Communications is an intricate skill – it’s not only about what you say but how you say it. There are several critical components of communication, and body language is one of them. Communication includes both verbal and nonverbal cues. While most of us train ourselves to be adept at using verbal cues (words), we forget to make use of nonverbal cues (body language). Here’s how you can use your body to emphasize what you.
While body language is vital in all types of communication, it is critical in business communication. In business communication, body language is the use of nonverbal communication or physical behaviours to express intentions, thoughts, and feelings. Body language includes facial expressions, gestures, body postures, touch, eye movement, and the use of space. It helps break barriers and connect better with people. It also tells people what you are not saying – which can be tricky.
Here are some tips on how to use body language to communicate at work – whether you are addressing a gathering of employees, your team, or interacting with just one employee.
Say with your body, what you say with your words
Communications expert, David JP Phillips, has analysed several thousands of public speakers and identified what body language works and what doesn’t. He believes that it is essential to match your body language with what you say. Put verbs into action by acting them out with both your hands.
So, for example, if you are talking about a rise in revenue, you could use gentle hand gestures to show a rising motion. Or, if you are providing your team with two options to consider, place your hands on either side as if you were weighing the two options in the palms of your hands. Why is this important? We are human creatures, and movements catch our attention.
At the same time, you mustn’t overuse your hands. Such gestures serve no purpose and tend to be annoying and distracting.
Smiling is an essential part of body language. When you smile, smile with your eyes – that’s when you genuinely smile out of happiness, and your eyes crinkle up at the ends. That’s possible only when you genuinely smile. Try faking it, and you end up grinning – which is not the same as smiling. People can tell the difference between a smile that is used to express false happiness, cynicism, and sarcasm. People will respond to genuine smiles as it makes them feel at ease and ready to listen to what is being said.
Smiling is an action that brings about a positive state of mind and helps speakers deliver their speeches better.
Make eye contact
You might think it’s easier to make eye contact when having a one-to-one conversation, but it’s not. However, skip making eye contact or break eye contact too soon, and you can come across as being nervous or untrustworthy. Hold eye contact – you will get your listeners’ attention and keep it.
When speaking to a broad audience, consider your audience as individual listeners. Make eye contact with a person on the left for a few seconds, then shift your gaze to someone in the middle and sustain eye contact for just long enough to make a connection, and then look at someone on the right for a few seconds. Don’t neglect people seated in the back rows. When looking at the back of a spacious room, you can focus on a section or a head in the distance rather than trying to make direct eye contact with someone who is seated far away.
Take on a power stance
A power stance is not the same as a defensive stance. A power stance gives you confidence and helps you say what needs to be said with ease. A defensive position, on the other hand, is one where you move backward, cross your arms, and tilt your head back in an aggressive manner.
For a power stance, stand straight, with your shoulders back and feet shoulder-distance apart. Place your hands on either side so you can easily use them to make gestures when needed. Face the audience. Tilt your whole body towards the audience so that they feel included. If you are addressing a large gathering, you can move around the room and tilt your body towards that part of your audience. Make sure your head is inclined toward your audience or listener when they are speaking (in a question-answer session). It shows them that you are interested in them and their point of view.
Practice your body language
Even when you are not in front of a crowd, practice your body language. The more you practice different postures and gestures, the more naturally you will be able to use them when you speak. If you are a nervous or awkward speaker, learned body language could make you come across as a confident speaker. Learn the most common gestures you use, and once you are familiar with those, you can start experimenting with other types of body language. David JP Phillips suggests choosing one to three skills, practicing those skills every single day until they become a part of you.
Body language is a skill that must be learned. The good news is that with practice, you can pull off your body language convincingly. Finally, if you ever slip up during a speech, don’t get nervous. Your body language can give away your nervousness. Instead, know that we all are free to make mistakes. Lean forward, take a deep breath, excuse yourself, and continue with your speech.