Everything we do communicates something to our audience. Words are important, but they are the tip of the iceberg. The delivery, particularly our nonverbal communication, often communicates more. That’s because our bodies are billboards, sending messages out into the world, and our audience constantly reads and interprets them, for better or for worse.
Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, estimate that, in business encounters, body language accounts for between 60-80% of the impact made around a negotiating table.
By controlling our nonverbal communication, which we call intention cues, we can better control the message we’re communicating. Here are the five major areas of nonverbal behavior one must consider when they communicate.
Good, steady eye contact helps facilitate the flow of communication between a speaker and their audience. It also signals an interest in others. Furthermore, eye contact with an audience increases a speaker’s credibility and allows a speaker to monitor visual feedback.
How much eye contact? According to psychologist Alan Johnston and his colleagues at University College London, 3.2 seconds, on average, is ideal. Subjects were comfortable with a longer duration though if they felt the actors looked trustworthy versus threatening.
Your face can help communicate your points. Use a wide range of facial expressions. Smiling, in particular, is a powerful tool. If you smile frequently, audience will perceive you as more likable, friendly, warm, and approachable.
According to recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are three types of smiles:
- Reward – the “most intuitive” smile and the kind you would use with a baby, so he/she will smile back or do things you like. Features a “symmetrical hoist of zygomaticus muscles plus a dash of eyebrow lift and some sharp lip pulling.”
- Affiliative smile – used to communicate tolerance, acknowledgment or a bond and to appear unthreatening. Features “similar symmetrical upturn to the mouth, but spread wider and thinner with pressed lips and no exposed teeth.”
- Dominance smile – signify status in social hierarchies. These “dispense with the symmetry, pairing a bit of lopsided sneer with the raised brows and lifted cheeks typically associated with expressing enjoyment.”
Researchers suggested, “Better definitions of smile types should also help people navigate intercultural communication.” They added, “Simply teaching people about the existence of different types of ‘true’ smiles can help people pay more attention and avoid some of those misunderstandings.”
Gestures, often called “the silent language,” assist in communicating words and ideas. Like a word, effective gestures must have something to say and need to clearly communicate intent. There are no “good” or “bad” gestures. There are only effective and ineffective gestures. As long as your gesture supports your intention, it is an effective gesture.
Also, know your audience. Some commonly used gestures in one country will offend your audience in another.
Posture and Body Orientation
The way you walk, talk, stand and sit communicates messages. A relaxed body moves much faster and more efficiently than a tense body. Standing erect, but not rigid, and leaning slightly forward communicates you are approachable, receptive and friendly. Speaking with your back turned or looking at the floor or ceiling communicates disinterest.
Use proper posture when seated, with your spine straight, but not stiff. Don’t slump or sag into your chair – you may appear overly casual. Send your energy out toward the person with whom you are speaking.
How near or far you are from your audience can send a message as well. Can you move around the space during your presentation? If so, it may communicate that you are comfortable and confident. If you stand behind a lectern for the entire presentation, it may communicate the opposite. Also, cultural norms dictate a certain distance between speaker and audience.
As the Broadway theatre director and producer, Arthur Hopkins, was fond of pointing out, “The reason for walking is destination. If you choose to move, you must have a purpose for doing so. Movement is especially useful for transitions or to indicate that you are now moving on to a new point or topic.
Perception is everything with effective communication. What you project is only successful if your audience interprets it as you intended. Your physical actions, your nonverbal communication, must support your intention.
Through the controlled and focused use of facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movement, you can ensure your audience perceives every aspect of your communication exactly the way you intended—and, even more important, avoid the mixed messages and mistrust that arise when your words and your intention cues are out of sync.
To learn more about how we use intention to ensure a business professional’s nonverbal communication aligns with what they are saying, please contact us.