As the adage goes, we only have one chance to make a first impression. To be exact, research tells us it’s more like 4 seconds; that’s how quickly we form judgments about others after an initial introduction. It’s another 30 seconds before that judgment is largely finalized.
As professional communicators, our lives often feel largely digital, consisting of a ton of email, conference calls, and texts, but that work is largely due to our ability to pitch and secure new business, establish and extend media and partner relationships, and seize opportunities wherever we find them. All of these efforts require us is to facilitate trusting, long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships, which often starts by making a positive, in-person impression. our physical presence, charisma and yes, body language.
When pitching a potential client, we often focus on the proposal itself; the creative ideas, presenting our expertise and establishing rapport as trustworthy experts in our field. And while the actual contents of the presentation are crucial, Business Insider reports that 93% of people’s judgments of others are based on non-verbal input like body language. Brian Tracy, a leading authority on the development of human potential and personal effectiveness, claims that 55% of a person’s opinion about someone else is determined by physical appearance.
So before you gather the troops and head into the conference room with your laptop, projector and handouts, make sure your team has been properly prepped on a different kind of presentation,
1. You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile
From your entrance into the room to the actual presentation, you’re giving off a ton of subtle clues that are being interpreted, often unconsciously, by others in the room. While it’s not necessary to go full on pageant, by walking in with bright eyes and an easy smile, you are instantly commanding attention and putting everyone at ease. By commanding the stage with enthusiasm and excitement, you can affect not only your own mood but the entire vibe of the room.
2. Use Power Posing to Exude Confidence
If you haven’t yet viewed Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on body language, it’s a must for you and anyone on your pitch team. Power posing is basically the idea that how we stand can change our own confidence level, improve other’s perception of us as leaders and directly impact the success of our interpersonal exchanges.
While so you don’t need to stand for 30 seconds power posturing like Kimmy Schmidt, you do want to make sure you are demonstrating confidence to decision-makers by knowing the basics of body language.
Prepping with power posturing combined with some positive self-talk (you can do this in a mini-huddle with your fellow team members if pitching as a group) can make huge strides in remembering to keep your physical presence top of mind during the pitch.
For me, I make it a point to sneak off to the bathroom before the pitch starts. I stand as tall as I possibly can, roll my shoulders back, tilt my chin up, and look myself dead in the eyes with my head held high and tell myself something like, “you’re one strong, courageous woman. You are prepared, you have great ideas and are going to nail this pitch.” By walking into a meeting high on self-confidence plus conscious body posture, I radiate determination, poise, and trust; all characteristics that clients are looking for from their PR professional.
2. Handshakes all around the table
Take advantage of the meet & greet and set-up phase of your presentation, to be proactive about connecting with everyone at the table with strong eye contact and a firm handshake. Resist the urge to fumble with technology or chat nervously with your co-workers. You set the stage for connection by putting out your hand and introducing yourself to every person in that room. By establishing quick yet direct contact with each individual in the room you increase their attention and interest in your pitch.
3. Make a Personal Connection
In addition to the standard handshake, aim to make a real personal connection during your pitch by allowing room for personal anecdotes and relationship-building tangents. After all, how much do you love it when an honest, not creepy stranger gives you a sincere compliment? Doesn’t it have the potential to turn your whole day around? Easy wins in our business can be as simple as noticing a great haircut, laptop case or pair of shoes.
When you make it a point to address your contact by pointing your body directly at them. Approaching someone at an angle sends off subconscious signals of insecurity and mistrust.
4. Stop Fidgeting!
We all have nervous ticks – rocking back and forth, bouncing from foot to foot, throat-clearing, or descending into a plain-faced scowl. During a presentation, you need to keep your energy and focus up in order to help your prospective client be an active participant in your pitch. Fidgeting distracts from the core message and puts the focus on your hair-pulling, rather than your brilliant strategy.
Before you pitch, record a prep session to discover what subconscious behaviors your audience may experience when you present.
5. Take up space
This is your time to shine, so own the room by moving about and commanding attention. Hand gestures give more meaning to your most important points, so use them. When you’re comfortable being in the spotlight, your audience becomes more comfortable with you as well.
The Gernard Method recommends the following:
- Choose a different spot to deliver each of your main points. In a small performance space, this may mean taking just a step or two before each point.
- If you’re discussing a chronology, move from your audience’s left to their right as you talk about each stage or element of a timeline. In Western societies, left-to-right is how we read, and your audience will follow your time progression easily.
- If you’re outlining sides of an argument or alternatives, stand in one spot for one side of the argument, in another place for the alternative, then remain where you are or go back to your original position, depending upon which side of the argument or alternative you agree with.
As a communications pro, you likely have a ton of natural charisma. Put it to good use by ensuring that what you say, as well as how you say it, supports your ability to facilitate and foster trust among prospective clients, making it clear sense that you are the right person for the job.