Is Body Language Still Relevant in the Digital Age?
Ever since the Presidential Debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, people have been fascinated by body language. That was the first, live televised presidential debate, and for the first time we had people who listened on the radio and people who watched on TV.
The opinions after the debate were astounding. To the people who listened on the radio, Nixon was the clear winner. However, because this was the first televised debate, far more people tuned in to watch on TV, and most of them believed Kennedy won. Spoiler alert: Kennedy also went on to win the election.
How could people be so sharply divided? The candidates said all the same things, but the people who watched on TV walked away with a completely different opinion. It turns out, the biggest difference was in their body language and personal appearance.
Nixon had been recently hospitalized for an infection in his knee. So he hadn’t been out in the sun and he looked slightly underweight. He also refused to wear makeup and he was one of those guys who could shave in the morning and by noon needed another shave (which he didn’t do before the debate started). He just looked disheveled and sickly.
Kennedy (who, at the time, was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts) had a great tan, his suit was a perfect fit, and he welcomed the makeup. He looked calm, cool, and confident especially compared to Nixon’s pale, sweaty, underweight image.
So what does a presidential debate in the 1960s have to do with conducting business in the digital age? Kennedy won that debate not because of what he said but because of how he looked when he said it, and your clients are going to judge you in the exact same manner.
As such, here are three things that can help improve your body language when conducting business either over the phone or through videoconferencing:
- Posture has a huge impact on how people see you. “Sit up straight!” “Quit slouching!” I’m sure we’ve all heard this at some point in our lives, and you are about to hear it again from me. This is important not only for videoconferencing, but it may surprise you to learn that it’s important for phone interactions, as well.
Think of your favorite actor or actress. When you see them walk the red carpet, are they all hunched over or slouching? No, they are standing straight and tall. They have an air of confidence; they almost look larger than life.
When we slouch, we look weak. We give the impression that we lack confidence. This is amplified even more when we are on video because the focus never goes off us. Also, when we slouch while sitting at our desk on the phone, we restrict our airways by bunching all of our internal organs up against our lungs. By sitting up straight, our voice will be stronger and resonate more, thus making us sound more powerful and confident. So “sit up straight and quit slouching!”
- I’m Ready for My Closeup, Mr. DeMille. If we are going to talk about body language in the digital age, we have to address Webcams because the angle of the Webcam is important. If it is too low, you will look like you are talking down to people. Plus, they will be looking up your nose and nobody wants to see that. If you have the camera too high, people will be looking down on you, and that makes you appear small and weak.
The best angle is having the camera right at eye level. Subconsciously, this signals that everyone is equal and will be working together.
Another thing to consider whether on the phone or in a videoconference is audio quality. But wait, aren’t we talking about body language? Why do I have to worry about audio quality?
One important part of nonverbal communication is paralinguistics—essentially how we say the words. With horrible audio quality, we lose some of the subtle inflection and tonal differences in your words. So the real meaning behind what is being said may get lost. Think of this: Have you ever watched a movie where you had to constantly adjust the volume because you couldn’t understand what was being said? Imagine you clients’ frustration when they have to keep asking you to repeat yourself.
- Keep your hands where we can see them. Did you know the most popular TEDX presentations have more than 1.5 times as many hand gestures as the least viewed presentations? It’s true! While I’m sure the content of the presentations is also a contributing factor, the gestures are important. Gestures keep us engaged and they actually make our brains happy because it is more information to take in. So use those gestures, but do so in a controlled manner.
Keep your hands above the desk and in view at all times (this builds trust), and when gesturing, keep your hand in the area between your shoulders and your waist. Any gestures above your head can make you look like a crazy person. Any below the waist and people start wondering what’s going on down there.
Doing business in the digital age has given us some advantages our predecessors never had. However, it’s important to not lose that personal connection we have with people. The three points I covered here only scratch the surface of why body language is still important in the digital age, but make no mistake, it is still and always will be an important factor in human communication.
Jack Hirsh is a speaker; behavioral expert; and author of the books, “Planting the Seeds of Change: Growing Health, Wealth, and Happiness from the Inside Out” and “See More, Sell More: Decoding Body Language for Increased Sales.” His career is guided by two important beliefs: The first is that each of us is stronger and more resilient than we know. The second is that people tend to learn faster, and hold onto the knowledge they have gained, when they are having fun and getting tips they can use right away. For more information, visit: www.jackhirsh.com or e-mail: email@example.com