The other day I met “someone.” I can’t remember her name but it is not my fault; it was hers.
I started noticing a few years ago there was a trend with the people I encountered, but whose names I couldn’t recall: These people were forgettable.
At work, I used to notice I couldn’t remember what “Bob” said during meetings, but I would crisply recalled every other comment made in the absurdly long gathering. It was Bob’s fault. He melted into his surroundings even when he tried to stand out.
You may be smart, hard-working, well-spoken AND invisible.
We all communicate verbally, through what we say, and with nonverbal signals like our executive presence. All that time you spend thinking about what you are going to say, or what you did say – it may not matter! Research shows that our words only account for 7% of what we communicate. The rest is nonverbal!
So how can someone who is wicked smart, has a good heart, strong work ethic and impeccable credentials be forgettable? Easy! Your shoulders fall forward slightly, your handshake is mild, your voice is monotone, or you rarely get excited about anything. Your eye contact is minimal. In short, you melt into your surroundings like a chameleon, and what you say, while impressive and eloquent, to other people sounds more like the buzz of a fly. Bzzzzzzzzzz.
Your problem is even larger than you think: If what you say does not match your nonverbal communication, people will perceive something about you to be “off.” The pieces to your puzzle don’t fit, leaving people confused.
Should you be trusted with more responsibility? A few people may even notice a nagging in their gut saying, “Something is off with this person” — leading to tension and mistrust. Or worse, they won’t respect you no matter how great your contributions.
Below are a few tips for aligning your hard-working, smart, well-intentioned personality with your physical presence:
Your mom always told you to “stand-up straight” — and so am I. A straight spine exudes confidence and strength. I’m not just talking about between your shoulders. Your spine extends from your hips up through the base of your skull.
Visualize a string, pulling straight up, from the base of your spine through the top of your head. Is your head upright or leaning forward or down? Notice your shoulders. If they aren’t already, relax them, and roll them down and back.
Eye contact is THE nonverbal way to connect with another person. If you don’t have good eye contact, it is unlikely you will make a strong connection.
Hold your eye contact just beyond what feels comfortable, or at a minimum two or three seconds. This assumes you are not one of those people whose eyes intensely reach beyond their retracted eyelids grasping for contact. I have interviewed people like this, and the impression they leave is never based on their credentials or personality.
The point is, you need to get it just right like Goldilocks’ porridge: “Just right” is always a relaxed gaze that says, “I’m confident in myself and interested in what you are saying.”
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Have you heard that line when receiving feedback? The tone of your voice, the speed and volume all contribute to how your words are received and interpreted.
Your voice may be communicating something opposite than what you intend — or it may be excellent. Consider taping yourself throughout the day and listening to the recording with a trusted confidant to identify what your voice is communicating.
Look at the power-players around you: They spread out, put their arms around the chairs next to them. They stretch their legs out as they lean back.
Who cares? Well, subconsciously all of us take note. Research shows that when a person takes up space, we view them as powerful.
So, spread out! Feel free to spread your papers out – even crossing the invisible line into your neighbors’ space. Use the space in front of you by talking with your hands.
You have heard it before: Dress appropriately for the job you have, or dress up for the job you want. But it is worth repeating (so I just did).
Donate work clothes that are older than five years. Clothes are like milk; they have an expiration date.
In meetings, be one of the first people to speak.
Why? Research tells us that everyone will perceive you to be smarter.
Comment on a new idea addressed in the last meeting, recap the topic at hand, or ask a question. It doesn’t need to be brilliant. I don’t care what you say, it just needs to be on-topic.
Click here to check out my class on navigating meeting politics for more tips like this.
Let me clarify: a firm AND dry handshake, with a smile.
If you sweat, carry a handkerchief in your pocket to grab shortly before a shake. “Firm” is somewhere between a death-grip and floppy fish, which requires some muscle but not all of your might.
If you are at an event with name tags, make sure your name tag is placed on the shoulder of the hand with which you shake. This makes it easy for the person you are greeting to see your name. If you don’t place it here, in their line of sight, their eyes have to dance on your chest in search of the name tag (which makes both people feel creepy).
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
I hope what you “do” with your executive presence supports and validates the contributions you make at work.
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