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Wednesday, 15 September 2010 15:04
Don’t bother speaking – your body language says it all
Folded arms and legs, a sweaty forehead and a hidden mouth are all widely accepted means of reading body language. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that reading someone’s motives is a great deal more complicated than that.

But you won’t get to learn how to do it from the book ‘Winning Body Language’ because this guide is not about passively reading the intentions of others. It is about using your own body language to affect and influence the people who are listening to you. As such, it is an extremely powerful life tool.

Apparently public speaking comes top on people’s hate list in all cultures and this is not just about major conferences in front of hundreds of people. The majority of us hate standing up and presenting to just about anybody – whether it is a sales pitch, an end of year results presentation, or even just a morale boosting message to the team.

Apparently, when we get it wrong, it isn’t just because what we are saying is confused, it is the way we are sending out the subliminal messages from our body.. Our mouth might be saying “we had a great year”, but our body language is saying “well OK, it wasn’t that great, and of course it won’t last”.

The effect of fear

Most of us have stood in front of an audience and felt our brains shut down in fear, leading to the inability to string a sentence together, sweaty hands, a choking feeling and the inability to breathe in enough oxygen.

For our predecessors, this was getting them ready for the ‘fight or flight’ response, but in front of an audience, it is a problem.

Apparently this is caused by the release of a chemical called norepinephrine into the brain, which is the body’s own antidepressant. A little bit of it can help us cope in very difficult times, but get too much and it can lead to the type of presentation that lulls the audience to sleep by slide three.

This is how author Mark Bowden describes what happens: “Next time you are watching a series of business presentations, watch the presenters closely. Do you see their hands down by their sides, their stomachs crunched in, and their shoulders down (hunched over), chin tucked in, forehead down and eyes narrowed? Do you see some repetitive movement from side to side? This is the human body getting ready either to avoid attack, to be attacked, or to attack. And this is unfortunately how the vast, vast majority of business communicators meet their audiences to a lesser or greater degree.”

OK, so this is what we are all doing wrong. But how do we do it right? Bowden says that a pack (audience) follows its leader (presenter) therefore if we can manage to connect with the people listening to us, then we can bring them with us on the journey of our presentation.

And this certainly beats watching them sleep.

If you can manage to “connect” with the audience, Bowden says, there is no limit to what you can achieve. To do this, you need to position yourself where your hands are in the truth plain (around your waist); make sure your face is mirroring the same feelings you are trying to portray with your words; control your breathing and alter the amount of excitement in your presentation so no-one gets bored.

If you are in a small meeting, how you position yourself at the table is significant, even how you greet someone and shake their hand is important. In fact how you position yourself in a room will have an impact.

Winning Body Language is a gripping read because it explains with clarity and conviction how making small changes in the way we communicate can have a significant impact on our daily lives, both business and social.

Never again will I sit down in a room without considering the options, or stand at a podium where the audience cannot see my hand position. I will try hard to tell my positive messages on an in-breath, and will never ever speak with my hand in front of my mouth, even if my head is tired.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist suggested that human beings are connected together via a collective unconscious – what he called ‘a reservoir of the experiences of our species” – so to learn ways to use this collective energy is an exciting concept.

Also consider Bowden’s mantra, which is “make a choice, make it bigger, and keep it tidy,” suggesting that we should always have a goal in our minds when presenting anything, and should not confuse the message with too much other detail.

Winning Body Language by Mark Bowden is published by McGraw-Hill, price £13.99 (US$19.95)
 
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