Building Confidence, Deliver With Impact

The Body Language Myth

Blog bites:

  • Increase your confidence with your audience
  • Ignore the body language myths
  • Read your audience’s energy
  • Improve audience engagement

How do you know if your audience is engaged? There are many ways but sometimes it can be tricky sorting fact from fiction. There are a number of useful indicators for engagement and yes…body language is one of them. But how do you do it? There are many business books out there with tips on how to read body language. They say that folded arms indicate judgment or disagreement, or playing with your hair means you’re bored.

But these are body language myths. And using these body language examples means that you are looking at the topic the wrong way around.

So how do you know if your audience is engaged and on side with your message – or disinterested and daydreaming? By looking at the energy first, and body language second.

Here’s how to master it:

Read the energy first

When presenting to an audience, rather than looking at their body language in isolation, try to read their energy first.

What do we mean by energy? Disinterested, hostile, bored, antagonistic, present, excited, and engaged are all energetic states. In each energetic state, there are certain body language clusters. The whole body, including facial expression and eye gaze, portrays a quality of energy or an expression of that energy – and that’s what we’re looking for.

For example, let’s say you’re pitching an idea to your manager. They sit across from you, arms folded, but with a high quality of attention. You can see in their eyes that they’re focused intently on what you’re saying.

Now, if you were to follow the body language myths you would think, “Oh, they have their arms folded – they must hate my idea!” But this is the wrong assumption to make. It’s a misreading of energy. They may just be comfortable, or cold. Their ‘cluster’ of signals is in fact telling you that they are intrigued, supportive and tuned in – even if their arms suggest otherwise.

So start with energy first, and look for other visual clues a little later on.

Read the body language second

Remember that people – especially in workplaces – have learned the skill of looking like they’re paying attention when they’re not. Your audience may look fully engaged from a ‘body language’ perspective, but they may in fact be drafting emails in their head or planning dinner.

Quite simply, they could be faking engagement.

With body language signals, we’re seeing them within the context of the energy being the demonstrator. So look for the descriptors we mentioned above – is there hostility, disinterest, engagement, subtle curiosity, or perhaps an ‘I’ll wait and see’ vibe?

These are sophisticated ways to weigh up and understand human intent and the communication of body language signals. And if you can master this, you will become far more effective in the way you connect with others and more sensitive to the ways in which people reveal themselves.

So remember – read the energy first, and body language second.

Reading your audience is just one aspect of professional communication training. In the Mastering Communication Program, Colin James and Erica Bagshaw will reveal more comprehensive strategies and techniques for fine-tuning your presentation and communication skills for ongoing success.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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