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


The Fifth Signal: Whole Body Language

In a conversation, keep in mind that you're more interested in what you have to say than anyone else is.


When you are seated, how you position your body and the way you sit signals the degree of interest you have in a person speaking and what the person is saying. When you lean toward someone, it is as though you are saying with your body, "I find you fascinating; you are drawing me toward you with a magnetic force." Leaning away may suggest, "I'm bored, I can think of a dozen things I'd rather be doing than talking to you."

Everything Counts

As a rule of thumb, try to keep your whole body turned toward the other person. If you cross your legs, do so with your top leg and knee pointing toward the person. Make sure your arms are unfolded and use your hands for emphasis when you speak. In these ways, you create a clear picture of openness and receptivity.

When you're standing, it's important to monitor the distance between you and the other person. To decide how much space is appropriate, check your own reactions when people get too close or too far from you. Then apply what you've learned in positioning yourself with others. If a person tends to inch closer to you, then you were too far away; if the person tends to ease away from you, then you are invading his or her comfort circle.

The Circles of Communication

Imagine three concentric circles, with you as the center point. The first circle is about two feet from you to the other person. This is the personal or intimate space, reserved for romantic partners and family members. If you invade this space as a business or social acquaintance, you will make the other person distinctly uncomfortable. You're reaction is likely to be that the person is trying to intimidate you by getting "in your face."

The second circle is two to six feet away from you and is the space appropriate for social or business acquaintances. When you want to be charming, be sure to stand, sit, and talk within this distance, no closer and no farther away.

The third circle is from eight or ten feet outward. This is the circle of protected distance or safety, used between yourself and strangers. Any sudden movement by someone you don't know from this space into your social space, closer than eight feet, will cause you to become alert and aware.

Establishing a Comfort Zone

Wild animals are especially careful about keeping their comfort circles intact. When my wife and I visited Namibia, one of the special places to go to was Cape Cross on the Skeleton Coast. We were told that at any given time there are between 250,000 and 350,000 seals basking on the beaches or swimming in the sea.

With the beaches literally carpeted with seals as far as you could see (ignoring the overwhelming stench), it was a fascinating experience to walk among them. As we moved toward them, they moved away. We stopped; they stopped. We moved a couple of paces; they moved a couple of paces. They had a "comfort zone" that had to be observed. The same is true for people: Too close and we intrude, even threaten. Too far and we destroy intimacy.

Speak with Your Body

Whether you are standing or sitting, when you deliberately want to say with your body, "I think what you are saying is mesmerizing," lean in or move slightly closer, but make sure you don't intrude into the comfort circle.

In one very funny episode of Seinfeld, Jerry refers to Elaine's latest date as a "close talker." When he talks to anyone, he stands so close that the other person literally bends backward trying to avoid his face being in their face. This kind of person is trying too hard and comes off as aggressive and insensitive.

Your Tools for Charming Others

The next time you're speaking with someone, turn your whole body toward him or her and give the person your complete attention.

If you are sitting, lean toward the person as if you are hanging on every word. Watch the mouth and eyes, gently "flicking" or shifting your gaze from one eye to the other while you are listening. Try leaning slightly forward rather than sitting upright or leaning backward. If you cross your legs, do so with your top leg and knee pointing toward the other person.

When you are standing, make sure you are maintaining a comfortable distance between you and the other person. Face the person directly, stand two to four feet away, and shift your weight slightly forward onto the balls of your feet. This movement will be imperceptible to the other person, but he will feel that you are fully engaged with what he is saying. Remind yourself by saying to yourself, "Energy forward!"

Always keep your whole body turned toward the person speaking.

Unfold your arms and use your hands in animated fashion when you speak.

If people are saying something that is important or significant, lean a little farther in. If they say something amusing, relax by sitting or leaning back a little. Then move back in when you want to create more intensity.

All of these signals suggest that you are fascinated by what the people you are talking to are saying. These techniques will make them feel wonderful and they will love you for it.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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