Saturday, September 26, 2009

How To Use Body Language to Appear More Confident


Please help me welcome my guest blogger, Julia Hunter. Julia is a public speaker throughout the nation and is a 20-year veteran law enforcement officer. She’s a pre-published fiction writer and teaches workshops on gadgets for busy writers, law enforcement and body language. Her website is at http://www.julia-hunter.com/.



by Julia Hunter

Do you think because you’re an introvert, it’s hard for you to succeed in business and social situations? Do you want to appear more accessible and out-going?


Most people who know me assume I’m an extrovert; in fact, they would swear I’m an extrovert. However, I’ll share a secret -- I score off the chart as an introvert. So how do I manage as a public speaker? I prepare, listen, and watch for body language cues.


Despite the label you identify with, the bottom line is that you are who you are. You know how you feel when you’re in a group, or when you’re giving a presentation, or when pitching your story – so my suggestion is to focus on where you are at and where you want to be.


Nothing will substitute for preparation, but body language can help with the transition from “about to vomit” to confident interactions.


Public Speaking: Book Signings, Workshop Presenter, Media Interviews


DO: Pick your clothes carefully. I tend to jingle change in my pocket and put my hands in the pockets. The former gives off a signal that I’m nervous and the latter gives a signal that I don’t want to be there. Although both may be true, I have a job to do so just take away the temptation and wear something with no pockets. Most of my suit jackets still have the pockets stitched up. Extra tip: If there is a possibility of television press coverage, wear any color shirt except white and choose solid colors vs. patterns


DON’T: Point when you talk to people. A study comparing audiences of the same speech delivered with different body language, found that 68% of audience members who were pointed at didn’t hear the message and left with a negative opinion of the speaker.


DO: Talk with open palms – it conveys sincerity and trust


DO: Locate receptive/engaged people seated in the left, right and center of the audience and rotate making eye contact with them. It will appear you are looking at everyone in the audience but won’t seem so intimidating for you.


Social Settings: Mixers, Parties, Conferences


DO: Stand with feet no wider than your shoulders (less for women), and keep your arms in an open position. Hold a drink if you need a crutch; it’s small enough to not appear as a barrier.


DON’T: Stand apart from the crowd or cross your legs and/or arms – you will give off signals that you are unapproachable.


DO: Smile. It’s contagious. It doesn’t have to be an animated toothy smile – just be pleasant.


DO: Walk slowly to mingle, look among the clusters of people for a friend or someone who makes friendly eye contact.


Pitches/Interviews


DO: Control what you can about the agent/editor’s body position. Offer to shake their hand when you approach. Hand them a business card as you sit down. This will open their upper body at least momentarily, which makes them more receptive to receiving information.


DON’T: Play with your hair when pitching as it depicts insecurity and shyness.


DO: Mirror their body language subtly. If they itch their face, then touch your face shortly after. If they take a drink then you might choose to touch your glass, pick it up or drink yourself. Mirroring is way to build rapport at the subconscious level. Watch (loving) couples in restaurants to see mirroring in action.


DO: Keep both feet on the floor and sit with good posture, leaning a bit forward if possible. If the agent/editor mirrors this position then you have an interested audience.


These body language tips will certainly get you started in the right direction. If you have an interest to use body language more extensively and efficiently, you will need to identify a person’s normal movements and read their gestures in clusters.


Do you have any body language suggestions that work for you? Do you have a situation/scenario that you’d like help with? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!


Best Wishes,


Julia





Next week's guest: 2008 Golden Heart winner and now NAL/Signet Eclipse author, Annette McCleave.



29 comments:

  1. Julia, I'm so honored and thrilled to have you as my first guest on my new blog. What better way to launch, eh?

    I have a question for you. I've been in a pitch session before where the agent/editor had very closed off body language (crossed legs, leaning back in their chair, arms crossed). If this happens to me again, what can I do with MY body language to draw them out a bit?

    Thanks! Becky

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  2. This is tremendously useful advice. I'm terrible in social situations. I'll have to monitor my body language--I'm probably giving off every one of the 'don't' cues, LOL.

    I have a question, too: What if you're invited to a social gathering where you don't know anyone, and no one meets your eyes because they're all busy chatting? Is there a graceful way to become a part of an existing conversation?

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  3. Good morning:

    OMYGAWD - I do everything wrong. I am shy, but I try hard to overcome it, but a big habit of mine is to pull at my hair - I will try to destroy that habit. Interesting, I liked the post.

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  4. Julia, you're awesome! I can kind of see the introvert side of you. And I'm so guilty of folding my arms across my chest when I'm nervous. Can't wait to see you in a couple weeks!

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  5. This is excellent advice. It's also easier said than done, would you agree? I think introverts have a tendancy to fold their arms and withdraw into themselves. And unfortunately the only way to overcome this is to go to more and more group settings LOL.

    Re public speaking I joined Toastmasters, and one thing I find so awkward is one of our evaluators tells us to keep our hands at our side during a speech. He's an Air Force grad so maybe to him it's natural, and while I don't want to be a windmill, to see someone stand with their arms completely at their sides during an entire speech reminds me of the man on Boston Legal who is completely rigid in all of his movements.

    Any suggestions on how to stand without provinding air conditioning LOL

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  6. Wow, great information Julia, thanks for sharing! I, too, am guilty of crossing my arms in social situations when I find I'm the odd one out. I'll have to work on that.

    At Nationals this year I pitched to someone who, after the initial greeting, looked everywhere but at me. His eyes were darting around and I had no clue if he was listening to me or not. Fortunately, when I got to the heart of my pitch he suddenly stopped and focused on me, so I knew my pitch had grabbed his attention.

    If that hadn't happened, is there anything I could have done to get his attention back?

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  7. Hi Becky,

    Thank you so much for inviting me to help launch your new blog – I love the concept and think it’s a constructive and innovative idea.

    You also bring up a good point – there will be times when you’re doing all the right things with your body language yet the agent’s body language is still closed and not receptive. There really isn’t time to norm their gestures, but in this scenario you should take a closer look at their body language in clusters.

    If you approach the agent in the closed position you described (arms and legs crossed), they take your card and go right back to that position, it may not be a negative thing. Look for other signs like eye contact and nodding that may indicate their interest. If that’s the case, then I wouldn’t be too concerned. It might be a comfortable sitting position for them or as simple as that they are cold.

    However, it’s a different situation when you’re doing everything right, they’re listening attentively then suddenly sit back, cross legs and arms, and maybe even touch their mouth (which indicates their first instinct was to say something but they are trying to hold back). Changing your body language at this point won’t help – you need to shift gears. So what should you do?

    Stop talking, smile, and say in a professional matter-of-fact way, “Do you have thoughts about that last scene?” It would even be okay to say, “You’re body language tells me something’s not working for you?”

    If you don’t stop and check in with them, their mind will stay pondering at this point while you plunge ahead alone. Remember, don't get defensive, and really listen to what they have to say.

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  8. This is such great advice, Julia! I find when I'm feeling extroverted, I naturally do some of your DOs, but when I'm feeling introverted, I'm doing the DONTs. Could you explain about reading gestures in clusters?

    One of the things I do that helps me in situations I'm nervous about is I visualize the setting beforehand and almost walk through the event in my mind. I'm not a good on my feet, I like to process things ahead of time, so this really helps. Another thing I do is try to figure out what will engage someone else to talk. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, so I try to find something we have in common to make a connection. "You write paranormal? Cool, same here. Who are some of your favorite authors? OMG, me too. I love her stuff. Have you read her latest? What did you think when xxx did xxx?"

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  9. Annette, you are thinking ahead and yes indeed –there are more ways to gracefully get into conversations.

    First, do reconnaissance of the room. People generally meet in clusters. A group of 3-5 is ideal to join. Two people are probably talking privately and you can get lost in bigger crowds. Then watch them for a moment – if it’s an intense debate, or they are all leaned in close, that’s not the crowd to join. Go for a cluster that is more open, and where the people are space out a bit.

    As you are slowly strolling through the crowd, it’s okay to touch someone’s shoulder or elbow and say, “I’m kind of nervous and don’t know anyone – may I join your group?” It sounds like a big risk, doesn’t it? It wasn’t exactly an empirical study, but I tried this in 5 different types of groups with 100 percent success.

    If you feel too shy to do that or are concerned about interrupting, you can try the same thing in areas where people are generally alone – at the bar, buffet line, registration tables, lounge area of bathroom, etc. and ask if they wouldn’t mind introducing you to some people as it’s your first time.

    For events like Emerald City Writers Conference, there are some more subtle ways to get to know people including a designated room during registration so you can meet local chapter members and/or authors who attend the conference a lot and a pre-conference email loop where you can start to recognize some names.

    Most conferences have a first timer ribbon for your lanyard – people who see it may even grab you pull you into conversations!

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  10. What a great topic for a blog! And what great tips--very useful stuff for this introvert. In social situations, I tend to cross my arms just to...well...do something with them! Knowing that this might project an image I don't want, I think I'm the type of person who needs that drink (literally!) as a prop. One thing that helps me prior to public speaking (something that makes my mouth dry and my heart pound) is to focus on my breathing. Then, when I get up to speak, smile. I relax a little when I see some audience members smiling back. :)

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  11. What a charming blog, Becky! And what an interesting guest today. Welcome, Julia, and thanks for helping us out with your knowledge.

    I've been in PR for decades and acted on the stage years ago, so... only those who know me well would realize that I actually AM an introvert. One thing that works for me before I go before a large group to speak is to find a quiet space, take a deep breath, stand up straight and tell myself "showtime", then I walk out "on stage." Even if there isn't really a stage, even if I'm just entering a large gathering where I don't feel comfortable (like my very first local RWA chapter meeting where I new exactly NO one!) Putting on the appearance of confidence can actually help you feel more confident.

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  12. No worries, Ms. Parker. Overall, when you are sincere and believe in what you’re talking about, your body language will convey just that. It’s a great idea though, to try to break a habit. I often do a mental checklist before public speaking, which includes body language – something like, “I will not put my hands in my pockets, I will engage the entire audience, keep hands open and below the shoulders.” Even though I speak a lot, I still think it’s an effective reminder and helps with focus.

    Shelli, you’re awesome for stopping by, thank you! Can I make a suggestion that might help break your arm crossing habit? When you get the urge to do that, grab a pen and hold both ends. Don’t give it a death grip – just use as a reminder.

    I'll be back after brunch!

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  13. Becky--Fun blog!

    Julia--Great tips, especially about joining small clusters of people. I think that's a fear most people have, me included. One tip I've heard is to always carry your drink in your left hand so your right hand is free and not cold. I always have a fear of offering an ice cold hand to shake, even when I haven't been holding a drink with it!

    I have a few questions. We've all been in group pitches with an air-sucker/dominator. Sometimes the editor or agent even seems at a loss as to how to handle them. Is there any body language you can use to shut them down? What about if you get trapped by a dominator at a party? Are there any subtle body cues you use to escape them?

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  14. Hey Julia, These are great tips. I'm giving a presentation next month and will definitely remember them!

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  15. Ms. Donnell,

    You are so right -- life’s ironic truth is that practice is the only way to grow more comfortable with speaking. Notice I don’t say completely comfortable – that may not be realistic. But let’s strive for comfortable enough to portray confidence professionalism. Toastmasters is a great and safe organization to try different styles. I actually asked a local chapter to critique one of my big speeches once and which was a great experience. Just like in writing, you will take some feedback and toss some aside. Also like a critique group, it’s worth the time to find a Toastmaster chapter with similar minded people.

    Re. tips for standing. An open body means an open mind. Open palms, open arms, uncrossed legs, eye contact, palms open but facing each other, keep your hands below your shoulders and maintain good posture.

    Turn off your volume so you can focus on the body language and compare the following two video clips. Which one coveys professionalism, integrity and confidence?

    1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx7v815bYUw

    2) http://commandn.tv September 13th podcast #194

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  16. Hi Rachel,

    Good for you to pitch at nationals! Oh gosh, that would be really disconcerting to have someone looking all over the room when you’re trying to pitch.

    I think I would most probably make a noise. Scoot the chair forward or smack your hand on the table as you start your first sentence to get his attention. If that doesn’t work, I think you are justified be silent and wait a moment. And If that doesn’t work, you may want to pleasantly ask if he’s ready for you to begin.

    I also believe in backup plans. Especially at nationals, agents are meeting so many people and get weary too. Help them out and make special business cards with your pitch on the back.

    Another trick I use for interrogations is to sit where the other person has the least distractions when looking at you. If there are options on where to sit, keep that in mind and try to have the wall to your back so the agent will be less distracted. Good luck!

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  17. Some great comments here. :)

    Gina--I had to laugh at your comment about holding your cold drink in your left hand so that your right hand wouldn't be cold to shake. I'm always worried about my palms being sweaty, so I'll hold a cold drink in my RIGHT hand. That way, they'll assume my hand is damp from the condensation. :)

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  18. Great advise for a person with a terrible complex in public. Thanks!

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  19. Great tips! I do everything wrong and it feels so right to me :) I naturally assume a closed body posture, I habitually talk too fast, and steady eye contact always feels like a threat to me. I think I was a rabbit in another life.

    I love RWA conferences because I know everybody's like me! Now we can practice Julia's tips at EC in October.

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  20. Hi Laurie,

    Oh I’m glad to hear that you naturally do some of the DOs – that’s great! I totally agree with the visualization concept. Cops do it for tactical situations, athletes do it, and it’s a great way to prepare for speaking too. You can also go to check out the venue beforehand or ask for pictures of the stage.

    Don’t forget to inquire if the microphone is stationary, can be removed from the podium or wireless. I almost always request a wireless mic when I teach body language, because I need my hands. And okay, I’m short can’t be seen over a podium. :)

    What I mean by reading gestures in clusters is that one gesture alone generally won’t stand on its own. It’s the same for homonyms. You have to read the word in a sentence in order to know its true meaning, right? In other words, you need to read it in context. Someone rubbing their eye might be showing irritation, or they may just have a lash in their eye. To avoid misreading a gesture, you need to look for about 3 gestures that are consistent with each other.

    You made another great suggestion about what to talk about in conversations. We all have writing in common – genre we read or write, which workshops we’re going to, other conferences or seminars, etc. Throw out an open ended question, and most people will respond to it.

    Wendy, a prop really will help keep your arms open, I promise. Yes – breathing is a great way to find calm. I inhale from mouth while expanding the stomach, and exhale from the mouth while contracting stomach. It provides maximum oxygen to the brain.

    Thank you for mentioning to look for smiling faces in the audience. I’d like to take that a step further if you don’t mind. It’s important to look to the left, center and right of your audience. By identifying someone in each area who is responsive, nods and smiles, you can get personal tacit reinforcement while appearing to engage the entire audience.

    Hello Hearts and Home – it’s awesome to hear that you have overcome challenges to be successful as a speaker and actress. We can’t change how we’re wired, but there’s no reason we can’t step out of our comfort zone when necessary.

    Wow, I’m impressed you can psych up with one word like “showtime.” But that’s exactly what I do with the checklist I mentioned – it’s an effective way to psych up for the job to do.

    You said, “Putting on the appearance of confidence can actually help you feel more confident.” Yes! Fake it till you make it.

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  21. This was a wonderful post, Julia and Rebecca! I'm such an introvert, but you gave me lots of food for thought. And I'm with Jessa...direct eye contact feels threatening to me, too. I have no idea why. Hmm, maybe I should put Julia's tips on flash cards and carry them with me to conferences? ;)

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  22. Hi Gina, great to see you here , and I have to say I love the premise of your books Spy Candy and Spy Games. What a great idea about drinking left handed – I’ve never heard that one and it has a lot of merit.

    Ah, the conversation dominator is one I struggle with too. They are talking TO you not with you. They don’t really care what you are saying, they are just waiting for you to stop talking or to take a breath so they can talk about themselves some more. I watch people a lot, and notice that when this happens, people will start to talk to the person next to them in the cluster and after a few moments they will take a step out of the group and then another until they are clear. This will continue until all that is left is the dominator and the poor schmuck left listening politely. So… try to never stand next to a dominator! :)

    For group pitches, assuming kicking under the table and punching are not acceptable…I really think it’s up to the conference planners to handle time management. Agents and Editors don’t always seem comfortable doing it – I’ve been to conferences where the moderator announced “next” every 3 minutes, which actually worked great.

    Debra, I hope you find something helpful to try for your presentation next month!

    Hi Mary, I know it’s a huge effort when nothing feels comfortable. Just take baby steps as you experiment and maybe stick with events initially where you know a couple people who will be attending?

    Jessa, Emerald City Writers Conference is a great venue to practice body language. I love that it has a ceiling of 250 people to keep the atmosphere more intimate. If you have access to a video camera, you may want to try filming yourself giving a 5 minute presentation and then critique yourself. What do you think?

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  23. Fantastic post, Julia and Rebecca. I'm a classic introvert and this advice really sounds do-able--thanks!

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  24. Hi Cari, there are so many nuances about eye contact… it can be effective for truthfulness, deception, dominance, threats and also reveals micro-expressions. Generally the “triangle” between your nose and eyes is a non-threatening zone. Focusing on center of your forehead is more of a non-friendly “power gaze” (maybe could be used on our conversation dominator too). If you are feeling threatened in social settings where the other person is taller, you may want to just take a small step back or turn in an angle to make a bigger space, to ensure they can see your face so you don’t get mixed signals. Eye contact actually might merit its own conversation -- maybe Becky will invite me back to chat about that in the future.

    Vanessa, thank you and everyone for the kind words. Becky, thank you for the invitation to chat this weekend!

    All the best,
    Julia

    PRIZE WINNER! I’m not published yet but I’m in law enforcement and write romance … so how about some furry handcuffs? I randomly drew names from the people who left comments and the winner is Vanessa! Just send me your address through my website we’ll see if they make it through customs to Australia! LOL

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  25. Great information! I am an introvert too, but over the years I've learned the power of eye contact and body positioning. If I 'play' the part of being confident, I feel more confident. : )

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  26. Hey Lynne, Thanks for stopping by. I, too, have learned to "look" confident and "play" confident, even if inside I'm shaking and nauseous.

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  27. What a wonderful blog today! After reading the do's and don'ts it seems I may actually be pretty good at faking it a lot of the time. haha Just don't put me up in front of a crowd to talk, then my shyness will probably be obvious.

    I really admire those of you who can actually go up to an editor (or even go to a conference) and "pitch" your story. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to do that unless I'm asked for the information first.

    ~Tess Thieler
    "The Stranger Behind the Kiss"

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  28. Decent advice to our fellow introverts out there. However I think we shouldn't have to pander to the expectations of extraverts. I know it's not something that's going to change over night, but I think awareness of the personality types needs to be increased. Thanks for sharing.

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