By Hume Johnson, PhD
When used effectively, gestures can be our greatest assets, and key ingredients in achieving success. Gestures can help us to communicate our ideas with greater confidence and credibility, and can even makes us appear more charismatic. Deploying the right gestures can also help you to strengthen your leadership abilities, build better relationships with your peers or clients. Here are 8 gestures that you can use to project confidence, build your personal brand, and be more effective and successful:
1. Cultivate a great Handshake. Handshakes create a positive first impression. It can give you immediate credibility, likeability and trustworthiness. Yet this depends on the nature of your handshake. Make sure you are creating a positive first impression by cultivating a great handshake – firm and confident. Not too firm now, or else you come across as a bully; not too flimsy, less you give the impression that you are a wimp. The handshake may mean the difference between getting a job or winning a contract. Indeed, the handshake is the only physical contact appropriate in business settings, so perfect your handshake and then use it to your advantage.
2. Make Eye Contact. Shy people are almost always detected by their failure to make eye contact. Eye contact is perhaps the most effective form of non-verbal communication, an important social skill, and definitely an asset in business. People who make higher levels of eye contact are perceived to be more self-assured and emotionally stable, more warm, personable, attractive and likeable. The more eye contact you make in business settings, the more qualified, skilled, competent, as well as trustworthy, honest, and sincere you will appear to be. Of course, it is important to regulate your eye contact. You don’t want to maintain a long, steely eye gaze less you come across as hostile and unfriendly. So practice looking people in the eye!
3. Develop the habit of Nodding. Nodding is to lower and raise one’s head slightly and briefly to indicate understanding or to give someone a signal. A signal that you are listening, paying attention to a speaker’s words. To experience greater success in the workplace, get into the habit of paying attention and showing this attention by nodding (and of course, making eye contact). This shows that you are present, and a solid participant in whatever interaction it is, as well as increases respect for you in the workplace.
4. Occupy Space. “Occupy space. Do not apologise for your presence”. This advice given to me by my voice teacher when I was 17 years old during a voice and speech training class. It was the best advice I have ever got. Occupying space has to do with your posture and presence. It means standing tall, with your spinal column erect, balancing your weight on both legs; shoulders back and your head straight.
Presence is to own the room, enter with a sense of belonging, not with body language that communicates shyness, or reserve. This kind of posture communicates that you are self-assured, confident, and powerful. When seated, do not slouch; try to sit with your back against the back of the chair, spread out and occupy space versus making your body smaller. This communicates your personal power.
5. Angle Vocal Pitch to Lower Register. In business settings, your voice has a lot to do with how you are perceived by others. An individual with high pitched voiced tends to come across as shrill, shallow, giddy and incompetent. Such an individual are seen as less powerful, and is unlikely to be taken seriously. On the otherhand, a person speaking at a lower register sounds more authoritative, credible, confident and solid, and is more likely to be met with respect, their opinions listened to
6. Try Power Poses. This is similar to the idea of “occupying space” discussed earlier. Body language and posture has a huge effect on confidence. Observe people who stand with authority, and the way they hold their bodies, and the poses they assume to depict confidence. Leaning back in your chair with both hands clasped behind your head; placing your feet up on the desk, standing with legs slightly open, are all considered to be power poses that are said to increase feelings of power, and are the seen as the reserve of risk takers.
7. Gesticulate. One of the most consistent advice I give to participants in my speech workshops is to gesticulate; in other words “talk with your hands”. To gesticulate is almost as normal as breathing. Researchers say gestures power up our thinking; speech becomes less hesitant or punctuated with the annoying “umms” and “awhhs”. In normal conversations, people make such gestures without even being conscious of it. Some gestures are wildly distracting while others may communicate Try to use open hand gestures for example as this shows that you are open, confident and credible, such as in this photo below:
Hiding your hands gives the impression that you are nervous, and not forthcoming. Practice keeping your hand gestures relaxed, arms at waist level and open. The reward with be a more confident you, as you speak in a more open, declarative way.
8. Smile. Finally, and this one I can’t stress enough – smile. It is a universal language communicating warmth, confidence and trustworthiness. It makes you feel better on the inside and it will naturally resonate its warmth to the person to whom it is directed. A smile makes you approachable, says that you are secure in your well-being, and determines how people respond to you. A smile can be a genuine weapon of goodwill in a busy, competitive workplace.
Dr. Hume Johnson is a media advisor, and communications coach. She teaches Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA.