As experts we are mostly worried about what we should say. How do I convince my client that she should choose my suggestion? How do I tell my boss that I am worth a pay rise? How do I make the colleagues believe in my solution?
However, we do know that reasoning is not too often the only – or not necessarily even the most important – element in the opponent’s decision making. This phenomenon is made known for example in:
- The rhetorical teachings of the importance of ethos in the effectivity of speech
- The halo effect, of which Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow
- The emotions that sit behind the wheel, like Mark Manson describes in his book Everything is F*cked – A Book about Hope
The last time I immersed myself in this question of impressiveness “how to say vs. what to say” while I was reading Richard Newman’s book You Were Born To Speak. Newman has gone through a transformation from shy young man who hated performing into a world-famous keynote speaker and a trainer of communication skills. In his book he shares what the elements of an impressive speech are.
It matters how we are
There was a research done by Newman’s commission: The test subjects saw a 30 second video clip after which they made an assessment of the speaker: is she inspiring, convincing, a natural leader and would I vote for her. In the test audience there were people of all ages and representatives of different genders, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
And on the videos there were different kinds of speakers as well. Every video had the same content, only the speaker changed. In addition, small changes were made on the body language of the speaker.
The results were overwhelming. The score of the speaker wasn’t up to whom was speaking on the video or who was watching the video, which is a good result when it comes to equality. Instead, the different variations in the body language affected the results a lot, even to the extent of it being radical.
In the book the different aspects of impressive performance, such as movement and vocal delivery, are being scrutinised, but let us now focus on the mere standing position.
You were born to stand – but then something happened
As children, when we stand up, we do it naturally with two feet surely on the ground, otherwise we would fall down. This we learn exactly by losing our balance and falling. For some reason, though, once we have learned to stand solidly, naturally and in good balance, we start to deteriorate this skill as we grow up.
We make ourselves smaller by neglecting our pose. We think we come across as chilled when we slouch and sprawl and move our weight from one foot on the other. Years of work behind the laptop makes our spine shrink and our chin fall toward the chest. Women are often taught to stand in a nice way, which means with legs way too close to each other. In return, men often take in an overly masculine way of standing with legs spread too wide.
None of these ways, that we have learned, looks convincing or impressive in the eyes of the audience.
Stability and calmness come from the pose
According to Newman the convincing speaking pose is as described below:
- The feet are positioned in line with the shoulders, the weight is rigidly on both feet, evenly on toes and heels.
- The weight is resting on neither one of the feet, nor is it being moved from side to side or from front to back by swaying.
- The body is relaxed, and the spine is straight.
- The chest is being straightened lightly up and a bit forward – not as if you were about to talk big, but just enough so that the chest, which is normally collapsed, is now open and the posture is straight.
The same rules apply when we sit:
- Sit on the front edge of the chair, weight on the center, spine straight.
- Don’t lean on the back rest or the armrests.
- Place your legs so that they are slightly open, both surely on the ground.
- Straighten your chest slightly up and forward.
Sounds obvious and annoyingly simple, and it is that, too. This is also really difficult, and it takes us only one second to forget it. For instance, I had considered myself a very balanced performer and imagined myself being calm and open on stage. Then I climbed up on stage again on Monday with this new knowledge, and boy, was I wrong.
I found myself slouching with the weight on my right foot, fumbling to find support from the corner of the lectern, leaning on the wall behind me (yes, even that), moving my weight from side to side, standing legs crossed (no, not side by side but crossed!) and sometimes crestfallen, pose of the chest completely collapsed.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it
Now that I know, that I seem 25% more inspiring and capable, 29% more confident and even 42% more of people believe in my ideas when I stand properly, the motivation for the practice is right about there. If I were a leader, it would be crucial to know that a stable speaking posture raises the employees’ trust on leading skills with 44%. And if I happened to be a politician, it would be good to know that a stable speaking posture would make 58% more of people to vote for me.
That being said, it’s time to follow your own way of standing and sitting. It is worth to pay attention on your posture especially if you need to argument, persuade and win the leader over. Luckily there are many opportunities to practice standing on everyday life: the queue on the supermarket, bus stop, the next meeting and the daily stand-up.
Does this feel difficult or natural? Come have a chat in Koodarikuiskaaja Slack!
TL;DR A convincing speaking posture enhances your impressiveness
- If you want to convince your audience of your capability, expertise and ideas, express things with standing in a convincing way.
- In a convincing speaking posture your legs are in line with your shoulders, your weight is evenly on both feet and you do not sway moving your weight from side to side.
- Your chest is open, back is straight and body is relaxed.
- In a convincing speaking posture there is no need for swanking, but you must make sure that your shoulders and spine haven’t collapsed and that your weight isn’t resting on one feet.