Which of these two speakers are you more likely to trust?
They’re both speaking about their companies, they’re both conveying content that may or may not be interesting to the audience, and they’re both hoping to convince you to trust them. So what’s the difference?
It can be hard to put your finger on, but you’ve probably realized that it has something to do with the speakers’ nonverbal communication: their facial expressions, the authenticity of their gestures, their posture. As listeners, the ability to sense trustworthiness is built into our limbic system, so we feel it even if we can’t verbally express it. Because people are less aware that they are communicating nonverbally, we trust their bodies to be more honest than their voices.
As a business owner, remember that you are the face of your company. The impression that you convey to your customers, partners, and investors matters to your bottom line. That means that communicating well, with your voice and with your body, is essential.
All successful communicators have learned the power of nonverbal communication. They know how to use the way they stand, their tone of voice, and their hand movements to appear comfortable and confident.
Media coaches teach these skills as part of their sessions. Here are some of the tips and tricks they teach their clients about nonverbal communication.
Your posture is an often undervalued way that you can show your confidence and openness. If you’re sitting, media coaches will suggest that you sit up straight and lean forward slightly. If you’re standing, place your feet about shoulder-width apart, and keep them on the ground. This conveys a warm, relaxed disposition, which is what you’re aiming for. (Standing on one foot with the other propped against a wall, or leaning back in your chair, decreases your credibility.)
You also want to keep your body open, with no barrier between you and the interviewer. Folding your arms or holding a folder to your chest can create an undesirable distance between the two of you; putting your arms behind your back is known as the “regal stance,” and implies that others should stay away.
Take a look at this famous picture of the three leaders of the Allied forces in the aftermath of World War II. Winston Churchill is on the left, Franklin D. Roosevelt is in the center, and Joseph Stalin is on the right. They are meeting at Yalta to discuss the state of the world now that the Axis powers have been defeated.
With little more than their posture to go by, many body language experts have analyzed the political and social dynamic at play in this photo. At the left, Churchill seems somewhat confident, but the way he is clutching something in his lap is indicative of his feelings of vulnerability at this conference. Roosevelt, in the center, seems comfortable and open, spreading himself out to take up as much room as possible; the US was the ostensible leader of the conference, and his posture exudes confidence. Stalin, at the right, is also protecting his middle with clutched hands. One of his feet is angled outward, as if he’d rather be anywhere but there. Of the three, he is the one that is least at ease, and his posture shows it.
Once your body posture is set, you’ll want to double check your facial expression. People can tell the difference between a real smile and an insincere one. In a real smile, the corners of the mouth pull upward towards the eyes; in a fake or polite one, they pull sideways towards the ears.
The eyes are the mirror of the soul, which means that people trust the emotions that they can see in another person’s eyes. With some practice, you can make your eyes look authentically excited to see someone or strongly interested in what the other person has to say. Keeping your eyebrows up, rather than sloped downward, can also give off a more positive impression.
There’s a fine balance when it comes to moving your hands as you speak. In general, gestures are viewed positively; stiff hands imply a stiff personality. Fidgeting with your hands, or overusing them in a way that looks fake, should be avoided. Watching professional speakers can give you an idea of different hand gestures that can drive your point home without looking artificial.
Here’s one example of a speaker using his hands to show the concept of “team,” and to convey a feeling of openness.
Tone of Voice
Media coaches often work with their clients on modulating their tone of voice. Try for a natural pitch; a higher pitch usually signifies anxiety and a lower pitch can feel threatening. You can also modulate your tone to convey enthusiasm, confidence, or empathy, depending on the situation.
Like this video. Does this guy look upset to you?
Pace is also important when it comes to your tone of voice. If you speak too quickly, it can feel like you’re rushing, or impatient. If you speak too slowly, it can feel patronizing, or like you aren’t sure of yourself.
All of this is important when you’re meeting someone in person, but how does it translate into the virtual business world? First of all, keep in mind that nonverbal cues are so much more powerful in person than they are in a virtual setting. In fact, research shows that the relationship that is built through a simple handshake can take two weeks of virtual conversation to replicate!
At the same time, it is important not to downplay the role that nonverbal communication plays in a virtual setting. It is easy to hunch over your computer, only show your face, and avoid eye contact during a virtual meeting—all of which can harm the confident persona you are trying to create. Instead, sit or stand up straight, keep your shoulders back, and make sure that your hands and upper arms are at least somewhat visible so that other callers can see any gestures you may make.
Similarly, although it may seem counterintuitive, try to make eye contact as much as possible by looking directly into the camera. It may feel more natural to look at the faces on the screen, but that will not be perceived as “making eye contact” to those who are watching you.
Most importantly, if you have the choice to meet with someone in person or via Zoom, opt for in-person if possible. The improvement in nonverbal communication is worth a bit of inconvenience, especially for a meeting with high stakes.
Media Coaching Without the Coach
So now you know the tips that media coaches usually give. But a big part of their job is helping to actively critique you on your nonverbal communication and help you to improve it in real time. How can you replicate that without an actual coach?
One word: practice.
Record yourself speaking in a situation similar to the one you are nervous about. If you’re giving a speech, give it to the camera. If you’re being interviewed, ask a friend to prepare some difficult questions and interview you on camera. Then watch the footage…with the sound off.
Did your smile seem authentic? Did you wave your arms around like a fool? Did you keep on looking away from the interviewer, rather than making eye contact? Were you slumped over in your seat?
By honestly critiquing your current nonverbal communication skills, you can become your own media coach and improve your game before your next media interview or public speaking venture.
This is part 2 in a series that addresses how business owners can use media coaching strategies. This post describes how to improve your nonverbal communication skills. Part 1 addressed how to improve your verbal communication skills. Part 3 will discuss other media coaching techniques that business owners should utilize. See all the articles in the series here.