The finer art of body language

Keeping your shoulders back and spine tall is just one way to exude confidence. There are a number of other subtle ways you can tweak your body to make a strong impression at work or in social settings, says Karla Beltchenko, a Chicago-based trainer and dance instructor. She’s so passionate about the finer art of body language that she founded The Narrative Body, a program that teaches professionals how to be more powerful through posture.

Before your next meeting or presentation, ask yourself these five questions and adjust your body accordingly.

Am I using stillness?

Fidgeting is a nasty habit. The next time you pause during a meeting to gather your thoughts or let your last point sink in, hold your body still as well, Beltchenko says. That means no busybody movements like tucking your hair behind your ear, wringing your hands, or shifting on your feet. Standing regally still gives you more control over the conversation and helps you emphasize your message, she explains. Instead of looking at quiet moments as awkward silences, look at them as chances to grasp your audience’s attention.

Do I look small?

If you get to a meeting early and you’re waiting for everyone else to arrive, you might slouch in your chair or start scrolling through your phone to pass the time. But if you’re hunched over your device, you risk appearing meek and unsure of yourself, says Traci Brown, a body language and persuasion expert in Boulder, Colorado.

Research shows holding a power pose before a meeting doesn’t boost confidence, but positioning your body so it looks bigger can impact the way others see you, Brown says. Her advice: Get to your meetings right on time or just a few minutes early so you’re not tempted to get comfy while you wait. Then, take up as much space with your body to exude self-assurance. In a chair, this could mean sitting up straight (rather than hunching over) and placing your arm on the armrest instead of keeping your hands in your lap. You can also stand while you wait if it feels appropriate, she says.

Is my body in neutral?

For a solid stance that looks natural and authentic rather than rigid like a statue, assess your alignment from head to toe. Standing straight conveys authority and helps you breathe better, which can boost energy and reduce fatigue. In turn, that can help you get through long meetings and busy afternoons. To keep a neutral spine, stack your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees.

When you’re talking to others, don’t ignore your nose, Beltchenko says: It should point straight ahead. If it’s pointing down, it’s a sign that your posture is out of line.

What’s up with my arms and hands?

One of the toughest things to figure out when you’re giving a presentation is what to do with your arms. Holding them by your side feels awkward, crossing them seems standoffish, and flailing them around is distracting. To avoid looking like a nervous mess, Brown suggests holding a pen or other small object in your hand or placing the pads of your fingers together in a relaxed pyramid pose.

Then, create a plan: Instead of leaving your limbs to their own devices, practice controlled hand and arm motions, which research shows can give your words more weight. “It should feel like a well-choreographed dance,” Beltchenko says. For example, if you’re talking about sales growth in a meeting, match the statement with an upward movement of the arms to illustrate just how great the numbers are.

Which way are my feet pointed?

Good eye contact is one of the easiest ways to show someone you’re engaged, but don’t forget to lock the rest of your body into the interaction, too. “Usually when someone is trying to avoid or leave a conversation, they’ll turn a shoulder or foot away from the person,” Beltchenko says. “Some of us do this without even realizing it.” Face the person you’re talking to straight on, with feet pointed toward them and shoulders square. Avoid sitting or slouching into one hip or knee, which can make you come across as lazy or disinterested.

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