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by Dorothy Leeds

A salesperson I know recently walked into a client's office he had visited often. Everything seemed the same as usual. But he quickly sensed something was wrong. People weren't leaning forward in their chairs to greet him; the secretary's usually cheerful demeanor was subdued. When the client told him they had decided to pass on his latest proposal, he was not surprised. He'd been warned by the staff's body language.

Communication consists of so much more than what we say to each other. Your tone of voice, your posture, your clothes, even your car, often say more about you than you could ever express in words. People start to make judgments based on your body language the moment they see you. No words can convey your confidence -- or lack of it -- as quickly as body language does, and it takes many brilliant words to change poor impressions made by your nonverbal signals. In short, you are your best visual aid -- or your worst.

Informal Meetings

Body language is just as important when you're in a one-on-one meeting with an established client as it is when you're making a presentation in front of a group. It's important that you appear friendly and accessible. How's your handshake? I recently interviewed someone for a job in my office who shook hands by barely clasping the tips of my fingers. I knew right away that she was going to be too timid for the sales position I had in mind. On the other hand (so to speak), you don't want to squeeze so tightly people judge you to be overbearing and insensitive.

If you're not aware of what you're doing, you can easily send mixed signals. Say "I'm so happy to be meeting with you today," while you're looking down and fidgeting with your briefcase, and your body language will speak louder than your words.

Be careful not to be a "space invader." A salesperson came to me for help a while ago. He couldn't understand why his presentations were not more successful. I asked to give me a demonstration of his usual routine. The first thing he did was clear papers off my desk (without asking permission) so that he could spread out his materials out before me. Many people are very proprietary about their "stuff" and don't want other people touching their possessions. A very funny Seinfeld episode described another space invader, the "close talker." This person kept leaning in until he was about 6" away from the person to whom he was speaking. Needless to say, this made the person extremely uncomfortable. A little respect for other people's property and breathing room goes a long way.

Formal Presentations

When you're making a more formal presentation in front of a group, there are several steps you can take to improve your body language.

Be prepared: This is the foundation for building positive body language, for fostering your confidence and putting you in control. It also lets the audience know that you care about them -- being unprepared practically shouts "I didn't have time for you."

Make an entrance: As you walk in, look as though you would rather be there, talking to this group of people, than any other place in the world. Walk with ease and purpose, and take a moment to collect yourself before you begin speaking.

Make eye contact. Many people will tell you to look above the audience so that they don't make you nervous. But establishing eye contact is crucial to building rapport. Make eye contact before you begin to speak, and periodically throughout your presentation.

Control your hands. If you tend to speak with your hands (like I do), practice holding them behind your back. Use them only to emphasize particular points, such as shape, size, number and direction.

Facial expressions. Most women naturally use facial expressions to communicate, while many men adhere to the Gary Cooper/Clint Eastwood school of straight faced speaking. However, a moderate amount of facial expression can definitely add interest to any presentation. Practice in front of a mirror until you find a balance that looks natural and feels comfortable for you.

It's very frustrating for anyone to have a wonderful idea and a fine presentation, only to have the delivery marred by nonverbal mannerisms that alienate people. Positive and powerful body language should support your verbal message and help you appear confident, caring, and in control in any situation.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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