Those making forays into the wide world of self-employment find they are suddenly responsible for everything from company vision to office maintenance. But the most demanding of daily tasks is winning new work and forging relationships with clients. Selling takes energy, charm and a dash of cunning. But first, it takes the right gesture.
Don’t just say it
Freelancers looking to win business from new clients face a challenging repeat task. That is, undertaking a job interview-type meeting each time they’re looking to win a new client. The art of the pitch becomes the most vital skill. Doing the job might be one thing, convincing those with a grip on the purse strings that you can do it is another matter.
Mike Carter is the UK’s leading body language coach and has spent the last 20 years advising executives, medical professionals and educators on how to come off well under scrutiny. Apparently, preparing what you’re going to say heading into a meeting isn’t so vital as thinking about how you’re going to be.
“When we communicate, 80% of interaction is non-verbal,” says Carter. “The trick is ensuring that your verbal message doesn’t conflict with your body language. You can take control of a room by speaking very little, but through holding yourself and expressing authority through body language. It can also help defuse difficult situations.”
Projecting an image of calm and competence isn’t about power posing, manspreading or adopting the mannerisms (or wardrobe) of Don Draper. Instead, hustling freelancers can learn from police, airline pilots and doctors, all of whom are trained to breathe deeply through the diaphragm when imparting information. Panic is infectious, but so is calm, according to Carter, and calm, in interviews is a good thing.
“Airline pilots are briefed to breathe deeply before they make announcements to passengers,” he says. “The way they relay information we know that the pilot is relaxed, in control and everything is absolutely fine. And if everything wasn’t, you’d hear it in their shallow breathing.”
Feet and hands
In high pressure scenarios, most people exhibit signs of inner stress, observable in foot tapping, hand-wringing or general fidgeting. Exhibitions of nervous energy need to be curbed in order to make a good impression and not distract from the message you’re trying to impart. Carter has two golden rules: keep your feet planted on the ground and make sure your hands are in plain sight.
“When your feet are planted on the ground, then you are physically and metaphorically grounded. This is helpful when you need to come across with authority and credibility,” he says. “Obscuring your hands implies a lack of credibility. Hands in pockets, up sleeves, folded arms are all implicit red flags to people you’re working with. Keep them on show.”
Read, project and feel
Non-verbal communication is a complex system of meaning-making where we are at once broadcasting our intentions, aspect and demeanor while recognizing signs from others. Crucially though is how our own body language makes us feel. This fact is a simple route to success in an interview or pitch situation.
“Identify the character you want to be identified as. Perhaps the interviewer is looking for someone who is be in control, super confident, hyper-aware,” says Carter. “Or a team player, a people person to complement their team. Pre-visualize how you want to come across.”
Five tips for non-verbal comms
- Do the prep. Everyone thinks about what they want to say during a meeting, give equal forethought to what you want your body language to say.
- Breathe. Imagine you are a veteran airline pilot purring reassuringly into the tannoy on a routine flight.
- Show your hand(s). Don’t fidget, pick or gesticulate wildly, but make sure your hands are on show. Hiding them implies that you’re intimidated – or worse – hiding something.
- Plant the feet. Having both feet firmly on the floor while standing or sitting gives an impression of sincerity and gravitas.
- Don’t mirror. Trying to mimic the posture or gestures of the person you’re addressing gets confusing. Stick to the basics and concentrate on getting your points across.
About the author
A journalist with over a decade of experience working with think-tanks and major news publications, Peter’s writing examines global affairs, business, technology and society. Formerly news editor with global media brand Monocle, Peter headed up its daily output and commissioned across the company’s flagship magazine and weekly papers. Prior to that Peter worked at business think tank The Future Laboratory, running a research team designed to analyse how consumer behaviours translate to market opportunities for some of the world’s biggest brands.Read more of Peter's writing