We are exceptionally proud to host Speaker and Communication Coach, Elia Nichols in our new series about working with virtual events. She brings a fresh and energetic voice to the world of webinars, exhibitions, trade shows and other types of virtual events. We look forward to bringing more of her cutting-edge methods, ideas and suggestions to the ever-expanding world of vir 3D virtual events and webinars.
How micro-shifts in body language and voice can create macro-shifts in life
Have you ever felt that you intimidate people, or turn them off, although you don’t mean to? Or that you aren’t given the respect or consideration you feel is due? Do people talk over you, or continuously interrupt you?
Or how about that uncomfortable moment when you bump into someone you have fallen out with or an ex you haven’t seen in a while. Are you able to maintain a calm and composed state of mind and body, or do you become stiff, fidgety and awkward? Perhaps your voice shakes and your weight shifts from foot to foot. Can you make steady eye contact or do you wish the ground would swallow you up?
Perhaps you aren’t communicating the status you want to!
Elia Nichols, Public Speaking e Communication Coach
Elia Nichols is a Public Speaking and Communication coach, as well as a television and film actress, who brings twenty years of teaching and coaching experience in speaking and presentation techniques, soft skills, and nonverbal and verbal communication. Elia works with clients to perfect their presence and speaking skills onstage, in the courtroom, classroom, boardroom and onscreen. She believes that charisma is a skill that can be learned and which, once mastered, has the potential to motivate, persuade, inspire, and advance business and personal interests.
Nichols works closely with her clients to develop their speaking and presentation skills, fine-tune their personal and professional appeal, and transform their ability to connect and attract in any setting. Her wide range of services is tailored to each client’s specific needs. With a Master degree in Acting, a tv/stage acting career, and high-level roles in Public and External Relations, Learning and Development, Elia has a strong understanding of the business, academic, and mass media worlds. Thanks to this diverse background, she offers a unique foundation and refreshing approach to communication and an appreciation of her clients’ specific circumstances and objectives.
What does Status have to do with it?
“Status,” says improvisation master Keith Johnstone, “is how important or unimportant you outwardly demonstrate yourself to be.” Johnstone is not referring to one’s socio-economic status, but to what your body language is communicating to others in every moment of the day, and it has a huge effect on how others view you and treat you.
When I was getting my Masters in Acting, we studied status so that we knew how to raise or lower the status of our character depending on who we were speaking to, i.e. raise your status when reprimanding a servant, lower your status when saluting the Queen, or in comedy: lower your status to show that your servant is actually cleverer than you, and raise your status to insult the Queen! It was great fun, but seemed applicable solely to the world of theatre.
But once I left graduate school and entered the “real” world, it occurred to me how much status plays a part in our daily interactions and relationships, both in our professional and personal lives.
Think of your friend who is interesting and intelligent but never has a romantic partner. Sure, he slumps his shoulders and makes little eye contact with others, but inside he’s such a nice guy! He is communicating a low status and doesn’t attract attention, therefore he doesn’t ATTRACT!
What about the director of HR at your company who terrifies you so much that you avoid her at all costs? She’s physically rigid, closed off, and you always feel she’s looking down her nose at you. Sure she’s good at her job, otherwise she wouldn’t be the director, but neither you nor any of your colleagues would want to get a coffee with her before, during or after work! She is communicating a high status and intimidates everyone around her. She’s untouchable. Unreachable. It’s lonely at the top…
Status is something that we play, something that we do
What if I tell you that status is something that we play, something that we do, and not something that we are, and that it can be completely separate from our social and economic status. We all, even unwittingly, play status games with everyone we come across, and that includes our friends. We raise and lower our status depending on our mood, on how we want to feel, and on what we need from others in that moment. This is a critical skill during negotiations, where being able to adjust one’s status accordingly and gain the upper hand might make the difference between sealing the deal or not.
When I, unsolicited, offer my opinion to my friend that Red really isn’t her color!, I am not only inviting her to change her shirt, but I am lowering her status and raising mine, perhaps to make myself feel better.
When a colleague compliments me on a job well done, and I respond, “Oh thanks, but I didn’t do nearly as good a job as you would have,” I am lowering my status and raising my colleague’s, perhaps because I am feeling particularly insecure that day.
Status is something that we play, something that we do, and not something that we are, and that it can be completely separate from our social and economic status
In some situations, we automatically lower our status in order not to stand out. When going down a dark street alone at night, we instinctively lower our gaze, close our shoulders, keep our head down, and walk quickly – literally in an attempt to make ourselves smaller so as not to attrct negative attention. Or when an attractive person walks into the room, we naturally stand taller, raise our chins, and adjust our pose to appear sexier, raising our status to draw them to us.
Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe could “switch” from being a plain Jane getting no attention or recognition into “Marilyn” just by making a subtle interior shift, famously saying to a friend on New York’s Broadway street, “Want to see me become her?” Marilyn was a status expert.
Modify our Status
The good news is, once we are aware of the habitual status we communicate, it is fairly easy to modify our body language to raise or lower our status. This, surprisingly, can bring immediate changes in how others perceive and behave toward us. The ultimate goal is to be like Marilyn and become status experts, raising and lowering our status to improve our relationships with everyone around us and achieve our goals.
How can we do this? Let’s consider what kinesics experts typically agree upon as high status and low status behaviors.
In general, low status people take up as little space as possible. They often make small movements to comfort themselves, called self-adaptors. They play with their hair, rub their face, and readjust their clothes. This communicates nervousness, discomfort or lack of self-control. High status people, on the other hand, take up maximum space and are relatively inactive.
The good news is, once we are aware of the habitual status we communicate, it is fairly easy to modify our body language to raise or lower our status.
Eye contact is important when playing with status. The high status person holds direct and steady eye contact while the low status person makes little to none at all or frequently looks away, appearing shifty-eyed and untrustworthy.
When we consider movement, high status people are focused, quiet, graceful, confident, and direct in their actions and attitude. Whereas lower status people are unsure, nervous, jerky, stiff, tight, and awkward.
Even voice can indicate status. A high status voice is easy to listen to, uses lower pitches, articulates well, and is typically relaxed and fluid in nature. Low status voices can be quiet, mumbling, faltering, and fast, and often high pitched, squeaky, and forced.
How about posture? I bet you can guess. Which status would be seen using a bent, slack, knotted, or stiff posture? Low status, right? While high statuses stand upright and straight but are also free, relaxed, and loose.
Think about your own body language
Now think about your own body language? What do you observe in yourself? What status do you think you are communicating based on how others treat you? Let’s go back to those initial questions?
Do you feel you intimidate people, or turn them off, although you don’t mean to? If so, you need to lower your status. Stand a little less tall, drop your chin, lean into your hip, smile, bring your energy towards the person you are intimidating instead of taking it away, and reduce the distance between you. You’ll quickly feel warmth, more trust and greater interest from that person.
Are you not given the respect or consideration you feel is due? Are you never asked out on a date? If this is the case, you need to raise your status. Take up more physical space, stand taller, make stronger, steadier eye contact, find inner stillness, and use lower pitches when speaking. You’ll quickly see that people take you much more seriously and will find you more appealing.
So next time you find yourself in a situation that isn’t going quite as you wish, try playing around with your status and see if you can turn things around.
Remember that HR director that terrified everyone? She was a real client of mine. After studying her body language on the job, I advised her to lower her status. Specifically, I told her to sink her weight into her hips (instead of standing tall), lean towards people when speaking to them, and smile more often. Within one week, she received two emails from colleagues (who she was certain had previously disliked her!), stating that they appreciated her hard work, that she was such a good listener, and that they were thankful to have her as a colleague.
So next time you find yourself in a situation that isn’t going quite as you wish, try playing around with your status and see if you can turn things around. Those micro-shifts in body language and voice can create macro-shifts in life. It really can be as easy as flicking a switch in your mind.
One final thought. Now that we spend most of our time in virtual meetings instead of in person, you might wonder whether we communicate status virtually. Yes, we do! To communicate confidence and charisma in virtual meetings, use high status behaviors. Keep your shoulders open, use gestures and remember to keep your hands in the screen while doing so, and make strong steady direct eye contact straight into the camera to give the feeling you are looking into your audience’s eyes. Stay away from self-adaptors and a lot of unnecessary movement. You will look self-assured, compelling and your audience will want to listen to you.
Knowing how to communicate is an important, even if you doing it by a video presentation. If you want to improve that here it is my article: 7 tips to transform you video presentation – Elia Nichols
written by Elia Nichols, co-authored by Rebecca Milner
Elia Nichols is a public speaking and communication coach, actress, and professor, who has worked throughout America and Italy and is proud to claim Florence, Italy as her home. Would you like Elia to coach you or your company on how to present well in-person or in live video? For more information or to contact Elia for public speaking lessons, you can reach her here:
Rebecca Milner is a textile designer who loves to tell stories. Drawing inspiration from the world and people around her, she creates imaginary worlds full of patterns, shapes and colors to explore and lose yourself in. In pursuit of her childhood dream, she has made Florence, Italy, her home and is currently working like mad to launch her new business. For updates and to stay tuned, follow her here:
LinkedIn: Rebecca Milner