I have appeared on television several times, and each time I am struck by how measured and self controlled my hosts have been. Off camera of course they are larrikins like me, but on set they command the stage. They are artful and well practiced in managing their state and body language in order to portray confidence, interest and engagement for their audiences.
It’s easy to get it wrong, even when you know what to do. I was at a seven day training event practising my moves and I was going for a power position. But after two days the convener came to me saying one of the speakers really felt like I was distant, stand offish and perhaps angry with her. That isn’t exactly what I was going for!
Practise body language changes in low stakes environments so you can gauge the effect, learn and adapt them for next time. Watch people more closely and see how their behaviour affects the people they are with, especially in restaurants, work environments and if you can, during job interviews. Here are five watch outs to manage your body language better.
1. The eyes have it. Do not look out the window or at the ground when people are speaking to you. Look your conversation partner or interviewer right in the eye (or look straight into the camera). But don’t get creepy and stare, look away from time to time for a few seconds. This way you will appear engaged.
2. Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. Don’t nod constantly in agreement. People in authority and with personal power hardly ever smile or agree with their prospect. When presenting you can smile and be warm but again, careful on the nodding.
3. Don’t fidget. Any form of fidgeting will be perceived as insecurity. This includes playing with your hair, jiggling your leg, biting or cleaning your fingernails, touching jewellery and other kinds of self grooming (Casserly, 2012).
4. Take nothing with you! Consider very carefully whether any props of any kind are necessary. Take no bag, no folder, no pen and no coins. We often use these as a barrier or defence against others. If you play with anything, you’re done for.
5. Treasure chest. Sitting at absolute right angles to someone is perceived as confrontation. Instead, feather your chest away just slightly even by just 5 degrees. Sit straight up (slouching is lazy) and lean slightly forward (it shows interest). Leaning back shows disinterest. (Navarro, 2008).
Casserly, M. “10 Body Language Tics that could cost you the Interview,” Forbes, Entrepreneur section, 2012.
Navarro, J. “What Every Body is Saying,” 2008, Torso Tips, pp 88-89.