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Gestures

Too Close?

March 31, 2013 | By | No Comments


When you meet someone for the first time, you always keep those three feet or so of distance between you.  As long as you can reach to shake hands, then continue to converse with the room to gesticulate without any risk of karate chopping the other person while you do, then you have found the zone of comfort. You want to be able to be close enough to show a commitment to the interaction without feeling too intimate.

How do you know when it feels too close? You just do, don’t you? For most people it’s instinctive. While we’re talking we jostle into comfortable positions without knowing it because we are processing several different signals at once. The body language, facial expressions, tone of voice all let us know how comfortable the person is with our mutual chosen proximity.Have you ever had a conversation with someone inebriated? Once that, alcohol-induced loss of self-awareness arrives, then so leaves the ability to judge comfortable levels of nearness. The over familiar ‘arm around the shoulder’ favoured by many a drunken conversationalist (maybe for balance, maybe to hold the unwilling listener hostage) is rarely welcome but they just aren’t capable of sensing it.

We’re all individual and we all have our own personal space boundaries. Partners, close friends, family, depending on how much they actually like each other, would be quite relaxed being in much closer proximity than two relative (and sober) strangers.Some people have more awareness than others.

I noticed a woman on the train this week sitting by the window, alone on a triple seat, reading her book, occasionally looking out at the rolling hillsides. The train drew up at the next station and a man got on the train. In almost a blink of an eye, we sometimes get a sense about someone. Our brain has its army of ‘observational soldiers’ out, ready to submit an instant appraisal. My soldiers said ‘Slightly odd’ We all make judgements, rightly or wrongly, it’s part of our self-preservation. In the bank of six seats, one corner one was being occupied by the female passenger, the man chose to sit in the seat next to her. He seemed oblivious to her immediate discomfort, the way she recoiled as tightly into her own seat as possible. In fact, within sixty seconds, she drew her coat tightly around her, pulled herself out of the seat and left the carriage.


I don’t ever remember being taught not to sit next to someone on public transport if there are other free seats. It just seemed natural. However, during rush hour on the tube, let’s face it you could endure the indignity of your face in an unwashed armpit if you’re unlucky. But it’s all about choice. When there IS no choice, you just get on with it. If you chose to rest your head on a fellow travelers shoulder, I am sure there would be a strong objection.

As obvious as it sounds, when you watch people talking, the space between them, or lack of it, tells you a lot about how comfortable they are with each other.  Sometimes it’s when they stop talking that the space between them speaks the most loudly.

What are you looking at?

March 7, 2013 | By | No Comments

lookingI’m often on the train. I actually enjoy train journeys simply because I get to indulge in one of my favourite past-times; people watching.

This week for example I have seen so many interesting interactions and exchanges taking place in train carriages and for the most part, I imagine those taking part, don’t even know how much of an audience they had.

Before I share some of my experiences with you, it’s wise to remember that next time you’re on the train, the innocuous looking woman in the corner seat, head buried studiously into a book, is NOT too engrossed in her novel to notice you. She is in fact, looking directly at you and soaking up every snippet of what you say and how you move!

Okay, somewhere near Birmingham I was in a seat with the back of another seat in front of me. Across on the diagonal was a table seat shared by a couple, sitting across from each other. I had my sunglasses on and rested my head against the window. I probably looked asleep; in fact, I might have nodded off if I hadn’t heard with woman hiss ‘I know you’re lying!’ I was drawn to the face of the man, who sat nicely in my eye line. ‘I’m not!’ he protested, panic etched on his forehead. He picked his mobile phone up with his right hand and passed it to his partner. ‘Check it, go on.’ He urged confidently.

looking2‘Well you weren’t with Pete!’ she asked, leaning forwards across the table. I assume she was scanning his face for clues. His eyebrows shot up and his forehead wrinkled. (This can be a sign of a liar caught in the act). He looked up to the right. ‘I was at work, I was going to meet Pete but I had to stay for a meeting, for God’s sake.’ Note this, right handed people usually look to the left to recall memories, and to the right when they are in the act of making something up.

I don’t believe you’, she spat, picked up her handbag and stormed through to another carriage. The man, looking, flustered and red faced, picked up his coat and followed her through seconds later. I want to shout after her ‘Trust your instincts, he IS lying!’ but of course I didn’t.

On another occasion travelling home I shared a carriage with two women, a blonde and a redhead and a lone male in a suit. They were probably all in their early twenties. I was sitting opposite the man, ostensibly gazing out of the window but I could see his face and more importantly I could see the reflection of the redhead in the train window. It was late.

The lone male glanced at the redhead and then the blonde, his eyes returned to the redhead and they stayed there almost as if his gaze would be invisible to them. I saw the redhead smile to the blonde and coyly look at the floor. The lone male averted his gaze, furrowed his brow in a slow, but apparently casual manner, appearing to look lost in intelligent, contemplative thought. He opened his legs wider and sat back in his seat and pushed his bottom forward, clearly attempting to accentuate his masculinity. The redhead crossed her legs and turned a little away from him while leaning back and keeping her arm from blocking her body. To be honest, she looked like she was trying to pose as a mermaid on a rock. No words were spoken in this exchange but without even thinking, these two were both communicating with each other without giving it a second’s conscious thought.

looking3Unfortunately, I reached my destination not long afterwards and I will never know if conservation was made, or numbers were swapped.

What I do know is, if you keep your eyes open you see much more going on around you than you realise.

What do I do with my hands???

February 28, 2013 | By | No Comments

Okay, hold them up and take a good look. What have you got? If you’re lucky enough to have a complete pair, what impression do they give? Are they clean, free from the yellow tinge of nicotine on your ‘holding’ fingers or do they look like you have been rummaging through a wheelie bin?

People notice your hands. Of course I am not saying that you all need to rush out and get a pre-interview manicure. But if you’re not a boxer, an equestrian or a clown and are not going to be ‘gloved up’ it’s worth the trouble to ask yourself what your hands say about you.
When speaking in front of others, People often say to me “I don’t know what to do with my hands” Or “I hold onto the plectrum so I don’t talk too much with my hands”. Both of these statements I question.  Do you have trouble with your hands when you not doing public speaking?  Probably not.
The aim is to use your hands in a natural way that helps to get your message across (In the same way we do this in our everyday conversations) The more you concentrate on what to do with your hands the more you will worry and the more unnatural they can begin to feel.
You do need to be self-aware with what your hands are saying to people, (without giving yourself a hard time) because unnatural and wooden hand movements can undermine your entire speech. For example, letting them loll lifelessly by your sides says you’ve no conviction behind your words is not going to help get your message across. It also tells your audience you are uncomfortable in this setting and a novice at speech giving. You want your audience to believe in you, to relax and therefore be able to absorb what you’re saying without distraction.
On the flip side, punching the air like an Evangelist every time you utter a sentence will make you seem fake and cringe-worthy. People will be embarrassed for you and take your well- honed speech with a pinch of salt, however worthy it might be.
Finger pointing is seen as impolite and aggressive. Bill Clinton was told about pointing his finger too much, making everything seem aggressive, it was a habit he found hard to break, so his public speaking consultant told him to put his thumb over his finger, this took the aggressiveness away. He has told that if you want to gesture to your audience then use a sweep of your entire hand. Eventually through small steps Clinton stopped pointing altogether and became an excellent public speaker.
There is a term called Steepling, when a person’s palms face each other, with just the fingertips touching (Tony Blair is a great example of this in his early days). It’s known as a power move which portrays confidence and self-assuredness. Too much of it can be seen as arrogant so if you feel comfortable using it, be aware (Tony Blair is a great example of this in his later days).
If during a speech you put your hands on your heart, what you’re saying is ‘believe me, I mean it sincerely’, whether you do or not! If you put your hands in your pocket or behind your back, don’t be surprised if people wonder what you’re hiding. Having your hands in full view implies a desire to seen as open and honest.
If there are certain elements of your speech which you really want to have emphasis, use a palm-upwards, push-out of the hands, gesture. Open-handed gestures again imply transparency and a wish to be seen as authentic.
I can’t imagine anyone choosing to cross their arms during a speech but if it isn’t obvious, it’s a huge no-no. It spews negatives. ‘I’m bored’ ‘I’m defensive’ ‘I am hiding something’. Your hands can draw people in, they can humanise you. Even if the nature of your speech is very formal, its credibility and believability is quite literally, in your hands.

For more information about public speaking and presentation skills go to www.surespeech.co.uk

What does your ‘at rest’ face say about you?

February 10, 2013 | By | No Comments


It’s interesting how we perceive ourselves. Everyone is different. Do you carry the most recent mirror image of yourself, the one you saw this morning where you stood tall, breathed in and performed a suave nostril flare? Do you see yourself as the younger, slimmer version of yourself, airbrushing out your perceived faults? Maybe you’re less kind about yourself and have a distorted, unflattering self-perception. Does it matter anyway? That’s for you to decide.
Yesterday a close friend rang me in a state of distress. She’s known for dramatic tendencies, something she’ll attest to herself, so I didn’t allow myself to get too alarmed too soon. ‘Oh my GOD!’ she cried. ‘The most horrific thing happened to me this afternoon!’
‘Tell me….’ I said
‘I have just seen my AT REST face. I had no idea! Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Tell you what?’ I asked, completely bewildered. It turns out my friends husband had taken a photo of her with his phone as she walked back from a shop to their car. ‘I had no idea he was taking my photo and now I know what I look like when I am just being ME!’ Relieved there was no impending tragedy I afforded myself a little giggle. ‘It’s not funny!’ she almost shouted. ‘People have been seeing me like this for years!’
‘Why did he take your picture?’ I asked. 
She snorted. ‘To show me what a miserable cow I look when I’m not pouting apparently!’ 
‘And, do you….?’ I tiptoed into the question.
‘What? Look miserable? Yes!’
‘Well that’s great news then’ I said, thinking on my feet.
‘HOW?’
‘If you’re not happy with your AT REST face, at least you are now aware of it. Imagine if you had spent the rest of your life with an AT REST face you hated and you never got to see it for yourself. This way, you can practise a new AT REST face, one you feel happy with.’
She thought about this for a few seconds. ‘Surely though, an AT REST face is one you have when you are not thinking about it? Why can’t I have a naturally beautiful AT REST face, instead of looking, tired, angry, bored, old , slack-jawed, loose- jowled and hunch-backed?’ 
‘Maybe that’s the trade off?’ I suggested. ‘Never rest and make sure you have a fabulous AT REST face or stay with the AT REST face you have.’
Not long ago I received a text message from my friend. It reads ‘Just seen a magazine pic of Kate Moss with dreadful sulky AT REST face on holiday. Feeling MUCH better now, thank you! x’
So my thought is to BE AWARE. Even if you are not speaking at a meeting your AT REST face can give across a message that you may not like.

For more information about public speaking and presentation skills go to www.surespeech.co.uk