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6 Body Language Secrets of Powerful People

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/06/2015 Lisa B. Marshall

© Monkey Business Images/REX The most powerful people in a group are not always the smartest or most knowledgeable. So, why are they the leaders? Often times, it is because of subtle body language that draws people to them.

I'll share six body language behaviors that you can use today to exude confidence and feel more powerful:

1. Be Aware of Vocal Tone

We all know that animals can hear undertones outside of human range, but the fact is that we unconsciously hear them, too--and we make decisions based on them too! You know how a high, nasal, or thin voice can be irritating (think Fran Drescher), but a broad, resonant voice (think Don LaFontaine) is soothing and attractive? That's because of the undertones.

Incredibly, studies have shown that hearing those soothing low tones actually makes people more efficient, while removing the low tones makes people less efficient. Those with the best undertones are natural leaders, and people around them subconsciously match their tones to those of the leader. Have you ever heard the saying, "We're on the same wavelength"? Whoever made up that saying was right. That's exactly what happens.

2. Smile: It's Good for You!

© Michele Constantini/ZenShui/Corbis Many studies have been done on the benefits of smiling, but common sense also tells us that when we smile, we feel better inside, and others smile back. But why is that? It has to do with the chemicals that are released in the brain when we smile or see other people smile.

Smiling triggers the "feel good" hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. In fact, smiling activates the reward center of brain as found in other experiments with drug addition! These powerful chemicals relax your body, reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, and help you fight off stress. This makes you feel healthier and appear more confident. What's more, your smile triggers other people's brains to respond in kind--in other words, a smile is contagious. Powerful leaders smile enough to convey confidence and good will, while creating bonds of respect.

3. Develop a Firm Handshake

© Blend Images/REX The perfect handshake is brief, firm but not tight, and uses the whole hand, not just the fingertips. It conveys that the person is confident, extroverted, and positive. This can't be emphasized enough. A handshake creates an immediate impression, and you only get one chance to create that first impression. Powerful leaders shake hands in a way that says, "I am strong and in control." And in my experience, most people that have a poor handshake have no idea. I recommend you ask a trusted friend or colleague for honest feedback (or hire me for a keynote or coaching and I'll personally let you know!) 

4. Take a Powerful Pose

© Howard Kingsnorth/cultura/Corbis Strong leaders convey their self-confidence and strength subtly but clearly through their posture. An outstretched, open posture projects an image of power and confidence. Legs slightly apart, hands on hips (think wonder woman), or making a wide gestures make you look like you are in charge. But it not only makes others think that, it makes you think that, too! By practicing power poses before presentations or meetings, you boost your confidence and subconsciously tell the audience you're in control, confident about the future, and able to set goals and act.

5. Use Appropriate Gestures

Random or nervous gestures are distracting, but "speech-associated gestures" complement the words spoken and enhance their meaning. I'm not talking about a thumbs-up or sign language. These symbols convey meaning without words. The best gestures, used by great speakers and leaders, natrually support the words and studies show that these gestures make your words easier to remember and understand. 

6. Develop Eye Contact to Convey Trustworthiness

© REX/Blend Images/REX Features You know the feeling. When a person makes eye contact with you, especially when you are talking, you feel important to that person, and your confidence in that person grows. People who meet your gaze seem sincere and trustworthy, while those who don't seem either dishonest or lacking in confidence. However, too much eye contact can be uncomfortable. It can feel like an intrusion or an act of aggression. Powerful leaders instinctively know how long to look at you and how long to look away, and do it naturally. Studies suggest the proper amount of eye contact in the U.S. and many other countries should be between 50% and 60 % of the conversation, mostly when listening.

Are These Leadership Secrets Innate or Learned?

When it comes to body language often success professionals reach a certain level within an organization relying on their instincts: they don't really give much thought to their body language behaviors--which is a mistake.

Studies show that most successful leaders display both an equal mix of agentic and communal behaviors. Successful leaders don't rely only on instincts, instead they also strategically choose appropriate behaviors to achieve desired results. This is particularly important for woman leaders who have a smaller range of acceptable behaviors, but it is also important for men as well.

That is, in order to be a successful leader at the highest levels, in order to move into the executive suite, you need to not only understanding exactly how your body language behaviors impact perceptions, you also need to be consciously aware of and choose behaviors that allow you to be the most influential. It's our unconscious behaviors that often cause problems.

Anyone can understand, learn, and harness appropriate body language --that is you can learn how to use body plunge to exude more power, confidence, and compassion. A great way to start is by developing these six subtle secrets of body language.

This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence. If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my podcasts, Smart Talk and The Public Speaker. As always, your success is my business. 

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