A true leader captivates the attention of his audience almost immediately and hold it without fail. Certainly being self-confident and a good wordsmith are important but the reality is that body language plays a much more important role.
When you walk in front of an audience, most have already made up their minds about you before you utter your first word. This isn’t magic but basic physiology. This non-verbal communication is a combination of many factors including your posture, tone, facial expression, eye contract, arm and hand movements and more.
Study after study have confirmed that we evaluate a person’s credibility, likeability or trustworthiness within seconds of meeting them.
This primal evaluation comes from the brain’s limbic system. These are the structures that are responsible for memory and emotions. It is our brain’s first response system. As soon as it receives information, it determines whether there is a threat. It’s automatic and almost immediate.
Most of us don’t live with the constant treat of tiger attacks but this basic human system is still alive and well.
Another interesting fact is that body language interpretation seems to be uniformly coherent across different cultures. Basic emotions (fear, anger, etc.) are the same everywhere.
I have been in hundreds of meetings where participants have crossed their arms. Regardless of the reason why, this is seen as a primal sin in body language interpretation. It comes across as cold and unwelcoming. So what is the opposite? Use an open body stance. - This means face your speaker. Don’t sit diagonally from them. Don’t swing your chair back into a semi-sleeping position. Don’t talk to them over your shoulder. - Synchronize your body movements with the other person. If the person is leaning slightly towards the table, do the same. This is often called mirroring. - Nod occasionally to show you are following the conversation (don’t just sit there like a tree stump). - Smile sometimes if acceptable - Sit with your legs and arms uncrossed. - Don’t fidget (including your feet), bite your nails or wipe your forehead.
So a good leader must be authoritative and confidence inspiring. Maintain good posture. Speak at a comfortable pace and pronounce your words clearly. Keep your eyes (comfortably) focused on the other person.
In an increasingly connected world, even the smallest companies can afford video conferencing services which means there will be more and more opportunities for people to judge you based on your body language.
The best tip I can give you is to practice speaches and presentation in front of a mirror, a friend or to record it. You may have ticks or habits that aren’t immediately apparent to you. Practice, learn, practice, learn & repeat.