4 Ways to Use Body Language to Be Perceived as Friendly & Influential

Last Updated on April 25, 2017

Body language is vital to how we communicate. In fact, research shows that our body language can subconsciously transmit how we feel — and consequently, act (although, the “55%-38%-7% rule” is actually a myth). No matter what you are doing in life, using your body language in the right way can help you effectively communicate your message and influence others.

In this post, we explore four key ways to use your body language in a more sophisticated way:

  1. Use eye contact in a smart way.
  2. Embrace the power in your palms.
  3. Look smart by using diamonds.
  4. Lean forward to take an answer.

Let’s analyze them.

1. Use eye contact in a smart way.

It is common knowledge that maintaining eye contact is essential in any professional setting, whether it is in a meeting or while delivering a presentation. That’s true; staring at your notes, floor or the bullet points in your PowerPoint can make your audience feel ignored. So yes, maintaining an eye contact is important.

So yes, maintaining an eye contact is important.

However, there is a problem here, because too many people believe that ‘you just need to look every person in the audience’ and ‘make sure they can see your eyes’.

But this is just ridiculous and speakers who try to follow this rule tend to do this:

They keep on staring right & left without really looking into someone’s eyes. And that’s as distracting as the non-looking-at-all.

The solution is simple:

Stop speaking to the audience as a whole, and start having one-on-one conversations.

Try to talk to each and every member of your audience and you will fail, especially, if your audience is bigger than 10 people.

On the other hand, it’s much easier if you pick a person in the audience and have a one-on-one ‘private’ conversation with that person for a full thought. Then pick a new person for each new thought.

In doing this, you will be able to:

  • Come off as confident & stable to your audience.
  • Relax, because you are no longer speaking to a large group of people, but rather one person at a time.
  • Increase engagement, especially amongst all the audience members you interacted with one-on-one.

For a real life example, see how Bill Clinton effectively uses this eye contact method when speaking to thousands of people.

2. Embrace the power in your palms.

Palms are the next big thing. Every time you speak, the way you use your palms can affect the levels of persuasiveness and audience engagement.

Here are 3 ways to use your hands, palms and all, to effectively communicate your message.

Palms facing up.

Every time you keep your palms up, your audience perceives you as more friendly and engaging speaker. Why?

Because from a subconscious biological level, you show them that you come unarmed (and are therefore harmless).

When it comes to additional hand motions, keep your movement circular.

By doing this, people will perceive you as being open to discuss and feel more welcome to challenge your opinion. This will provoke thoughtful discussion and make you appear more likeable.

To see a demonstration of this tip, watch body language expert Mark Bowden present in this TED Talk and demonstrate how to use your palms (among other things) to perceived as friendly and influential. (Doesn’t he look open and friendly?)

Palms facing down.

Speaking with your palms facing down is a sign of power and authority.

When your palms are down, you appear more serious, but less open for discussion. People who keep their palms towards the floor tend to give orders (or are perceived as doing so) and set boundaries in their communication.

For a familiar example, examine the following two images of Adolf Hitler:

In the first image, the infamous “nazi gesture” appears authoritative and invites no space for discussion.

In the second image, Hitler holds his palms up and consequently provides an appearance that he may listen to you.

With just the flip of a palm, there can be a dramatic change in how you perceive the same person (and unfortunately, Hitler understood how to leverage this well).

Fun fact: Have you tried to keep your palms up and do a linear move or keep your palms down and do a circular one? It looks more like dancing and less like speaking.

Finger pointing.

The worst hand movement for presenters is the finger point. It will not only negatively affect your presentations but can also damage your general communication & interaction with other people.

When you stand on the other side of the finger, you feel that the speaker is not just giving you an order, but a directive. You feel that you are being treated as inferior to the speaker.

Throughout the world, this gesture is widely used by extremist politicians, dictators, and people with authority.

3. Diamonds makes you look smart.

There is a specific gesture which is applied by people who ‘know what they’re talking about’. It is called diamond mostly because the hands seem to shape one when they’re placed at this position.

When a speaker does this, they are perceived as an expert, who knows their topic well and are sure about the information they provide. It’s a good gesture to use when you are sharing infographics and graphs, expressing opinions, or being challenged by your audience.

Politicians and salesmen are trained to regularly use this gesture to look confident and well-informed.

4. Lean forward to answer a question.

The last tip of this list is a simple yet effective one.

Take a look at the next 2 pictures. In which one do you think Panos is more focused?

If you answered the second one, you belong in the majority. Here’s why: Imagine that you are part of the audience of a virtual mentoring session. The speaker here — mentor and Cardiac Surgeon, Dr. Apostolos Roubelakis — introduces himself, conducts the session, and ends by answering questions from the room.

When speaking during the session, Dr. Roubelakis keeps a steady distance between him and his laptop.

But the moment a student starts asking a question, Apostolos leans forward slightly.

On a conscious level, he does this to listen more closely. On a subconscious level, his body language signals to the class that he is genuinely interested, inspiring more them to ask more questions.

Thus, Apostolos only had to lean forward slightly to make a great impact with his audience. By leaning forward, he showed the class that he was willing to listen carefully and devote all his energy to engaging with the room. In turn, this made every member of the audience feel relaxed, invested, and engaged. In fact, the class was so engaged that this session resulted in more than 15 questions asked and answered.

Good job, Dr. Roubelakis!

How effective is your body language?

Now, take some time to evaluate your body language and see how it measures up across the aspects above. And before giving your next big presentation, keep the following actionable tips in mind to ensure you are presenting and communicating effectively:

  • Use eye contact to have one-on-one private conversations for a full thought.
  • Keep your palms up and move them in a circular motion.
  • Embrace the ‘diamond’ gesture to subconsciously signal your expertise.
  • Lean forward slightly when answering questions.

Put these tips to use in classrooms & mentor sessions

Whether you’re teaching a class, giving a TEDtalk, or hosting a mentor session on a platform, put these tips to use to ensure you’re getting your message across. 100mentors is the platform and network empowering students to connect with mentors on-demand to guide them in their most important academic and career decisions. With 100mentors, schools enable students to open up their circles of influence to include mentors from 300+ universities and 500+ companies across the world. Ready to mentor and empower students? Get started below.

This is one part of a 6-part series, highlighting the must-knows of presenting and public speaking.

To catch up on the rest of the series, check out: Part 1 of 6: 5 Ways to Conquer Your Public Speaking FearsPart 2 of 6: Technology Tips for Presenting to Live & Virtual Audiences, Part 3 of 6: 5 Tips to Avoid Death by PowerPoint & Part 5 of 6: 3 Ways to Actively Engage Your Audience When Presenting.

Nikos gets out of bed every morning to bridge the gap between formal education and 'paideia' (values, attitudes & role-models). He delivers experiential workshops to people who want to develop their public-speaking skills. At 100mentors, he helps Student Recruitment Officers connect with top-students worldwide.

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