I came home for Christmas break last year and the first word’s out of my parents mouth’s were “You look taller, have you grown?”
Only six months had passed since I last saw them, and I hadn’t grown one inch. I was sure of it.
I thought nothing of it until a few days later when I realized what had happened, I’d become a more confident person.
Confidence can do funny things to you. It can change the way you walk, how straight you stand, how high you hold your head, and how your eyes move.
All of these barely perceptible movements come into play when people size you up.
Several studies have shown that people decide a lot about you in the first two seconds, and the vast majority of it is related to body language.
Malcolm Gladwell related one such study in his best-seller Blink.
The researchers in this study compared the evaluations that two groups of students had filled out about some professors. The first group spent a semester in the class of each professor, and evaluated them at the end of the semester. The second group was only allowed to evaluate the professors based on a two-second video clip of them teaching. The video clip had no sound.
Remarkably, the second group of students, who had seen nothing more than a two second clip of the professors teaching, rated their ability as a teacher in the same order as the first group 78% of the time.
If they were shown a 10 second video clip of the professor teaching (still with no sound) the percentage went up to over 90%.
Is it really possible that we make up our minds in the first few seconds? Apparently so, and its the power of first impressions at work!
So if your body really is broadcasting such a loud message to the world, do you know what it’s saying?
We can all improve out body language, and one of the best ways I know how is through a group called Toastmasters.
Toastmasters is a non-profit organization designed to teach public speaking. Members meet once per week (there are clubs in every major city in the World) and work through manuals to practice giving various speeches.
You may be called from the audience to give a two minute speech on the spot with zero preparation! Or you may prepare a speech before the meeting and deliver it while focusing on a specific area to improve. Or you may be called to evaluate another member and offer advice for improvement (and yes, you’ll be doing this with another speech!)
On the surface, Toastmasters is only about public speaking, but underneath it is so much more.
You’ll get constructive feedback in a supportive environment on all sorts of issues, not the least of which is your body language.
While giving a speech, your nervous ticks tend to come out. It wasn’t until I started going to Toastmasters that I began to see problems in my eye contact and nervous gestures I would make (not to mention non body language problems like saying “umm” ever few seconds).
I watched video recording of my speeches, and I couldn’t believe what I look like! My hands would be clasped awkwardly, or I would nervously put them in my pockets. Sometimes I would pace back and forth or shift my weight uncomfortably.
It was nerve racking to get in front of an audience and give speeches, but I slowly eliminated little body language problems over time.
The more I learn about body language, the more I realize there is an entire unspoken language occurring all around us. Sometimes I like to go into a room and just watch people’s body language. I can often guess the relationships between two people, or how successful a person is, just by observing them from afar (sometimes I go meet them to see if I was right!)
If you’re interested in becoming more successful, you quite simply can’t afford to ignore your body language, and a great place to get started is in Toastmasters. Make it a habit to attend once per week, and in a year you might just be a few inches “taller”.
Brian Armstrong has been a Toastmaster member for two years and achieved his “Competent Communicator” certification. In 2005 he quit his job, started his own business, and achieved financial independence just one year later. To learn how to start your own business, get tips from self-made millionaires, and build the lifestyle you’ve always wanted, check out his web site.