients including easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
“We come from a telling culture, where we wait for instruction, but if you reimagine that dynamic it will make you stand out as different, as someone to pay attention to,” she says. “If you’re confident, your whole persona naturally changes and if you change your mindset that confident body language will follow.”
She suggests thinking of yourself (the interviewee) as a doctor talking to a patient (the interviewer).
“The reality is that the person sitting across the table from you is just a person, with everyday problems like you. They’re looking for someone to help them with a gap in their workplace. You can offer them the solution to this problem.”
When you walk into a new workplace, you’re being invited into the space by the people who work there – it is up to you to make that space yours, says da Gama. Don’t be slouchy or in a foetal position. Use your body language to be open and engaging, she adds.
“Make sure you have done your homework. There is no substitute for understanding the culture of the organisation and yet it is something a lot of people don’t do,” she explains.
Delve into your little black book for contacts with inside knowledge, Google people, read the company’s annual reports if there are any, and if they produce any sustainability reports these might help you to glean in-house values.
“It is a bit like an exam, the more prepared you are, the more in control you’ll feel, and it will show,” she says.
Joanna Crosse is a voice, presentation and communication coach, who has trained people working at television companies (including a few well-known weather presenters), the public sector and charities.
It’s the non-verbal signs that matter just as much as what we say, she emphasises. The more genuine you are the more someone will pick that up from your eyes, expressions and body language. If you uncross your arms and legs and don’t hunch yourself up then you’re much more likely to come over as natural and believable.
She teaches her clients that being authentic ultimately means being yourself. “It is impossible to fake sincerity. We are all gifted with the powers of intuition and people know when someone is not credible or worse – lying,” she says. There are things you can remember to do to bring out that sincerity.
“The positive checklist is: have relaxed and open body gestures, good eye contact, lean forward rather than back,” she says. In her book, Find Your Voice, she uses the following acronym:
C is for being centred and present.
L is for looking at the other person and making good eye contact.
A is for assertive non-verbal communication.
R is for responding to what the other person is saying.
I is for being intuitive and picking up vibes from others.
T is for thinking clearly and being in the moment.
Y is for being yourself which ensures natural and confident body language.
Roly Grimshaw is a founding partner of communication consultancy Swordpoint Advisors and used to be an equerryto the Queen Mother. He agrees that being authentic and conforming to your own natural style is what will stop you looking like you’re robotically following a body language instruction manual.
“A shy gentle fisherman, for instance, can be so impressive when sitting by the river talking about his passion. The body language will be natural, the eye contact genuine,” he says. But put that person into a tough situation and he or she will truly look like, well, a fish out of water.
He recalls being introduced to a tax partner at one of the big accountancy firms in London. He knew his subject, but his partners said he lacked presence and needed help. “When I first met him he was trying hard to impress me by standing straight, holding lots of eye contact and dropping his voice to add gravitas,” he remembers. The impression was of someone lacking in authenticity. Trying hard, but yes, lacking presence. It was only once he relaxed and Grimshaw got him talking about himself that he began to flourish.
“Only by showing him how impressive he was when relaxed and how to put the features that made up his unique style into action from the moment he walked into a room, was he able to attract interest and get a warm respectful reception.”
We all pause a lot when we are calm and in control, but under pressure we are inclined to “um” and “er”. Grimshaw says if you can put that natural thinking pause back in, it gives your brain the chance to subconsciously sort your words out and deliver them with the style and emphasis that is appropriate, but unique to the person.
“We don’t have to raise our voice or add artificial intonation, or wave our arms in some unnatural style, just hold the thinking pauses and it will be fine. It takes practice when the adrenalin is flowing, but it works.”