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The importance of body language

I HAVE just had the opportunity to take some corporate representatives through the grooming, diplomacy and business etiquette training recently. One of the issues that came out strongly was body language in business. Whether it is a business or personal interaction, multiple studies show that as much as 50-90% of the communication is non-verbal. That means people who are addicted to text messaging and email may be sending only half the message, and receivers often misinterpret that half.

The role of body language

When we connect with a person, we also have to make it clear to each other how the content of a spoken message needs to be interpreted but sometimes we are unable to deliver our messages by spoken or even written languages so we use the body language to supplement what we want to say by gesturing, moving or even giving some facial expressions.

Apparently your body language, i.e your demeanour, impacts your success. It is vital that you know how to act when you get to a conference, after-hours, meeting or trade show to make the most effective and efficient use of your time and to attract those people whom you want to do business with and add to your network.

When you are in a business meeting, it is often more than your simple words that everyone else is paying attention to. Your demeanour, your facial expressions, your posture are but three of many non-verbal cues that co-workers, clients and superiors will use to size you up. The elements of powerful body language are:

Posture — Slump down into your chair? Lean too far back? Slouch over the conference table?

All of these non-verbal communication cues reveal to others in the room that you are not alert, not engaged in the proceedings and that you have little respect for anyone else’s time. The key is the same as your mother taught you, sit straight with your back and shoulders square, do not lean back (it makes you look cavalier and disengaged) or slouch to either side, and do not hunch over the table. Lean slightly forward with your back straight to appear attentive.

Eye contact — Do not bury yourself in your notes, look at the presenter in the eye both during their presentation and during any questions or comments you make about the material. Making effective eye contact is the easiest — it is a most sure way to appear engaged and to focus your attention on the meeting.

Dress — Come to all meetings dressed appropriately, with clean, pressed clothing, and neatly combed hair. You would be amazed at how easily this conveys to others that you mean business, and it also helps you feel prepared and self-assured.

Organisation — Show up to any and all business meetings prepared not only to listen, but to engage. Bring a notebook and all pertinent materials. Take notes where appropriate but do not lose yourself in them.

The w’s of seat selection – Where you sit in the meeting room says a lot about you. At a standard conference table, unless you are a presenter or a leader of the proceedings, do not sit at one of the ends. Be conscious of who you sit next to. Do not select a screw off as a neighbour, for you will be associated with them by proximity. Also, try not to sit next to your friends. The temptation to talk with them and over the presenter will be avoided if you choose a seat away from them.

No fidgeting — Keep your hands on the table, do not click your pen, or tap it against the rim of the table, do not doodle in your notes, and keep your attention on the topic at hand.

Excellent non-verbal communication skills tell your audience that you are confident, energetic, engaged, and honest, says Tonya Reiman, author of The power of body language.

Someone with poor non-verbal skills, however, may give off an impression of low self-esteem and a lack of interest, she says. “Is this 100% fair? Not necessarily. But it is how humans are programmed.”

When dealing with the business world, it is especially important that you are aware of your body language. Your non-verbal cues and gestures can make or break relationships, and may have a significant impact on your success.

Remember, business meetings are a great opportunity to present yourself as a thoughtful, engaged and prepared employee. Better your body language to send the right message without saying a word.

Maintaining an executive presence

The ability to present yourself and your information is a critical management and leadership skill. In fact, ‘Executive Presence’ accounts for about 26% of what it takes to get promoted, and this has nothing to do with your technical skills or expertise.

Executive presence is the ability to project gravitas (substance), confidence and poise under pressure. It includes the ability to speak and present with assertiveness and influence. This aspect develops the confidence and competence to speak and present at local, regional and international meetings so that ideas will be understood and respected.

Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

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