The following piece was written by Peggy Wallace. Peggy is the Founder of Making Conversation, LLC and a former regional alumna admissions interviewer for the University of Pennsylvania.
If your body language conflicts with what you are saying, the listener will go with their gut and trust what your body is saying nearly every time. Think about it. What would you trust?
During an interview, your open body language and ability to listen (as well as concomitantly answering the questions asked) by being in the moment with your whole body makes the difference. An interview, whether face-to-face or by phone, is truly live theater. A memorized presentation can be likened to a film (with numerous takes to get it just right) – the interviewer knows you are not in the moment!
You want to be other-person oriented. Treat them the way they would like to be treated, making sure that they are comfortable. Of course, this means planning what you want to say during the interview, which I will discuss in a subsequent blog. For now, your goal in conversations is to make the other person feel accepted, acknowledged, and valued by your use of open body language. You want to face the other person and have a heart to heart conversation; don’t let barriers come between you (think crossed arms in front of your chest).
There are five things you can do to work on your body language so that you can present your best self to the interviewer and establish rapport.
Standing/sitting up straight allows you to appear more confident and to “occupy the stage” during an interview. Shoulders back and down. Head held high and level. Arms resting comfortably at your side. How do you do this? Look in a mirror! Do shoulder rolls; what looks most impressive to you? Balance books on your head to improve your posture.
2. Eye contact
Yes, look them in the eye, but don’t stare them down. You want to look within an imaginary circle drawn 6” from their eyes – become the world’s best eye witness. Notice the hair, hairline, shape of face, color of eyes, slant of mouth, shape of lips, nose, etc. In the U.S., we expect that you will look at person more while listening (90%) and less when talking (50%). Be alert to eye cues, direction of gaze, pupil size, width of eye opening, etc.
A smile can brighten everyone’s mood – not only for the recipient, but for the giver as well. Smiling easily and pleasantly attracts other people to you. Credible smiles cannot be faked; think of something funny (remember a joke or pleasant thought) to make your whole face have a natural smile, including your eyes – blink to moisten them. To relax your face, breathe in and exhale strongly. Smiling improves creativity and problem-solving. It also lowers stress – yours and theirs! If anyone has ever said, “Gee, what’s wrong?” when your face is at rest, you are one of the unfortunate few who has a relaxed “sour” expression. So, open your mouth a bit, just 2-5mm, and you’ll find it is easier to smile.
4. Mirror your way into acceptance
Mirror, but don’t mimic, their body language. If they are moving around excitedly, you move with a similar amount of enthusiasm.
S_L_A_N_T = sit/standup Straight; Lean forward; pay Attention; Nod and Track their pace, body movement, and energy as well as their voice tone and pitch, which will be discussed in my next blog post.
Practice each of these suggestions with other people in safe circumstances to improve your making conversation. Start out small, practice with one person per day, and add more daily. Keep written track of your progress and your achievements. It is human nature to remember what we did that needs improving and we often forget what we did well. Start now with documenting your success! It will become your personal Boast Book!
Check out MakingConversation.com for more information.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.