Do you ever feel like people tune you out? Or worse, find you boring? The good news is that it likely has less to do with what you're talking about and more to do with your delivery.
When we observe someone speak, we're listening for two things: Confidence and emotion. Confidence is a powerful cue that makes people take you seriously. Emotion is an aspect of warmth, and makes people find you interesting.
As a body language and public speaking trainer, I've worked with hundreds of people improve how they are viewed by others. If you want to make a strong first impression or elevate your reputation, avoid these five mistakes that the most confident and interesting people never do:
1. Let their hands hang loose
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A person's body language says a lot about how confident they are, especially the "steeple gesture."
Steepling is when the palm of our hands are facing each other and we gently place the tips of our fingers together to look like a church steeple.
The steeple is a universal display of confidence. Former German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and "Shark Tank" investor Kevin O'Leary all do it.
Steepling is a powerful gesture used to convince others that you are confident and committed to what you're saying. It shows you're relaxed and open — and that they should be, too.
2. Hide their emotions
We signal emotion when speaking with a cue called "vocal variety." Research shows that it takes just a tenth of a second for our brains to recognize emotions conveyed by vocal cues. It's one of the primary ways we communicate our emotions, moods and attitudes to others.
Many people think emotion gets in the way of their messages, but it actually enhances them. Emotion is what makes people interested in you and hooks them into wanting to listen.
So when you feel proud of an idea or care about something, don't act casual. Instead, speak with gratitude and motivation. Share your thoughts with power and emphasis.
Introverts in particular may struggle with vocal variety because it calls attention to yourself. Here's a reframe: You've worked hard to accumulate your knowledge, skills and ideas. You're not calling attention to yourself, you're calling attention to your ideas.
3. Script themselves
Scripting is the biggest destroyer of vocal variety. I often help speakers craft their TED Talks, and I find that they make two common mistakes: Overly scripting their presentation, and then rehearsing all the emotion out of it.
In one practice session, a client started in the most bored, monotonous tone possible: "Today I'm thrilled to share the most exciting scientific development of the last decade. It's going to change your life."
"Wait," I said to him. "Are you actually thrilled? Is it really exciting? You don't sound very excited."
"Oh yes! It's amazing," he responded. "I've been working on it for 20 years and it's a game changer. It could completely revolutionize the way we think about —"
"Okay," I stopped him. "Now you sound excited. Where's that emotion?"
He told me he practiced so many times to get the words right that he forgot all about his delivery.
The solution? Keep your stories and the emotional parts of your talk unscripted. Only write out a few key points you want to remember. This forces you to tap into the true emotions underlying your words.
4. Use verbal fillers
People use verbal fillers — um, so, like, well, you know — for two main reasons. First, to stall for time while we are thinking of our next point. Second, because we're afraid of being interrupted. We believe there isn't enough time or attention, so we fill our points with fluff words.
This is also why people speak too quickly and then stumble over their words. But confident people understand the power of the pause: It shows both competence and confidence.
Every time you feel yourself wanting to use a filler, simply take a breath. If you do accidentally use a verbal filler, don't react and don't apologize. This is a slow way to retrain your brain that it should pause instead of filling.
5. Speak with question inflections
The most powerful people avoid question inflections at all costs. When you use a question inflection, your voice pitch raises at the end of a sentence.
For example, I once worked with a sales representative who, unfortunately, had the lowest conversion rate on his lean. During his pitch meetings, he would say, "We'd love to have your business," and then ask what should have been a statement: "The price of our service is $500?"
He wasn't stating his price, he was asking it. And this cued prospects to question it, too. They pushed him for discounts, haggled and negotiated with him. Yikes.
When you don't give away your vocal power, people will take you more seriously and believe in what you have to say.
Vanessa Van Edwards is a body language expert and the author of "Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication." She is the head researcher at the human behavior research lab Science of People, where she leads corporate workshops on science-based soft skills. Follow her on Twitter @vvanedwards.
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