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15 Tricks To Read Body Languages

15 Tricks To Read Body Languages
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How to interpret people’s body language (kinesics) is a minefield. Let me give you an example. My first landlady in Naples used to beckon to me with her palm facing downwards. I misinterpreted this as being a dismissal. But it was an invitation to approach her because she wanted to give me a coffee. I was expecting a beckoning palm-up signal. I had to rewire my brain to get used to these Neapolitan gestures!

Apart from cultural differences, there are all sorts of traps that can be misleading and it is wise to be cautious. We do need to be able to read people’s body language because it will help us in personal and professional relationships. Not to mention parenting, family relationships, which politician to vote for, and dating.

We know the human species (that’s you and me!) use sophisticated techniques to pretend, deceive, lie, convince, manipulate, charm and mesmerize. Body language is just one of the techniques used. Studies by Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) show that we convey a message by relying on words (7%), tone of voice (38%), while the non-verbal communication makes up all the rest (55%).

So, here are 15 tricks to read these signals. Try to think of these as not individual signals but rather as a group of indicators which will give you a more reliable reading. Don’t worry; you’re in very good company. The study of non-verbal communication has been around for a long time. Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin and Desmond Morris (author of “The Naked Ape” and “Manwatching”) were just a few of the people who were fascinated by body language.

1. Eye contact

If the person makes eye contact, it is usually a sign of willingness to engage, make friends, or even more. But intense staring can be interpreted as curiosity, aggression or hostility. We have a saying in our family which we use at the beach for people who stare for too long:

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“Try taking a photograph – it lasts longer” – Anon

2. Eye movement

When talking to people, notice their eye direction. If they are consistently moving towards the right, it may be a sign that they are inventing, lying or simply being creative. If they are generally looking left, it could be a sign they are remembering facts.

3. Smiling

Again, mixed signals. In order to judge the genuineness of the smile, look at the crows’ feet surrounding the eyes. If these are involved, it is usually a genuine gesture of friendliness, kindness or gratitude. These are now called ‘joy lines’ which is an improvement on ‘crows’ feet.’ If it is a twisted smile, there may be an element of sarcasm. A tight-lipped smile may be a signal of mistrust or dislike.

4. Shaking hands

Most people interpret a limp or unenthusiastic handshake as negative. As the handshake is an important sign of friendship or trust, it is usually a key indicator. But bear in mind that musicians, surgeons and arthritis sufferers will be extra cautious to avoid using a bone crusher. A firm handshake is usually reassuring, although this too can be faked.

5. Crossing arms

Crossing arms is usually a sign of defensiveness, but not always. It are often a sign the person is cold or feeling uncomfortable in a situation where he or she has no idea of what to do with his or her arms.

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Job interviewers are trained to watch for crossed arms when asking about a particular point on the candidate’s curriculum vitae (CV). It could be a warning signal that something is being hidden.

But when you are in front of a person with crossed arms with a frown and clenched fists, then this may not only be defensive but hostile!

6. Open leg cross

If you look at the video of Lance Armstrong talking with Oprah Winfrey in the video below, you will notice body language which reveals a certain aggressiveness in the open leg cross seating position. At times, he displays arrogance, defiance and narrows his eyes in anger which are all very revealing about what he really thinks, rather than his actual words.

7. Who’s lying?

Now, it is extremely difficult to tell whether a person is lying and there have been many attempts at lie detectors when body language lets the investigators down. Often, touching the nose is interpreted as lying or an exaggeration and is based on the Pinocchio story where the wooden puppet grows a longer and longer nose with each lie he tells.

8. Dating and mating

It is fascinating to observe both female and male behavior when sending signals which indicate sexual attraction. Despite the evolutionary process which has taken millions of years, the human species is not yet using subtle body language here.

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The female will be using lip moistening, preening and flicking of hair as well as self touching to indicate that she wants these actions reciprocated.

The male may use hands in pockets with thumbs out which are pointing to the genitals. There may be an exaggerated stance to increase height, chest width and so on.

9. Personal space

Have you ever noticed on a crowded bus how people seek out the maximum personal space and try to preserve this as best they can? This is the defense mechanism from our anthropological past in which we defend our territory or our lair. This is mentioned by Edward T. Hall’s Book, “The Silent Language.” There are certain limits in personal space to be observed too when meeting colleagues and we instinctively respect these, although cultural differences may vary.

10. Posture

Notice how colleagues enter the office. Look at how they hold themselves and how they move. An erect and poised posture is often a sign they are confident, self-assured, assertive and successful. Angry people are usually much more tense. Depressed people or those with low self-esteem are often stooped or hunched.

11. Lips

Holding back information, anxiety and even seeking attention are all revealed in certain lip movements. Pursed lips are usually a sign of hesitation or doubt. Watch this short video to find out more.

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12. Finger pointing

Back to our anthropological roots again. Did you know when a person starts to point a finger at an object or a person, this is subconsciously seen as a weapon with which he or she beats you. Watch out for the finger-pointers.

13. Politicians and body language

Politicians would do well to study body language. When they read their notes, they bow their heads and this is a sign of submission which is negative. Those who approach the stage by waving to the audience are sending signals they are friendly and they have social proof. This simple act is establishing a bond. Those who smile too often may convey signs of a walkover and being too nice.

14. The jaw

According to ancient Chinese medicine, our faces reveal not only our personalities but also what illnesses we might have. They see the jaw as being the roots of a tree. If a person has a strong jaw, that may reveal a very rigid person. If you watch carefully, you may find that the person juts out their jaw to emphasize a point. This means he or she really believes in his or her values and will not easily be deterred. You can read more on this fascinating aspect of body language in Jean Haner’s book called, “The Wisdom of Your Face.”

15. The secret to interpreting body language realistically

The most important thing to remember about body language is to consider the following:

  • Think about the context and the relationship with the person.
  • Never judge a single move as definitive. Look for patterns and consistency.
  • Be aware of cultural differences especially if you are doing business abroad.
  • Look at the environment the person operates in and take that into consideration.

Have you found that observing body language has helped you in your work and in personal relationships? Let us know in the comments below.

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Featured photo credit: A truly disturbing dead clown /TheeErin via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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