Research has shown that when it comes to first impressions we have seconds, not minutes, to create that positive connection. As a professionally trained actor, I have learned how to use non-verbal communication to make an instant impact, and I have spent 15 years sharing the actors’ toolbox with people in the corporate world.
Many of the successful, confident women I work with had previously been unaware of the extent to which minor changes can revolutionise not only how people feel, but also others’ reactions to them.
So, what can you do to make an impact? Let’s start with how you use your body. Actors are trained to use their physicality to tell a particular story. If you want clients and colleagues to see you as competent, powerful and effective, you should spend less time fretting about what you say and more time thinking about how you behave. What are your physical habits? Which of them work for you? Which might you want to change?
Being aware of how you use your body not only affects how you are perceived but also how you feel. Walking into the room with a smile on your face makes you look relaxed and confident, and also releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, all of which help you feel positive and more able to cope with pressure.
So what can you do to perform with greater confidence when presenting, meeting a client, walking into an interview, contributing to a discussion or working the room at a networking event?
Get ready to take up space
“Alphas” will find all kinds of ways to take up space. Notice what the most confident, charismatic people in the room do. Copy their strategies and note what difference it makes to how you feel and how others respond to you. Try reaching out your hand further as you go for a handshake, standing taller or sitting forward with your arms on the table in a meeting.
I often see women standing with one leg crossed in front of the other. This makes the body imbalanced, making it impossible to stand tall and encourages tilting the head to one side (a sign of submission). Try planting both feet on the ground, standing straight and tall. Notice what difference this makes.
Posture doesn’t just affect how you are perceived. Before a high-pressure event, take a few minutes to stand in a tall expansive pose. It will vastly increase your chances of performing well by reducing cortisone (the stress hormone) and increasing testosterone levels.
Lighting up the room
Turn your presence, focus and energy levels up to the max from the moment you walk into the room. At a recent actors’ networking event, I was fascinated to see that not one person stood to the side, smiled half-heartedly, or took out their phone to hide behind.
They used full-beam smiles, strong eye contact, tall posture, “mirror and match” body language and firm handshakes. The room buzzed with energy. Is this because all actors are natural extroverts who never feel nervous? Absolutely not, it’s because they know exactly what to do to build rapport and express confidence. This is simply down to awareness and practice and you can do it too. Avoid those quietly bumbling moments while your audience gathers for your presentation. Greet as many of them as possible, as they arrive. Get eye contact, shake hands, smile and connect.
To perform well at work, conscious breathing can be a powerful tool. Practice at home: lie down with your hand on your abdomen. Does your belly rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out? It should, so if not, practice every day until it does. You have just created the perfect strategy for controlling nerves. Take a moment before an important event to breathe slowly, deep into your abdomen. This stops the flight or fight response in its tracks, enabling you to think clearly and perform at your best.
There are so many adjustments we can all make to change the story of who we are. My advice is to approach every situation with curiosity and a sense of playfulness. Keep asking yourself, “what works for me?”.