Body language’s most reliable indicator?


What is the most reliable indicator of intent in body language?

It’s also the most overlooked; the feet.

They lift up when we’re happy (gravity defying) and point in the direction we want to go.

Do you feel like the person you are talking with might need to leave?

Check their feet. If those toes are pointing towards the door, you can be fairly sure that’s where the rest of the body wants to go too.

How Do You Make Your Audience Feel?

Movement for speakers

How do you move your audience? Move yourself. (photo of Zerafina conducting stretches for best voice usage in Brisbane)

I get a lot of requests to help people feel more confident speaking in front of an audience. We work together on everything from preparation to content and nonverbals (body language).

I was coaching a highly competent leader today, let’s call her Liz, and this was the biggest revelation for her:

It’s not all about you, it’s all about your audience.

Liz, like many others, felt self-conscious about presenting because:

I don’t like everyone looking at me

What are audiences looking for when they are ‘looking at’ you in a presentation?

They are looking for information that supports their understanding of what you’re saying. For example, if you tell them you are happy about something, it helps if you look and sound happy about it.

Ideally, your audience wants you to help them understand what you have to communicate. And they are hoping that you will keep them interested.

Presenting is like singing a song

I explained to Liz that when I first started singing when I was nineteen I was terrified of the audience. I remember my singing teacher, Andi Garing, coming to one of my early performances at a small bar, the Maluca Bar in Gertrude st, Fitzroy.

I have a clear mental image of my shoes; they were black, shiny brogues. I remember following all the swirls and dots in the patterns on the leather as the audience applauded, thinking:

If only they would stop clapping, I can get back to singing.

Wisely, my teacher suggested that I acknowledge the applause (something most people, even professional public speakers forget to do).

At nineteen, before a performance, I was so nervous, I would change my outfit about ten times before the gig. I’d get to the bar and have a drink of wine or vodka to try and settle my nerves. Then I’d be so worried about feeling too sleepy that I’d follow the drink up immediately with an espresso coffee. In retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly productive pre-performance routine, and did nothing to calm my nerves.

Performing was such an emotionally harrowing experience, that I put an enormous amount of research into finding ways to master the mental and physical tools for positive performance.

My brilliant singing teacher, Andi,  helped to put some of it in context:

It’s not about you when you sing a song; it’s about the audience. You are asking them if they have shared the experience you are singing about. ‘Do you know what this feels like? Have you been here too?’

Presenting is all about your audience

How do you want to make them feel?

After hearing the story, as many great marketers are aware, Liz looked relieved and said:

‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s what the audience wants to know.

The reason this was a relief for Liz, and a relief for me when I was nineteen is this:

It takes the pressure off you to present brilliantly, and to think mainly about the needs and interests of your audience instead.

What would be the opposite of self-consciousness? Consciousness of others? Perhaps lacking self-consciousness is all about thinking about others.

What can you do for your next presentation to consider how you want your audience to feel?

Leadership: The Host with the Most

You're the host with the most, or you're dining alone

You’re the host with the most, or you’re dining alone


Leadership: The Host with the Most

This week I was in a meeting at the headquarters of an international sporting brand, having a conversation with some very inspiring people about leadership. We were talking about a range of questions around leadership, and especially this one:

How do great leaders make others feel?

I was thinking about what an astute observer mentioned when I had spoken about a superstar connector, Ineke. Ineke had introduced herself, and a group of people to one another with enviable grace and warmth. On mentioning this to a consultant friend, she said;

‘The trick is to imagine yourself the host of the party.’

No matter where you are, if you think about making others feel comfortable, and connecting people with one another, you are leading.

What makes a great leader?

In this meeting with a very talented HR professional, and a highly regarded leadership coach, we were talking about what makes great leaders. It was this idea of being a great host (or hostess/’hostess with the mostest’) that resonated with everyone.

The great host/leader:

  • Notices the comfort of others
  • Directs the tone of proceedings
  • Lets everyone know where things are, and when they will happen
  • Is in the present moment

If you thought about yourself as a host, as much as a leader, what would you do differently?

What top 3 nonverbals communicate leadership?

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image:

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image:

This week I’ve been coaching leaders from an international sports brand. They have deep knowledge and experience in their area. One question that has surfaced is ‘How can we make sure that we are communicating with authority?’

Leaders take up more space

From the great ape to the peacock, when we demonstrate leadership (though we call them dominance cues in the nonverbal world), we take up more space.

Watch people in your next meeting:

  • Who spreads out their belongings across the table?
  • Who has a wide stance?
  • Who drapes their arm over the chair next to theirs?

Leaders move slowly

Think of a movie where the king or queen enters the room.

  • What is their pace?
  • Is is faster or slower than those around them?

Leaders take their time.

This may be a reflection of how our body reacts when we get into a power pose. Our sense of competence rises, with an increase in testosterone, but it’s the reduction of cortisol that is most interesting because it reduces our reactivity to stress.

If we are less reactive to stress, we can make better decisions, and this makes us stand out as leaders.


Leaders’ gestures are larger

A funny thing happens when we experience a stress-response. Our instinct is to protect ourselves. It’s a good instinct to have if we are about to fall over…we can protect our vital organs, and do less damage to ourselves as a result.

Unfortunately, this reaction kicks in when we are presenting in front of groups of people, and it means we restrict our gestures. We also restrict our gestures when we are lying, or do not have full confidence in what we are saying. For most presenters, that means that if we are to look more confident, we need to practise larger gestures to support our content.

Try to get some space around your armpits at some point during your presentation. This will help to remind you to open up your gestures.

See the nonverbals (body language) of leadership in action:

This video contrasts Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama speaking, with the nonverbals commentated by Joe Navarro.


Voice 101

Cat yawing and singing

Even cats use a variety of pitches to communicate their needs.

How can we use our voice to influence?

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Great Gatsby

 “Her voice was like a bagpipe suffering from tonsillitis.”

Our voices are capable of a broad range of expression. The voice is designed to reflect our inner-state to the outer-world and has the capacity to invite or repel an audience.

One of our main challenges when we are presenting is to keep our audience interested. Think of your voice as a musical instrument, and your presentation as a piece of music, and you will be well on your way to engaging your audience.

  • Think melody: if a piece of music consisted of one note, it would get boring very quickly. Experiment with varying the melody in your vocal range.
  • Music is sound and silence; leave room for the pauses. A drone, like a bagpipe, consists of the one sound uninterrupted.
  • Vary the rhythm; think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the Rolling Stone’s Jumping Jack Flash. It’s the rhythmic stops and variations that get our attention

One easy way to get a clearer picture of how you are using your voice is to record yourself. Try recording yourself giving a presentation. It is going to sound weird- not because you sound weird, but because we experience our sound differently than everybody else. When we hear our own sound, it’s like we are in the middle of a speaker. As you can imagine, we get a clearer ‘sound-picture’ in front of a speaker. If you are behind (or inside) a speaker it will sound muffled.

Use the points below to guide your listening.

  • Are you varying the melody or speaking in a monotone?
  • Are you leaving space for words to have their impact by pausing?
  • Are there places you might speed up, or slow down to underline what you are saying?

What can you do this week to raise your awareness of how you are using your voice? Are you matching the same melody and rhythm in your presentations as your conversations?

Top 3 Presentation Myths

Susan Ferrier (national managing partner of people, performance and culture for KPMG) believes that soft skills “are the new hard skills”. Because the internet provides a great storehouse of easily accessible knowledge, “having big parts of your brain storing technical stuff is going to be less valuable in the world of the future”, she says. “How you collaborate, solve problems creatively and authentically lead people will matter more.” from ‘The Rise of Soft Skills; Why Top Marks No Longer Get the Best Jobs’ by John Elder, The Age, March 15, 2015

If soft skills are the new hard skills, how do we develop them? How can we tell the truth from the baloney?

Every industry has myths that seem to hold more sway than the truth. Often they arise from a relevant statistic or study that is so compelling it creates a life of its own. Here are the top three in the presentation world, and some tips on how you might grow your skill set from an informed perspective.

  1. You either have charisma/great people skills, or you don’t.

    This myth is an excellent excuse to not have to do any work. It is an excellent way to abdicate responsibility for improving. When you think about people who have that ‘star quality’, it’s possible to break down all the elements that contribute towards how they communicate. The strangest part of working as a coach is hearing people talk about individuals I’ve coached as being a ‘natural’, and they just have that special ‘star quality/X-factor’ and yes, I also hear ‘you can’t teach that.’

  • The secret is deliberate practise. In a cross disciplinary study on expertise across domains from music, sports and medicine to software design, Anders Ericsson et al found that deliberate practise was the key to improvement. The often misquoted number of hours for mastery is ten thousand. That’s the number of hours if you want to reach a world-class level. Think about twenty hours, and you’re more on the mark for communication. It’s the first twenty hours that we have the steepest learning curve, and we get the biggest return on our investment for time.
  • If you chose one area of your presentation skills to work on each month, but the end of a year, you could have improved in twelve areas- that would be at least twenty hours. Five areas could be: Networking, Appearance (wardrobe and grooming), Voice, Body-language/Nonverbals and Volunteering for presentations.
  1. 97% of your communication is nonverbal.

    55% facial expressions 38% from tone of voice. We’ve all heard this at some time or another from communications professionals. This is one of those statistics that you don’t question, but if you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense. If ninety-seven percent of our communication was nonverbal we would immediately understand people having a conversation across the room in a foreign language. Being a spy would be the easiest job in the entire world. Listening devices? No need. This is a misquoted study. If you hear a communications specialist quote this statistic to you, it might be a good idea to critically examine the other information they quote as being based on science.

    The Mehrabian Myth

    Professor Albert Mehrabian’s experiments looked at the impact of inconsistent messaging, where someone means something different from the content they are communicating. Think of an argument with a friend when you ask, “Is everything ok?’ and they spit out between gritted teeth, ‘Fine!’Mehrabian made clear that these statistics were relevant to feelings or attitudes. Check out this video ‘Busting the Mehrabian Myth’ and you will be a step ahead of the crowd. What can you do? Think ‘scriptwriter and actor.’ Even the best actor with a terrible script will bomb. Most likely, the audience will think it is the fault of the actor. Pay attention to polishing both your content and delivery. Check that they are congruent with each other, and congruent with you for the best presentation possible.

  2. If you work on it, you’ll be fake.

There is some truth to this one. We’ve all seen someone so plastic they would melt near a naked flame. But experts in any field continually work on improving their game. It is vitally important to be present for your audience as well as understanding your content. You will sound more natural if you talk from prompts than if you read notes verbatim.

If soft-skills are the new hard-skills it pays to get informed, and put a little bit of work in to improve. The great part about this is that we don’t need any special equipment, as we communicate all the time.

What communication skill will you practise this week?

Top 3 ways to break the ice; Permission to mingle

A stack of name tags you might see at a networking event

Networking 101: Get off your device, show your smile and ask a low-stakes question to break the ice. Photo courtesy of Gratisography

Networking 101

Meeting people for the first time can be daunting. Add to that the pressure of meeting strangers, and you have something called networking. I was at a Business Chicks breakfast speaking event last week to see the Red Shark, the founder of Red Balloon, Naomi Simson. The breakfast was a great opportunity to meet some dynamic women in business.

I arrived early and had the opportunity to meet new people before my friend turned up. Around the hotel foyer, there were lots of people waiting on their own. In the early morning light, these individuals were craning over the blue glow of their mobile phones. It was hard to catch anyone’s eye.

I walked around to the top of the escalator to wait for my friend, and noticed there were some other people waiting on their own too- maybe I could start a conversation there.

As nonverbals are my forte, I noticed the closed body language, arms crossed and clutching bags, bodies turned away. Ah, maybe not. I was thinking ‘This is ridiculous, I’m in the business of communication. Maybe it’s just too early in the morning.’

Then, a smiling woman strode up to the group

‘Hi, I’m Ineke. Do you all know each other?’

And that’s all it took to meet Ineke and five other interesting, very friendly people. We were all waiting for permission to mingle. It took one person to give us that permission, and it was something we could have given ourselves.

From now on, I’ll try to be a bit more like Ineke. It’s easy to make excuses for our own shyness. Next time I’m at an event where I don’t know anybody, I’ll remember what relief it was to have someone start the conversation.

Top 3 ways to break the ice

  1. Turn off your phone.

    It might make us feel less awkward to be on our device in a public place where we don’t know anyone, but it cuts us off from the people in the room. To add to our isolation, looking at a small device can reduce our confidence to engage with others. A Harvard Business School study, ‘iPosture: The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects Our Behavior’,  demonstrated that people behaved less assertively, the smaller the device they looked at. Put down your phone to be available for conversations and increase your confidence.

  2. Make eye contact, and smile.

    In other words, look approachable. Although our tendency is to close off our body language when we feel nervous, try to keep open body-language. What would that look like? Arms uncrossed, and a friendly facial expression are a good start.

  3. Say hello, and ask a low-stakes question.

    Or; be more like Ineke. ‘Do you know each other?’ ‘Have you been to one of these events before?’ Great communicators shine the spotlight onto their partner.

How will you approach your next networking event?

Five Steps for the Perfect Elevator Pitch

“I hate talking about my business.”

The number of times I hear people say this, well…it’s fatiguing. What it tells me is, either:
a) You’ve bought so deeply into Austalia’s Tall Poppy syndrome that you’ver never figured out how to say good things about what you do
b) You’re not aware that it helps the person you’re having a conversation with. Really, it helps the flow of conversation, it helps open the door to something the other person might be interested in. By speaking well about your business, you open up communication.

In July I’ll be speaking at an event for emerging entrepreneurs about how to do this. I hope to help them understand the value of opening up a conversation about what they’ve been passionate enough about to turn it into a business.

This blog post is a great start for taking the time to really think about how we might help spark an interesting conversation.

Life as an Investment

If you an entrepreneur with an amazing idea and want to pitch it to your friends or even an investor, get ready to experience sweaty palms and rosy, red cheeks. Why?

Because you never have a second chance to make a first impression!

Here are some tips to avoid screwing it up:

    I.         Make a plan and write it down.

 Here is a plan: The American Express advice US makes it simple and useful.

You never have a second chance to make a first impression FIRST BLOCK

1)    Name of your business

2)    Your product/services

3)    Market segment

4)    Problem solving


 1)    Why your product is needed

2)    Which problems can it solve (this makes life easier, saves time and is more productive)

3)    Why are you better than the competition—USP


1)    Sales & Profitability Statement

2)    End with a statement about what you are looking to accomplish


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