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Why You Need To Be A Toastmaster

Why You Need To Be A Toastmaster
Toastmaster

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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