Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time via Zoom or hosting a new client meeting, body language and communication are critical for effective communication. There are several ways entrepreneurs can level up their nonverbal communication. From facial expressions to body movements, there are plenty of nonverbal cues to pay attention to in others and yourself. Just how important are non-verbal cues? Very. According to Albert Mehrabian, nonverbal cues make up 93 percent of communication, more than half (55 percent) through body language and 38 percent by tone of voice. A mere 7 percent of meaning is communicated through spoken word.
Given how important these are, here are four cues and tips you should be aware of:
Choose Your Medium
First, choose the right medium. Now that we know 93 percent of communication is based on how you say something rather than what you say, we realize the importance of rich mediums. We have all sent or received text messages or emails and quickly realized we are unsure of the tone. This is because we are missing context for the message: Messages are leaner mediums. In order to get the full picture, we need to be able to hear the person we are communicating with and observe their body language.
The more important and complex the conversation, the more crucial it is to select a rich medium. The richest medium is face-to-face, where you get the benefit of seeing someone’s entire office, what’s on their desk, the pictures on the wall, their attire, as well as observing their body language and hearing the tone of their voice. The next step down is a video meeting, because you at least get a window into many of these aspects. As you go further down the list to a phone call, you lose the visual. With written media, you lose visual and tone.
What’s the rule of thumb? For important and complex conversations, pick the richest medium possible. And for detailed and precise communication, follow up in written form.
In a remote workplace world, video calls are here to stay. First, be thoughtful about your background—it makes an important, even if subliminal, first impression. A clean background is ideal, with some personalization. Too much, and it’s cluttered. Bare walls on the other hand give the other party little to connect with. Second, make sure to observe their background. Not only does it tell you about the person, it also gives you a potential way to build rapport (such as their location, college, favorite sports teams, etc.)
Facial expressions are one of the best ways to tell how a person is feeling. In many cases, our facial expressions reveal our true and natural feelings.
As obvious as it may seem, as an entrepreneur you cannot underestimate the impact of smiling when meeting new people and clients. Smiling shows you enjoy people and are glad to meet them. As a matter of fact, research shows that people who smile are seen as kinder and warmer, especially on virtual calls where you do not have many other tools at your disposal. Take advantage of it, early and often. The other critical aspect of smiling is that it actually impacts your state of mind—not only do happy people smile, smiling actually makes us happy. Even further, smiling is contagious and is actually proven to impact the mood of your audience.
Each part of the face can signal quite a bit of information. Your eyes, for example, are often referred to as “windows to the soul” because of how much they convey. During your next interaction, pay attention to the other person’s eyes. Intuitively we know if people are not looking at us they likely are not paying attention, but if you look more keenly you’ll notice how much they are blinking, how long they hold eye contact and other less obvious cues.
Our mouths also say a lot about what we are thinking and feeling. For example, covering your mouth often means you’re holding back from sharing information. The mouth area is also the area that most accurately differentiates a real smile from a fake or forced smile.
Open postures are generally perceived as positive (i.e. standing or sitting up straight with your hands at your sides or on the arms of your chair.) If you’re meeting over a video conferencing platform or Facetime, make sure to sit up straight, hold fairly consistent eye contact and keep an open posture. Try to avoid crossing your legs or arms, clenching your fists, and slumping your shoulders, as these behaviors can message a lack of interest, or worse, disliking or disagreeing with what is being said.
It is important to note that just as smiling can make you feel happier and is contagious, certain “power poses” can change your state of being and help you feel more confident. The next time you are preparing for an important presentation or meeting, spend a few minutes standing up straight, puffing your chest out slightly, with your arms on your hips—combine that with a smile, and you should notice your mood change. This increased confidence and positivity costs nothing but a few minutes, but it will likely help you start the meeting in a much better place.
Gestures are some of the obvious and direct body language signals. Body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards found that the most viewed TED Talks were done by speakers who were more active with hand gestures. Hand gestures make a message easier to understand and more memorable (i.e. sharing three reasons for something and using your fingers to support the number). Also, when making a comparison of any kind, use your right and left hands spaced out to provide a visual that supports that concept. Think apples and oranges. Just as using two hands apart is a great visual for comparison, putting your hands together is a strong visual as well. When telling a story or something personal about yourself, consider bringing your hands together in front of you with your fingers touching your chest to accentuate this message.
As an entrepreneur looking for every edge to succeed, next time you have an important meeting or presentation, make sure to think about the medium and be mindful of your and the other party’s facial expressions, posture and gestures. Otherwise, you’re choosing to ignore 93 percent of communication.