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Much of communication is nonverbal. That means you’re doing much of your talking without saying a word.
Of course, you don’t realize it. You’re focused on what you’re saying—the words that are coming out of your mouth. What you don’t know is that your body is saying something else. And that something else doesn’t jive with what you’re saying.
We often are unaware of our body language and this is especially true when we’re under stress. There are times when it’s crucial for us to project confidence. The last thing we want is to send the wrong message. Fortunately, it’s easy to be aware of your body language once you start paying attention to it. Here’s how to keep things under control.
Without saying a word
Your body language is a crucial part of how and what you are silently communicating. The actual words we use are what others will focus on. Problems arise, however, when the nonverbal messages we put out are inconsistent with what we say. It doesn’t matter how precisely we speak, as those words will take on a different meaning.
This is important to remember, especially if your objective is to come across as confident while you’re speaking. Keep these 4 nonverbal areas in mind:
- Maintain eye contact. Your inability to look someone in the eye as you speak to them can communicate that you are not sincere. Or worse, the person you’re talking to may decide that you are telling a lie.
- Use open gestures. It’s not necessary to gesticulate wildly, but do make sure that you use your hands and arms to underscore what you’re saying. These movements help people to see that you are confident in what you’re telling them. Nod your head in when they’re talking to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re agreeing with them, but it does acknowledge that you’re listening.
- Pace yourself appropriately. Much can be read from the tone, inflection, and pace of your speaking voice. Obviously, it depends on the subject matter—but some topics need a more subdued and measured style to indicate the importance of what’s being said. A drastic rise in your inflection may give off the impression that you are either upset or the topic has an emotional impact on you.
- An upright posture. This is easier to accomplish if you’re standing, of course, but confident people sit and stand upright. They may bend their head toward the person they’re speaking to, but otherwise, remember what your mother told you about sitting up straight in your chair. Folding your arms may communicate that you are uncomfortable or that you dislike the person you’re talking to. Professionals often cross their legs in conversations, but get that fidgety foot under control if you have a tendency to shake it.
Practice makes perfect
Try this exercise to practice your confident posture. Start by sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. To make sure you have upright posture, imagine there’s a thread attached to the top of your head. It’s gently pulling you upwards. The more it pulls, the more you feel yourself become taller as your spine straightens. Your chin is parallel to the floor.
Now it’s time to turn your attention to your arms. Make sure they’re open—because you’ll need them to gesture. It means they’re not going to be crossed or placed across your body in any way. Rest your hands gently in your lap.
Imagine that a mirror image of yourself is sitting directly in front of you. Look the image directly in the eyes and smile. It’s a smile of assurance, ease, and warmth. It’s confident.
It might help to try a breathing exercise while you’re at it. Breathe in through your nose to the count of 3, and then out to the count of 5. A steady pace of breathing will stimulate your physical relaxation response. It’ll help to reduce any stress you’re feeling.
Take this exercise to the next level if you do any public speaking. Stand up, with your feet spread slightly so that you have an even distribution of your weight. Move your hands as you speak, making sure that you show your palms to your mirror image as you gesture. Feel free to take a few steps as you speak, but don’t take your attention away from your mirror image.
You might be thinking that this exercise would be much easier if you actually did it in front of a mirror. Congratulations! Now you’re getting into the confidence mode. The more you practice, the less stress you’ll feel about what your body language. It’ll be on the same page with you.
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