The Right Body Language for Professional Networking Success

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Body language is an important part of your approach to networking

The Right Body Language for Professional Networking Success

body language and networking success

Have you ever noticed how much more you do than just listen when you're in a conversation with someone? Chances are you're also tracking eye contact, watching the person's hands, and maybe picking up on a quirk or two. It's not surprising we do these things! Back in the 60s, a professor at UCLA performed an important study on body language that is still the crux of our understanding. Today, we're breaking down what everyone should know about body language, social cues, factional expressions and how managing your own body language is one of a few overlooked networking skills. That's right: your networking skills will improve just by reading this post!

Body Language by the Numbers

Let's look at the numbers behind why body language is so important at everything from a job interview to networking event.

  • The 7-38-55 Rule. The study from UCLA referenced above found that people find it easier to understand a message when the body language, including eye contact and physical cues, accompanying it match the message. People rely on what the speaker's body is doing when they're speaking. Essentially, 7% of a message is communicated verbally, 38% through nonverbal communication and 55% through visual communication.
  • What makes up that 38% of nonverbal behaviors? Nonverbal communication includes expressions, hand gestures, and eye contact. Interestingly, it also accounts for pitch and tone. For example, when someone's voice goes up in pitch at the end of a sentence, it's interpreted as asking a question or being unsure.
  • Visual communication makes up 55% of our interpretation, but is often moot. Chances are when you're at a networking event, you're experiencing the words someone is saying and their body language, but not visual cues. These are graphics, colors and symbols and are the biggest way we gain insight into what is being said.

Improve Your Communication Skills by Aligning Body Language

The body doesn't lie. If you're speaking authentically, and feeling comfortable, your body language will communicate the verbal content you're sharing.

There are many things that can hinder your body language. Getting distracted by someone walking in, feeling anxious about the topic or even just being overwhelmed by the number of people at a networking event might change the social cues you're putting out.

Paying attention to how you're feeling, what you're saying and your body language is easy to do with a little practice. The key is to remain present in what you're doing and check in with your body.

To Boost Your Confidence, Assume a Power Pose

Fakin' it 'til you make it: we've all done this! If you find that you walk into a situation where you're feeling less than confident, simply changing your stance can shift your perspective.

By controlling your posture, stance and position, you can make a positive impression by coming across as confident. As people look to you as the expert or an authority you're likely to feel more comfortable and communicate your message better.

The trick is understanding power poses, and the key to understanding them is thinking about space, and the space you're giving yourself.

Having space at the table, both literally and figuratively, is vital for a speaker. If you are hunched, crossing your arms or doing something else to minimize the space you're taking up, it will communicate, nonverbally, that you are diminished in your position. No matter how much you know what you're talking about and how well you speak about it, those listening will be focused on the 38% of your communication that is telegraphing, "I'm not feeling confident!" Sadly, this can be interpreted as, "I don't know what I'm talking about."

Taking up appropriate space, by moving into a power pose, positions you as a person worth listening to.

To assume a power pose, open your stance, lean toward your audience and tilt your chin up slightly.

Do not use this posture to assert power or during an argument, it's likely to raise the stake (and hackles) of others. Power, in this case, is about feeling your best and confident in what you're discussing.

body language is important to think about when networking

Angling Your Body is an Important Social cue

When making new professional connections, it's important to engage fully. In addition to locking eyes, angle your body toward the person to whom you're listening.

Everyone who is taking the risk to speak at a networking event, wants to be heard. A simple way to build relationships and deepen connection is to use nonverbal cues to show you're listening. Always turn toward the person who is speaking, even slightly by angling your hips or pointing your feet at them.

Especially when speaking to someone in a lower position or who is new to the group, this deferential move shows you're there to listen and learn from everyone.

This is also a great way to discover if you're making someone uncomfortable or boring them. Look at the feet of people you're speaking with. If they're pointing toward you, keep going. If they're pointing away it may be time to wrap it up!

Practice Your Hand Gestures

Many of us love talking with our hands. Some of us can't even control it.

We're here to tell you that if you're a wild gesticulator, it's time to get it under control.

While great for storytelling, when building professional connections, you don't want to distract from your point. Instead of using your arms, stick to containing movement to your hands.

Studies have found that wild arm movements can distract from your points. Gestures are a valuable form of nonverbal cue, but they should be used only as necessary.

A Note on Pointing

Work has gone global, so it's important to factor into your body language how others might interpret it. In many cultures throughout the world, it is considered rude to point to someone, especially with the index finger. Make a habit of not pointing in a professional setting to avoid alienating someone unintentionally.

Body Language for a Great First Impression

When it comes to making a great first impression, there are some easy things you can do.

Smile! But Don't ask Others to

A smile is universal and communicates a welcoming, open space. Some people naturally smile while for others their face is more neutral or even negative.

Ask people around you what your face looks like most of the time (we know, this is a weird question). Partners, family, roommates... There are people who see you all the time and can tell you if you're smiley or scowly. Whatever your natural face is, it's okay.

But when it comes to networking skills, you'll want to practice putting on a smile before entering a room.

Whatever you do, do not ask or tell other attendees to smile at a networking event. This is one of the quickest ways, no matter what your body language is communicating, to get someone to walk away. Worry about your body language and what it communicates, not others.

smiling is an important part of body language

Master Your Handshake

We're going to get weird again, but practice your handshake!

Handshakes don't come naturally to most of us, so it's important to get a sense of how you're doing. The great thing is you'll learn quickly how you're doing and how to improve.

A firm, but not painful, handshake is key. Firmness is more about trust. No one wants to shake a floppy hand! On a similar note, no one wants to shake a clammy or wet hand, so pay attention to how your hands are feeling.

Handshakes are a time when you should definitely pay attention to social cues. Some people do not like to shake hands for various reasons. In some cases, you'll get a networking event invite that even says, "It's cold and flu season so we're skipping the handshakes!"

If someone reaches out, go ahead and give it a go. But if you hold out yours and it's not immediately taken, pull it back and don't react.

Maintain the Right Amount of Eye Contact

An important part of body language is not only doing certain things, but also knowing how much to do them, and for how long.

This is a great example of social cues that can be overdone.

The trick is knowing how much to make and the duration.

Experts agree on a 50/70 rule. 50% of the time that you're speaking, you should maintain contact. When you're listening, you should maintain eye contact 70% of the time.

This does not, of course, mean that you should maintain this contact in one block. Instead make contact for 4-5 seconds at a time.

Mirroring is an Easy way to Communicate Agreement

Active listening is more than just nodding and saying "yes" or "hmmm." These verbal cues can be distracting to the speaker and others.

Instead, try mirroring.

Mirroring is mimicking gestures of a speaker. If someone is nodding as they say something, a similar, gentle nod shows that you're not simply listening but agreeing with them.

One thing to avoid when it comes to mirroring, is head shaking. No matter what they are saying, shaking your head will appear to the speaker, and others, as if you're disagreeing.


When mirroring a speaker you're listening to, it's also a great bit of body language to lean toward them.

Leaning toward someone shows that you're engaged and interested and that you want to hear their perspective. It is a slightly deferential posture that makes speakers more comfortable, especially if they are anxious about the interaction.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions can help others interpret social cues. These can also be some of the hardest parts of body language to control because we can't see our own faces.

Just like you'll want to practice a firm handshake, ask for feedback on your face and facial expressions. This writer, for example, always smiles when reading. It's a natural reflex completely out of her control. She has to be aware of this when asked to read something upsetting, shocking, or anything but happy.

She's learned to lead her head down when handed anything to read and to also place a hand against her lower face. This looks like concentration and covers the reflexive smile.

Find out what your face does when, and take time to pay attention to it then. Someone in your life is going to be happy to tell you what unique facial expressions you make and when

Having Difficulty Reading Social Cues?

Something important to keep in mind is that body language and social cues vary. For example, if you are an American engaging with someone from Asia, you may find it difficult to read the specific ways in which their body language differs from yours.

Paying attention is important, but also remember that many things influence body language and, especially when dealing with people from another culture, they may interact very differently.

Listen to tone, assess things intrinsic to humans (like the position of their feet) instead of how long they lock eyes, and you'll be fine!

3 Tips to Get Better at Networking Using Body Language

Understanding how people use their bodies, often unknowingly, to express comfort, whether they're interested and their level agreement will improve your networking skills.

  1. Keep an eye on people's feet. It's probably time to cede the floor to someone else or perhaps tone down your approach if you notice people's feet start to turn away.
  2. Enter with a smile. Approaching people, entering a room, and generally keeping a smile on your face makes you easier to approach at networking events and in other professional situations.
  3. Learn your quirks. Find out what things your body language communicates that people notice and adjust and be aware accordingly.

Key Takeaways

Your body language will make a great first impression if you incorporate it subtly, align it with what you're saying, and use a blend of physical cues to engage with others.

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