Effective body language for leaders

Create effective body language with your hands

Your hands are an amazing part of your body, and what you do with them has a significant impact on those around you.

Effective body language means using your hands appropriately. As I told the finalists of an HSBC business competition recently, when you are truly connected with what you are saying, when you believe it fully and when you wholeheartedly want to get it across, your hands will support you automatically. Take a look at the video for more details.

Using gesture to best effect

Demonstrating what you mean is a great way of underlining your point, and it is fundamental for your hands to replicate your words.

Paint pictures in the air. They don’t have to be literal pictures – although sometimes they can be. They are usually representative and they can really have an impact.

Almost all children describe things with their hands while speaking. Most adults do too, although some of us metaphorically handcuff ourselves as we grow up because we no longer feel comfortable moving our hands around.

If you recognise something of yourself here, then please remove those cuffs. Allowing your natural gestures to come out spontaneously will emphasise your message and allow your point to hit home. Effective body language can make a huge difference in achieving buy-in to your suggestions.

Common body language mistakes and their impact

Even the best business leaders sometimes use their hands poorly.

It may sounds very obvious, but please don’t put your hands in your pockets while you’re speaking or in conversation. Even with one hand in one pocket you’re likely to come across as overly casual and not paying much attention.

What about Prince Charles, who is regularly photographed with his hands behind his back?

This posture can mean different things, depending on the context. One thing’s for sure though – it inhibits you from moving your hands and therefore it inhibits you from demonstrating your emotions, whether positive or negative. It also makes you appear stiff. It’s not a great look and I’d definitely advise against it.

Finally, do be aware that if you get into the habit of using the same movement again and again, you risk boring your audience. Those around you will not appreciate what you have to say. They may even become fixated on your overly repetitive gesture rather than listening to your words.

Effective body language means avoiding all these no-no’s.

Effective body language is great for your voice

The use of natural gestures leads to what I call “vocal onomatopoeia”. In other words the movements of your hands are reflected in the acoustics of your voice.

When you sweep a hand downward to describe a reduction in customer complaints, for example, your voice is likely to become stronger and lower as your hand descends. (If your hand went upwards instead, this would be incongruent and confusing and would undermine rather than underline your message.)

Vocal onomatopoeia enhances your prosody – the rhythm and pattern of your speech. And prosody reveals your underlying attitude to what you are saying.

Prosody involves the same elements of sound that you already use subconsciously to express emotion, including pitch, volume, rhythm and speed. So if you employ effective body language – body language that really matches your words – this will reinforce the positive messages that you want to portray by reinforcing the positive emotions in your words.

Effective body language coaching

All my coaching involves elements of effective body language – using not just your hands, but your eyes, feet, face and indeed your whole body to imbue your message with the right meaning.

Appropriate use of physicality is a essential part of influence. Check out some of my programs if you’d like to know more.

Every business leader can enhance the way they communicate, so do get in touch if you think you could make better use of effective body language to help you achieve your aims.