You get only one chance to make a first impression.
To be more precise, research shows it’s more like four seconds—that’s how quickly people form judgments after an introduction. It’s another 30 seconds before that judgment is largely finalized.
As professional communicators, our lives often feel largely digital, but face-to-face interactions are still essential for landing business and building trust. Winning a new account often starts by making a positive, in-person impression. No amount of technology can replace charisma, warm physical presence and strong body language.
So, before you gather the troops and head into the conference room with your laptop, projector and handouts, make sure your team is up to speed on these six body language essentials:
1. You’re never fully dressed without a smile.
As the above line from “Annie” suggests, from your entrance to the presentation itself, you’re exuding subtle clues that others are interpreting, often unconsciously. Don’t overdo it, but when you walk in with bright eyes and an easy smile, you are instantly commanding attention and putting everyone at ease.
By commanding the stage with enthusiasm and excitement, you can affect the vibe of the entire room.
2. Use ‘power posing’ to build and exude confidence.
If you haven’t viewed Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language, please do.
“Power posing” can boost confidence levels, improve other people’s perceptions of you and directly affect the outcome of interpersonal exchanges. I try to sneak off to the bathroom before a presentation to prepare. I stand as tall as I possibly can, roll my shoulders back, tilt my chin up, and look myself dead in the eyes with my head held high and say something like:
You’re one strong, courageous woman. You are prepared, you have great ideas, and you are going to nail this pitch.
Stand tall, and carry yourself with confidence. You’ll radiate determination, poise and trust, which is exactly what clients are looking for in a PR professional.
3. Give handshakes all around the table.
Try to connect with every person at the table before your pitch.
Make strong eye contact and give firm handshakes. Resist the urge to fumble with technology or chat nervously with your co-workers.
Establishing quick, direct contact with everyone in the room can heighten their attention and interest in your pitch.
4. Make a personal connection.
In your pitch, allow room for personal anecdotes and genuine relationship-building moments. Humanize yourself and your team.
Who doesn’t like a sincere compliment? Easy wins in our business can be as simple as noticing a great haircut, laptop case or pair of shoes. Break the ice with thoughtful questions as well.
When you do ask questions, square your body directly to the person. Approaching someone at an angle sends signals of insecurity and mistrust.
5. Stop fidgeting.
We all have nervous tics. Fidgeting can distract your audience and put the focus on your hair-pulling, rather than on your brilliant strategy.
Before a big pitch, record a prep session to discover what tics, phrases or behaviors you ought to address.
6. Take up space.
This is your time to shine. Own the room by moving around and commanding attention.
Precise, purposeful hand gestures give oomph to your most important points, so use them. When you’re comfortable being in the spotlight, your audience becomes more comfortable with you as well.
The Genard Method recommends the following:
- Choose a different spot to deliver each of your main points. In a small performance space, this may mean taking just a step or two before each point.
- If you’re discussing a chronology, move from your audience’s left to their right as you talk about each stage or element of a timeline. In Western societies, left-to-right is how we read, and your audience will follow your time progression easily.
- If you’re outlining sides of an argument or alternatives, stand in one spot for one side of the argument, in another place for the alternative, then remain where you are or go back to your original position, depending upon which side of the argument or alternative you agree with.
As a communications pro, you probably have buckets of natural charisma. Ensure that your delivery and demeanor—as well as what you say—support your ability to build trust. Let your body language speak clearly that you are the right person for the job.
A version of this post first appeared on PR Couture.