Six Things You Need To Know About Body Language

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 8, 2011 – 6:22 am

In our media training workshops, our clients are usually shocked to learn how much they communicate with their body language – and how little they know about what their bodies are saying.

They often joke that they wouldn’t want to play poker against me, since I’d be able to easily read whether or not they’re bluffing. I assure them that if that were true, I’d have retired by age 30 and would be relaxing on my private island hideaway by now.

Still, it’s true that being able to monitor your own body language – and read the body language of others – offers you great advantages as a communicator.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss six things you need to know about body language.

If I could read his face, I'd have retired by now.

1. Most People Overestimate Their Energy Level: When I conclude a mock interview during our media training workshops, I ask the trainee to rate on a ten scale how much energy she thought she had during the interview. “Oh, around a seven or eight,” she’ll usually guess. I then ask the other people in the room to rate their colleagues’ energy. They usually rate it a four or five. Turns out, we’re lousy judges of how energetic we appear to others, and most people benefit from boosting their energy level 10-15 percent.

2. Stop Thinking and Look At Me: When we speak, we maintain eye contact just 40-60 percent of the time. That’s because we’re busy trying to access information from our brains – depending on the type of information we’re trying to retrieve, we look to up to the left, up to the right, or down. But in the context of a media interview or speech, that lack of eye contact can signal nervousness or evasiveness. You can help maintain better eye contact if you pause briefly before answering a question, which will allow you to access the information you need before you begin speaking.

3. Gesturing Makes Your Words Better: Whenever we encourage spokespersons to incorporate gestures into their deliveries, we consistently find that their words get better. The physical act of gesturing helps them form clearer thoughts and speak in tighter sentences with more declarative language. So the next time you give a speech or interview (or speak with your boss or a client), gesture as naturally as you typically would in everyday life. Your words will come to you more easily – and the words you use will be stronger.

4. When You’re Defensive, You Remember Less: Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, report a fascinating finding from one of their studies. When a group of volunteers attended a lecture and sat with unfolded arms and legs, they remembered 38 percent more than a group that attended the same lecture and sat with folded arms and legs. If you see your audience exhibiting defensive body language, change tactics – and don’t try to persuade them to your point-of-view until their body language opens up.

5. Your Feet Point The Way: Your feet subconsciously tell you where you want to go. Next time you’re in the middle of a conversation you wish you could exit, look at your feet. You might be surprised to find that they’re not both pointing directly at the person with whom you’re speaking. The same is true for other people, so if you’re not sure whether the person you’re speaking with is truly interested in your conversation, just look at his feet.

6. If You Smile, They Smile: We subconsciously imitate the things we see. When I look at someone and smile, they tend to smile. When I look at someone and nod, they tend to nod. Some neuroscientists say that type of mirroring behavior is due to “mirror neurons.” That’s important information, because audiences that are smiling and nodding are more receptive to your ideas. So smile and nod at appropriate moments, and you’ll be that much closer to accomplishing your goals.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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