Table of Contents, Body Language Dimensions Resources Page
Previous Section, Body Language Dimensions Next Section, Body Language Dimensions

Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Chapter 18


Interview Presentation Style
Rex knew the executive interviewing him picked up on his positive upbeat vibe ... yet, Rex sensed something amiss in the executive's body language. He really needed this job to pan out.

Most job interviews are non-productive because studies show a strong correlation between how much the interviewer likes the interviewee and whether or not they get the job. In the end, most of the factual information that comes from the curriculum vitae - the real stuff about the candidate that is a good indicator of performance - is forgotten. What is remembered is the impression the candidate made on the interviewer.

First impressions are the 'love-at-first-sight' of the business world.

Professor Frank Bernieri of the University of Toledo analyzed the performances of job applicants of various ages and backgrounds during 20-minute interviews in which the interviewers were asked to rate each candidate on attributes such as ambition, intelligence and competence. Then a group of observers was asked to watch video footage of just the first 15 seconds of each interview. The results showed that the observers' first impressions in 15 seconds almost paralleled the impressions of the interviewers. This study gives us further convincing evidence that you definitely don't get a second chance to make a first impression and that your approach, handshake and overall body language are the key factors in deciding the outcome.

Why James Bond Looked Cool, Calm and Collected

Research in the field of linguistics has shown a direct relationship between the amount of status, power or prestige a person commands, and their vocabulary range. The higher up the social or management ladder a person is, the better he is likely to be able to communicate in words and phrases. Body language research has revealed a correlation between a person's command of the spoken word and the number of gestures they use to communicate their message. The person at the top end of the status scale can use his range of vocabulary to communicate his meaning, whereas the less educated, less skilled lower-status person will rely more on gestures than words to communicate his message. He doesn't have the words so he substitutes gestures for words. As a general rule, the higher up the person is on the socio-economic scale, the less gesticulation and body movement they are likely to use.

Special Agent James Bond used these principles to great effect by having minimal body gestures, especially when he was under pressure. When he was being intimidated by the baddies, being insulted or shot at, he remained relatively motionless and spoke in short, monotone sentences.

James Bond was so cool he could even make love immediately after killing ten villains.

High status people always 'keep their cool', which means revealing as little of their emotions as possible. Actors such as Jim Carrey are the opposite - they often play highly animated roles, emphasizing a lack of power; and usually plays powerless, intimidated men.

The Nine Golden Keys to Making Great First Impressions

Let's assume you're going to an interview and you want to make the best first impression. Keep in mind that others form up to 90% of their opinion about you in the first four minutes and that 60 to 80% of the impact you will make is non-verbal.

Here are nine Golden Keys to getting it right first time in an interview:

1. In the Reception Area

Remove your outerwear and give it to the receptionist if possible. Avoid entering an office with your arms full of clutter that can make you fumble and look inept. Always stand in a reception area - never sit. Receptionists will insist you 'take a seat' because when you do, you're out of sight and they no longer have to deal with you. Stand with Hand-in-Hand behind your back (confidence) and slowly rock back and forth on your feet (confident, controlled) or use the Steeple gesture. This body language is a constant reminder that you are still there and waiting. But never do this at the Tax Office.

2. The Entry

Your entry tells others how you expect to be treated. When the receptionist has given you the green light to enter, walk in without hesitation. Do not stand in the doorway like a naughty schoolchild waiting to see the headmaster. When you walk through the door of the person's office, maintain the same speed. People who lack confidence change gears and perform a small shuffle as they enter.

3. The Approach

Even if the person is on the phone, rummaging through a drawer or tying his shoelaces, walk in directly and confidently with a smooth motion. Put down your briefcase, folder or whatever is in your hands, shake the person's hand and immediately take a seat. Let the other person see that you are accustomed to walking confidently into offices and that you don't expect to be kept waiting. People who walk slowly or take long strides convey that they have plenty of time on their hands, are not interested in what they are doing or have nothing else to do. This is fine for retired millionaires and those who live in Florida and Queensland, but not for anyone who wants to convey power, authority or capability or that they are a healthy, potential mate. Influential people and those who command attention walk briskly at a medium pace with medium length strides.

4. The Handshake

Keep your palm straight and return the pressure you receive. Let the other person decide when to end the handshake. Step to the left of a rectangular desk as you approach to avoid being given a Palm-Down handshake. Never shake directly across a desk. Use a person's name twice in the first 15 seconds and never talk for more than 30 seconds at a time.

5. When You Sit

If you are compelled to sit in a low chair directly facing the other person, turn it away 45 degrees from the person to avoid being stuck in the 'reprimand' position. If you can't angle the chair, angle your body instead.

6. Seating Areas

If you're invited to sit in an informal area of the person's office, such as at an informal coffee table, this is a positive sign because 95% of business rejections are delivered from behind a desk. Never sit on a low sofa that sinks so low it makes you look like a giant pair of legs topped by a small head - if necessary, sit upright on the edge so you can control your body language and gestures, and angle your body to 45 degrees away from the person.

7. Your Gestures

People who are cool, calm, collected and in control of their emotions use clear, uncomplicated, deliberate movements. High-status individuals use fewer gestures than low-status individuals. This is an ancient negotiating ploy - people with power don't have to move much. Keep in mind that Eastern Europeans gesture more from the elbow down than Westerners, and Southern Europeans gesture more with their entire arms and shoulders. Mirror the other person's gestures and expressions when appropriate.

8. Distance

Respect the other person's Personal Space, which will be largest in the opening minutes of the meeting. If you move too close, the person will respond by sitting back, leaning away or using repetitive gestures such as drumming the fingers. As a rule, you can move closer to familiar people but further back from new ones. Men generally move closer to women they work with while women generally move further back when they work with men. Work closer to those of similar age and further back from significantly older or younger ones.

9. Your Exit

Pack your things calmly and deliberately - not in a frenzy - shake hands if possible, turn and walk out. If the door was closed when you entered, close it behind you as you leave. People always watch you from behind as you leave so, if you're a man, make sure you have shined the back of your shoes. This is an area many men neglect and women are critical of this.

When a woman decides to leave she will point her foot towards the door and begin to adjust the back of her clothing and hair so that she makes a good rear-view impression as she departs. As mentioned earlier, hidden cameras show that, if you're a woman, others study your rear as you depart - whether you like it or not. When you get to the door turn around slowly and smile. It's far better that they recall your smiling face than your rear end.

Feeling Naked In An Interview
NO ONE wants to feel naked with a complete lack of control in an interview for that job they lusted for, do they?

When Someone Keeps You Waiting

If someone keeps you waiting for more than 20 minutes it shows either they're disorganized or it could be a form of power play. Keeping someone waiting is an effective way of reducing their status and enhancing the status of the person who is making them wait. This same effect can be seen when people are waiting in line at a restaurant or cinema - everyone assumes that the wait is going to be worthwhile, otherwise why would we all be waiting?

Always take a book, cellphone, laptop or office work, which shows that you too are busy and are not prepared to be inconvenienced. When the person who has kept you waiting comes out to meet you let them speak first, lift your head slowly from your work and greet them, then pack up smoothly and confidently. Another good strategy when made to wait is to take out some financial papers and a calculator and do calculations. When they call for you say, 'I'll be ready in a moment - I'll just finish these calculations.' Or you could make all your mobile phone calls. The clear message you are sending is that you're a very busy person and are not being inconvenienced by their disorganisation. And if you suspect the other person is playing a power game, arrange for an urgent call to be put through to you during your meeting. Take the call, loudly mention large amounts of money, drop in a well-known name or two, tell the caller you never settle for second best and that they are to report back to you as soon as possible. Hang up the phone, apologize for the interruption and continue as if nothing had happened. Hey, it works for James Bond... it'll work for you.

If the other person takes a phone call during the meeting or a third person enters and begins what seems like a long conversation, take out your book or homework and begin to read. This gives them privacy and demonstrates that you don't waste your time. If you feel the person is doing these things intentionally, take out your own mobile phone and make several important follow-up calls about the important ventures you were discussing earlier.

Fake It Till You Make It?

If you avoid Hand-to-Face gestures and always talk using openness signals, does this mean you can tell fabricate grand stories about what you can accomplish for instance and get away with it? Well...not necessarily, because if you use open positions when you know you're lying, your palms are likely to sweat, your cheeks may twitch and your pupils constrict. The most competent liars are those who can go into their acting role and act as if they actually believe the lie. A professional actor who can do this better than anyone else is presented with an Oscar. While we are not suggesting you tell lies, there is powerful evidence that if you practice the positive skills we've mentioned throughout this guide, they will become second nature to you and serve you well for the rest of your life.

Scientists proved the 'fake it till you make it' concept using tests on birds. In many bird species, the more dominant a bird is, the darker its plumage will be. Darker colored birds are first in line for food and mates. Researchers took a number of lighter, weaker birds and dyed their plumage dark so that these birds would be 'lying' to the other birds that they were dominant. But the result was that the 'liar' birds were attacked by the real dominant birds because the 'liars' were still displaying weak and submissive body language. In the next tests the weaker birds, both male and female, were not only dyed but also injected with testosterone hormones to make them act dominantly. This time the 'liars' succeeded as they began strutting around acting in confident, superior ways, which completely fooled the real dominant birds. This demonstrates that you need to cast yourself into a believable role in an interview and mentally practice in advance how you will behave if you want others to take you seriously.

Seven Simple Strategies for Giving You the Extra Edge

1. Stand up for Meetings

Conduct all short-term decision-making meetings standing up. Studies show that standing conversations are significantly shorter than sitting ones and the person who conducts a standing meeting is perceived as having higher status than those who sit. Standing whenever others enter your workspace is also an excellent timesaver, so consider having no visitors' chairs in your own work area. Standing decisions are quick and to the point and others don't waste your time with social chatter or questions such as 'How's the family?'

2. Sit Competitors with Their Backs to the Door

As discussed, studies reveal that when our backs are towards an open space we become stressed, blood pressure increases, our heart beats faster, our brainwave output increases and we breathe more quickly as our body readies itself for a possible rear attack. This is an excellent position in which to place your opponents.

3. Keep Your Fingers Together

People who keep their fingers closed when they talk with their hands and keep their hands below chin level, command the most attention. Using open fingers or having your hands held above the chin is perceived as less powerful.

4. Keep Your Elbows Out

When you sit on a chair, keep your elbows out or on the arms of the chair. Submissive, timid individuals keep their elbows in to protect themselves and are perceived as fearful.

5. Use Power Words

A study at the University of California showed that the most persuasive words in spoken language are: discovery, guarantee, love, proven, results, save, easy, health, money, new, safety and you. practice using these words. The new results you'll get from the discovery of these proven words will guarantee you more love, better health and will save you money. And they're completely safe, and easy to use.

6. Carry a Slim Briefcase

A slim briefcase with a combination lock is carried by an important person who is concerned only with the bottom-line details; large, bulky briefcases are carried by those who do all the work and are perceived as not being sufficiently organized to get things done on time.

7. Watch Their Coat Buttons

Analysis of videos of confrontations, for example, between unions and corporate management, show a higher frequency of agreement is reached when people have their suits or coats unbuttoned. People who cross their arms on their chest often do it with their suit jacket buttoned and are more negative. When a person suddenly unbuttons their jacket in a meeting, you can reasonably assume that they have also just opened their mind.


Before you go to an important interview or meeting, sit quietly for five minutes and mentally practice seeing yourself doing these things and doing them well. When your mind sees them clearly, your body will be able to carry them out and others will react accordingly.

Office Power Politics

Have you ever been for a job interview and felt overwhelmed or helpless when you sat in the visitor's chair? Where the interviewer seemed so big and overwhelming and you felt small and insignificant? It is likely that the interviewer had cunningly arranged his office furnishings to raise his own status and power and, in so doing, lower yours. Certain strategies using chairs and seating arrangements can create this atmosphere in an office.

There are three factors in raising perceived status and power using chairs: the size of the chair and its accessories, the height of the chair from the floor and the location of the chair relative to the other person.

1. Chair Size and Accessories

The height of the back of the chair raises or lowers a person's status. The higher the back of the chair, the more power and status the person sitting in it is perceived to have. Kings, queens, popes and other high-status people may have the back of their throne or official chair as high as 8 feet or more (2.5m) to show their status relative to everyone else; the senior executive has a high-backed leather chair and his visitor's chair has a low back. How much power would the Queen or the Pope have if they were always sitting on a small piano stool?

Swivel chairs have more power and status than fixed chairs, allowing the user freedom of movement when he is placed under pressure. Fixed chairs allow little or no movement and this lack of movement is compensated for by the sitter's use of body gestures that reveal their attitudes and feelings. Chairs with armrests, those that lean back and those that have wheels have more power.

2. Chair Height

The acquisition of power using height was covered in Chapter 16 but it is worth noting that status is gained if your chair is adjusted higher off the floor than the other person's. Some advertising executives are known for sitting on high-backed chairs that are adjusted for maximum height while their visitors sit opposite, in the defensive position, on a sofa or chair that is so low that their eyes are level with the executive's desk.

3. Chair Location

As mentioned in the chapter on seating arrangements, most power is exerted on a visitor when his chair is placed directly opposite in the Competitive Position. A common power play is to place the visitor's chair as far away as possible from the executive's desk into the social or public territory zone, which further reduces the visitor's status.

How to Switch Table Territories

When two people sit directly opposite each other across a table, they unconsciously divide it into two equal territories. Each claims half as his own territory and will reject the other encroaching upon it.

There will be occasions, however, when it may be difficult or inappropriate to take the corner position to present your case. Let's assume that you have a sample, or quotation displayed on a laptop, to present to another person who is sitting behind a rectangular desk and your objective is to get into the best position for presenting. First, place the article or laptop on the table and he will either lean forward and look at it, take it over to his side, or push it back into your territory.

Laptop on Territorial Line On Table
Laptop placed on territorial line

If he leans forward to look at it but does not pull it in or pick it up, you are compelled to deliver your presentation from where you sit because he does not want you on his side of the desk. If this happens, angle your body away at 45 degrees to him to present your case which is a softer less competitive position. If he takes it onto his side, however, this gives you the opportunity to ask permission to enter his territory and take either the Corner or Co-operative Position.

Entering His Personal Space For Presentation
Non-verbal agreement to enter his personal space for a presentation

If, however, he pushes it back towards you, stay on your side. Never encroach on the other person's territory unless you have been given verbal or non-verbal permission to do so or you will put them offside.

Seated Body Pointing

Take the following situation: you're a supervisor and are about to counsel a subordinate whose work performance is not up to scratch. You feel that you will need to use direct questions that require direct answers and this may put the subordinate under pressure. At times you will also need to show the subordinate compassion and, from time to time, that you agree with his thoughts or actions.

Leaving aside interview and questioning techniques for these illustrations, consider the following points: (1) The counselling session will be in your office; (2) The subordinate will be seated on a chair with fixed legs and no arms, one that causes him to use body gestures and postures that will give you an understanding of his attitudes; and (3) You'll be sitting on a swivel chair that has arms, letting you eliminate some of your own gestures and allowing you to move around.

There are three main angle positions you can use. As with the standing triangular position, sitting at 45 degrees gives an informal, relaxed attitude to the meeting and is a good opening position for a counselling session.

Sitting at 45 Degree AngleSitting at 45 Degree Angle
Opening a session using a 45 degree angle keeps things relaxed

You can show non-verbal agreement with the subordinate from this position by mirroring his movements and gestures. As in the open standing position, their bodies point to a third point to form a triangle, which can show agreement.

By turning your chair to point your body directly at someone you non-verbally tell them that you want direct answers to your direct questions.

Direct Body PointingDirect Body Pointing
Direct body pointing keeps things serious

When you position your body 45 degrees away from the other person, you take the pressure off the interview. This is an excellent position from which to ask delicate or embarrassing questions, encouraging more open answers to your questions without them feeling as if they are being pressured.

Sitting 45 Degrees AwaySitting 45 Degrees Away
The right 45 degrees away position

How to Re-arrange an Office

Having read this far, you should now be able to work out how to arrange an office to have as much power, influence or control as you want or to make it as relaxed, friendly and informal as you want. Here now is a case study showing how someone's office was hypothetically rearranged to help solve some of his personal manager/employee relationship problems.

Jack worked for a large financial services company. He had been promoted to a manager's position and given an office. After a few months in the role, Jack found that the other employees disliked dealing with him and his relationship with them was often tense, particularly when they were in his office. He found it difficult to get them to follow his instructions and had heard they were talking about him behind his back. Observations of Jack's dilemma suggested that the communication breakdowns were at their worst when the employees were in his office.

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll ignore any of Jack's management skills and concentrate on the non-verbal aspects of the problem. Here's a summary of our observations and conclusions about Jack's office set-up:

  1. The visitor's chair was placed in the competitive position in relation to Jack.
  2. Jack's desk had a solid front that hid his lower body and prevented the subordinates observing his lower gestures to evaluate how he felt.
  3. Jack often sat using the Catapult or Leg-Over-Arm-of-Chair gestures or both whenever a subordinate was in his office.
  4. Jack had a swivel chair with a high back, armrests and wheels. The visitor's chair was a plain low-backed chair with fixed legs and no armrests.
  5. The walls of the office were solid except for a couple of windows and a clear glass partition. Harking back to earlier days of human history when it was more dangerous to walk this earth, Jack had instinctively placed his desk in a corner with his back against the wall. This sent subtle messages of reduced accessibility, and even a greater distance between he and his subordinates.
Initial Office Layout
Jack's initial office layout

From a user-friendly, non-verbal standpoint, his office was less than optimal. It felt unfriendly to anyone who entered. The following rearrangements were made to help encourage Jack's management style to become more friendly:

  1. Jack's desk was placed in front of a glass partition and windows, making his office appear bigger and allowing him to be visible to those prior to their entering.
  2. His desk was replaced with one having a large rounded corner where two could comfortably sit in non-competitive positions.
  3. A round table with swivel chairs were placed near the middle of the office for informal meetings with a small group of people.
  4. Revised Office Layout
    A revised office layout incorporating several elements to reduce the feeling of emotional distance and hierarchy.
  5. A sectional sofa was placed in the corner of the office to further promote teamwork and create a friendlier atmosphere.
  6. Green plants were added in a couple spots in the office to lessen any austere feel in the room.
  7. Jack practiced sitting in open positions, used subtle Steeple gestures and consciously used his palms whenever he spoke with others.
Revised Office Layout
In the revised office layout one important element was the addition of a round meeting table, creating a greater sense of interpersonal equality.

The results? Significantly improved manager/staff relationships and some staff began describing Jack as 'easygoing' and as a relaxed person to work with.

All that is needed to raise your status, and increase your power and effectiveness with others, is a little thought given to non-verbal gymnastics in your office or home. Unfortunately, most executive offices are arranged as Jack's was initially set out, because offices are designed by office designers, not by those who understand interaction between people. Rarely is consideration given to the negative non-verbal signals that can be unwittingly communicated to others.

Study your own workplace layout and use the preceding information to make the positive changes needed.


The thing about power plays and office politics is that you can anticipate them and even plan your own in advance. Rex, as noted in the beginning of this chapter, did not have the sensitivity to understand that while OK in some businesses with conservative cultures, suspenders are not a fashion forward statement, nor are ties mismatched with a business suit. Poor choices in attire for such a critical meeting could be reflected, an interviewing executive might think, in less than keen judgement in other important business matters with associates and customers.

Table of Contents, Body Language Dimensions Resources Page
Previous Section, Body Language Dimensions Next Section, Body Language Dimensions

Westside Toastmasters is located in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, California