Human interaction is at the heart of work. Its impact is everywhere – from process to productivity, outcome and enjoyment. Unless, of course, you’re a hermit.
Despite its centrality, that interaction can often feel unpredictable, ineffective and draining. After all, you can never guarantee someone else’s behaviour. You can, however, ensure your own is more influential, clear and effective.
Below are five tools to help you make the impact you choose in your daily interactions. Yes, they take practice, but they can make a crucial difference – particularly if you’re leading change. Either way, they’ll help you achieve your outcomes without wasting time and energy. No need to become a hermit, then.
1. Don’t look down!
Look up, make eye contact, then begin. Taking that moment to connect tells people you're fully present – and that your contribution is worth their attention. This is particularly useful in presentations and when opening meetings. Good eye contact also signals that you’re engaged with their response.
It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many of us launch straight in, without first establishing a connection. In so doing we risk throwing away our words on a distracted audience, silently dismissing their contribution, and reducing our impact.
2. Stand your ground
Yep, even if you’re seated. If you’re standing, keep your feet hip-width apart. Feel the ground through your feet. Resist the urge to drop one hip or place your weight on one leg. Again, obvious enough, but not always easy to avoid in the moment. If you’re sitting, feel the ground evenly through both feet. It can be tricky in a skirt, but worth doing whenever possible.
Feeling the ground through your feet does what it says on the tin; it helps you feel more grounded and present. It also stabilises your posture, preventing you either feeling or looking like you’re in 'fight or flight'. And that in turn creates a more powerful presence.
3. Abdominal breathing
Imagine a pair of bellows. As the air goes in, they expand; as it leaves, they contract. The same idea applies to abdominal breathing, ideally through a slightly open mouth. As you breathe into the bottom of the lungs the abdomen expands; as you breathe out it contracts. The most important thing, however, is to breathe out first!
Breathing is critical both to how you feel we’re perceived and how you are perceived – influencing how you behave and others respond. Most people take shallow breaths and/or hold their breath, particularly when nervous or challenged. Abdominal breathing reverses this so you operate more effectively. It also helps you speak more clearly and avoid swallowing words. You’ll feel better, be perceived more positively, and imbue your words with the impact you intend.
4. Take the space
Being aware of the space around you – above, below, in front and behind – can transform the impact of your presence. Unfold into that space. Release your arms from your sides. Broaden your shoulders away from your ears. And keep your feet hip-width apart. Hunched shoulders, crossed arms and a caved chest don’t just restrict breathing and create tension. They also make you physically smaller – impacting on your personal presence and suggesting that you don't want to be there.
So take the space, expand into it, occupy it. Your posture will improve. Your chest will open and you'll breathe more easily. You’ll create a stronger presence. And you'll signal to others that you are ready to be seen and to engage.
5. Channel your inner ventriloquist
Okay, not really – but imagining that the stomach (venter) is powering your speech (loqui) can help you project without straining or shouting.
Most people reach forward with their head and neck when they want to be heard. Bring them back instead so they’re aligned with your spine. Relax the throat – it will tense if you shout – and, when you speak, engage your lower abdominals. Projection can take some practice, and works best in conjunction with the other tools. Once cracked, however, you'll deliver your ideas with impact. It's also brilliant sore throat prevention in noisy pubs!
Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.