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How body language can help your career

30th April 2019

People in an office meeting

Is your body language hindering your career? Before you have even spoken a word, your body language is suggesting your personality traits to others. When you are in a professional environment, especially if you have a legal in-house job, you are likely to attend meetings, presentations and networking events during your career. Read on to find out how you can start to use your body language to convey knowledge, power and confidence, as well as how a confident mindset can help.

‘Fake it till you make it’

The phrase is constantly used in regards to presenting, meeting new people and climbing the career ladder, but is the ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset actually viable?

We spoke to Tanya Geisler, who specialises in coaching people to become their most confident selves to find out her opinion on how people can use body language to appear more confident: “I feel very strongly that confidence isn’t something to be faked. That ‘fake it till you make it’ is pretty fleeting counsel.”

Tanya’s work tackles the Imposter Complex and how people can overcome it. She helps people gain ‘Unshakeable confidence’, by focusing on integrity, presence and action. Tanya continues: “Integrity is about showing up authentically, having obedience to your vision, and honouring your word. Presence is about rooting in your power, knowing yourself and having a reverence for who you are. And action is about having a willingness to fail, resilience and tenacity.”

Start with your walk

When you arrive into a presentation, meeting or even a networking event, people will start to form an opinion on you from the way you enter a room.

Jodie Bruce-Clarke is the founder of Rise Women, a business that strives to help women feel confident and achieve success through her online courses, coaching and book. Jodie shares her advice on how people can use their body language to exude confidence: “Walk with purpose and determination. Don’t rush, just walk at a pace you’re comfortable with.

“You know when confidence walks in the room, right? Well, more than likely, the first thing you see is their body language- how they walk, how they hold their head, the smile on their face and how they greet people.  You too can learn to communicate confidence by using your body language.”

Use a firm handshake

Office hand shake

In a professional environment, a handshake is important. It’s commonly the first point of communication when greeting someone new and although it seems minor, it can suggest a lot about your character. Firstly, if you are seated, be sure to stand up before shaking someone’s hand. Secondly, master the art of a gentle but firm handshake.

We spoke to Nick from Life of Man, an online blog for men’s lifestyle, food, drink and travel. Nick reveals his thoughts: “Definitely use a firm handshake. This is a great way to exude confidence in a professional environment. A loose handshake can make someone appear weak so getting this right will ensure people know that the individual means business.”

Once you have greeted everyone with a handshake, don’t stop there. Kerri from Career Stories is a career coach and job search strategist who helps people grow their careers. She says: “Aim to have open palms when you’re talking with someone. I try to hand my palms open and up when sitting and listening. That vulnerability of not having clenched fists is confidence. I like to walk around a room and notice how many people clench their fists and aren’t even aware of it.”

Change your posture

When you’re trying to pitch ideas that you want people to follow, make sure you pay close attention to your posture. If you are slumped and your posture is closing inwards, people will be less likely to believe what you’re saying.

Jodie from Rise Women continues: “Lift your chin and your chest ever so slightly to feel a greater sense of power. Keep our shoulders back. It's a natural movement for our shoulders to curl inwards when we feel fear, insecurity or doubt so, by keeping your shoulders tilted back will help you present a bolder, braver and more confident appearance.”

Learning how to stand correctly and use posture to portray your best self can take time, Kerri advises: “Practice at home and find out your naturally positioning. Do you put weight to the front of your foot or your heels? Aim to have an equal balance. Pay attention to your shoulders, are they rolling forward and hunching? Can you roll them onto your back to have a more open chest?”

Eye contact

Man presenting at work

It’s obvious that eye contact is one of the most important parts of communication, however, it can be hard to know where to look when you’re presenting to a large group. For many people, their default habit is to look at the board. Our advice is to use solid eye contact throughout the presentation but avoid fixating on one person.

Nick from Life of Man agrees: “Eye contact should be maintained during conversations to promote engagement and interest.”

Eye contact is also mentioned by Jodie from Rise Women: “Look people in the eye. This tip makes a big difference to how you come across to others so always be conscious of looking directly at people.”

Dress to impress

The power of proper dressing is important. Make sure you have carefully selected your outfit before a networking event, presentation or a meeting. The way you dress can change your whole demeanour, so make sure you are comfortable and smart by following tips to look more professional.

Nick advises: “Whether it be wearing a crisp new shirt to a job interview or the latest designer sunglasses amongst friends, what someone wears can significantly impact how they feel.”

Change your mindset

Man writing notes at a desk

Your body language and mindset are linked, so changing the way you think will automatically improve your body language. The Evolve Company is a career coaching and training business that focuses on helping people reach their full potential.

The founder, Donna, has helped many people who work in legal jobs speak confidently in public: “I’ve worked with many people who have admitted to actively avoiding speaking situations altogether, therefore missing out on potentially career-defining opportunities. This is something Evolve is determined to change.”

The Evolve Company conducts a course, Authentic Impact, which focuses on helping people overcome the fear of public speaking and fulfil their career potential.

Donna tells us her three top tips on how to change your mindset:

  • “Re-frame the situation: At Authentic Impact one of the first things we do is show people the link between their perception of speaking in public and the level of fear they experience. Labels you place upon speaking such as ‘scary’, ‘important’ or ‘make or break’ only heighten the level of threat your brain will detect. Instead, choose a perception that helps you to feel at ease or even better, look forward to taking the floor.”
  • “Remember what you bring to the table: There is a very valid reason you are delivering this client pitch or have been called for interview. Focus on what past achievements have led you to this point? How have you already made a positive impact on others? What are your natural strengths, areas of expertise?”
  • “Borrow confidence from other areas of your life. Spot how you hold yourself at times in your life when you feel at your most confident and walk in these shoes when you speak in public. Take that version of you into that next presentation– copy ‘their’ body language, find ‘their’ tone of voice. This will bring your natural strengths to come to the forefront."

Does it work?

Man presenting in an office meeting

Gaining control of your body language and mindset is a constant process. Even experts, still have moments where they feel nervous when presenting. Jodie from Rise Women tells us what she does in this situation: “I immediately check in on my body language and ensure I am projecting confidence. It doesn't matter that I'm not feeling it initially, my mind will follow my body's lead and start to think and behave more confidently just from me changing my posture.”

Kerri from Career Stories reveals: “What I started to do was act like a host, even though it was not my event. I would smile and greet people to help them feel more welcome and ask questions.”

With a day job that requires Nick from Life of Man to undertake presentations in front of up to 100 people, he learnt how to master confident speaking: “My initial presentations felt rushed, I swayed a lot and spent too much time looking at the screen. I now have reduced the number of words on my slides ensuring people focus on me and not the wall. This allows for better engagement, enables more eye contact and builds my confidence during the moment as I can observe my audience’s own body language by watching them nod along and gesture positively.”