Every single one of us was born with the ability to speak without words.
Body language is the primal foundation upon which our modern communication is founded. We can read an entire novel’s worth of non-verbal cues without ever hearing or seeing a word. And yet, in our modern day work we often struggle to communicate with one another.
When you work at an exhibition, seeing hundreds of people walk past each hour, these non-verbal skills are critical to your success in connecting with each person as needed.
The problem is that we get in our own way. I discovered this at the age of 18.
body language is the deeper way we all connect with each other
After completing school, I joined a charity program volunteering to teach English around the world. My assignment was at a Tibetan monastery in the north Indian mountains. Before setting out, all of the volunteers met for a week of training.
It was during this meeting that one of the most influential experiences of my life took place—and I hadn’t even left for the monastery yet.
Our tutor for the week was in charge of showing us how to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language. To demonstrate how it worked she told us she was going to only speak to us in Chinese, which immediately made me confused. However, as soon as she started speaking, I found I was able to pick up the meaning of her words via simply watching her and listening to her voice.
In just a few minutes, I learned 10 words—even though everything she said was in Chinese.
Some people think that body language is surface-level nonsense, manipulation, or pretending to be something you’re not. I discovered that there is much more to it than that. For me, body language is the deeper way we all connect with each other, where we tap into something more natural and meaningful.
In order to communicate powerfully, we need congruency in our words, body, and voice.
Once I arrived at my volunteer teaching assignment, I was so grateful for this lesson. I’d been under the impression that the Tibetan monks I’d be working with needed to improve their English and so we’d have a base level to start from. But when the door opened and two monks were there to greet me, it was immediately clear they didn’t understand a single word I said.
I couldn’t afford to behave in the professional and muted manner I’d picked up in school. I had to speak and behave with total congruency simply to be understood.
For example, if I was trying to teach them the word “excited,” if I didn’t look excited or sound excited, then I might as well have been saying “pineapple.” My physical and vocal communication had to match my meaning.
Modern life, on the other hand, has stripped away congruency. Many people work in open-plan offices, where they have to limit their voices so they don’t distract others. Company cultures often focus on behaving “professionally,” which sometimes means “impersonally.” Out of fear of showing how we really feel at work, we limit our expression, which means when we speak, much of what we say doesn’t necessarily match how we say it.
Congruency disappears, and it becomes much harder to understand what people really mean.
When working on an exhibition stand this becomes ever more important. If you are standing for long days, watching potential customers walk past and striving to meet your targets, your true connection with people can diminish. It can be easy to fall into the same old script with those you meet and miss the opportunity to truly connect with them.
If you are sticking to a few tried and tested lines from a script that you might end up saying something that was relevant to another prospect, but irrelevant to the person in front of you.
Your enthusiasm for those scripted lines will diminish over the hours until you find yourself in a robotic mode for most of the day.
When surrounded by so many people, stands, noise and information what we are really craving is true human connection. You are only reach this through deep listening and congruency.
Ask, don’t tell. Don’t guess who your customers are.
I once walked into a shop where the manager was over eager to make a sale. He walked up to me and said, “I bet you work in IT. You sit at a desk all day and you’ve got no idea what to buy your wife for her birthday.” Every word he had spoken was false. He hadn’t seen me, read me or listened to me. He was forcing a projection onto me. I left.
Instead imagine he had done this – he could have noticed that I avoided eye contact and walked straight to a specific shelf. This would have given him some sense that I didn’t want immediate conversation and had come in knowing exactly what I wanted.
So for each new person it is worth taking a few moments to truly look at them, listen deeply to what they say and see them as a brand new interaction, rather than the same old spiel.
To create a deeper connection, notice their eye colour. This allows you to truly see them and block out all other distractions. Keep your body language open and allow them to feel at home on your stand, away from the onslaught of the event.
When you gesture ensure you do so above your waist. So many people hold their hands behind them, in pockets, or low down like a night club bouncer. All of these diminish your impact. Lift your hands up to encourage conversation with warm palms up gestures.
Keep in mind that your goal is connection, not a fast sale. The more that someone feels listened to and relaxed with you, the more likely they will be to open up. So avoid the pushy approach or the rehearsed closing line to get them to act.
You must leave behind any restrictions in your movements and voice so that you can freely connect with people from your true instincts.
It’s only when we free our bodies to communicate that we tap into our true power as communicators. Which doesn’t need to sound overwhelming or scary—you were born to do it. You just need to drop limiting habits and return to the way you were born to speak.
Richard is an award-winning expert in Communication and Influence. His team recently helped one client win over £1.2 billion in new business by improving the way they communicate, winning 100% of the work they bid for.
He is regularly featured on BBC London Radio, discussing the communication styles of leaders. He has also been featured on SKY TV, BBC Breakfast TV, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mail and Forbes Magazine.
He has given specialist communication coaching to 60,000 people, across 45 countries, over the last 20 years. Richard’s clients include CEOs, Vice-Presidents and leaders across many industries, including companies such as Virgin, Expedia, EE, AXA, Capgemini and 3M.
His book ‘You Were Born To Speak’ is available on Amazon.