Gazetiquette: The Art of Body Language

05 Apr 2016

You can tell within the first seven seconds of meeting someone how she feels about herself by the expression on her face and the way she moves her body.  Whether she knows it or not, she’s transmitting messages through gestures and actions. (This goes for gentlemen too, of course).



You walk into a room of strangers and from their stance, movements and expressions, you receive messages about their feelings, moods, attitudes and emotions. Look at the teenage girl standing in the corner.  From her slouching shoulders, her lowered head and the way her hands fidget over her stomach, you can tell that this little wallflower is lacking in self-confidence. 


Another young woman in this room of strangers is standing in a group of contemporaries.  Her eyes twinkle, she throws her head back as she laughs, her hands and arms move freely and openly and her feet are planted firmly beneath her, hip width apart.  This woman is projecting an image of self-confidence and “joie de vivre” (exuberance and enjoyment of life) that draws people to her.  


How you position your head, shoulders, torso, arms, hands, legs and feet, and how your eyes, mouth, fingers and toes move, tell an observer more about your state of being, including your attitude, emotions, thoughts and feelings, than any words you can say.  


Here are some gestures that can say a lot, even though you may never think about how they affect the way others perceive you.


Commonly faked gestures:

  • Smiling 
  • Frowning
  • Sighing
  • Crying 
  • Holding your body as if in pain


Micro gestures:

  • Movement around the mouth
  • Tension at the eyes 
  • Flaring of the nose


Displacement Gestures (Feeling Awkward):

  • Fiddling with objects
  • Tugging at your earlobe
  • Straightening your clothes
  • Stroking your chin
  • Running fingers through hair
  • Eating
  • Smoking


Universal Gestures

  • Smiling
  • Blushing
  • Crying 
  • Shrugging


Anticipating Movement / Gesture Awareness

  • Spotting the subtle gestures a person makes in preparation for rising from a seated position
  • Recognizing when a person is about to strike out in anger gives you enough time to protect yourself and others
  • Feeling your dancing partner shift his weight indicates that a change in movement is about to occur. 


Did you ever meet someone that you just like immediately?  I call them “Labradors.”  Just like Labradors, these type of people are always so happy to see you, listen to all your stories, laugh, smile and enjoy your company.  All of their gestures say they are happy, confident, and glad to be alive – and at that moment, interested in you.  You can imagine this person being your best friend…but they are this way with everyone! And it’s sincere!  They make you feel happy, important, more secure and confident with yourself.  It’s like sunshine on a rainy day. 

But how do they do that?  You'll know if you pay attention the next time you meet a Labrador.  They make it all about YOU.  They are interested, sincerely interested.  They are friendly, warm, and open in their gestures.  Their manners are impeccable.  They listen when you speak, look you in the eye and they are eager to hear more.  They are happy and confident and it is contagious.  No one is saying that you have to be a Labrador, but if you understand how it works, and you make it your own, you can become the person everyone wants to be around, but more importantly, the real you and a person you can be proud of. 

So, now we know a little about body language, but what gestures are most important for you to be aware of in your own presentation? If you want to look confident, (even when you are feeling a little unsure of yourself), use these tips to feel better about yourself and shine.  Remember, you only have 7 seconds to make a first impression!

Meeting People: 

Be sure you do the following when meeting someone new:

  • Stand
  • Make Eye Contact
  • Smile
  • Introduce
  • Shake Hands (learn to shake hands well. Lock thumbs, solid grip, 2-3 pumps – men and women shake the same way; shaking a lady’s hand like a dead fish is not dainty, it’s just plain wrong)

Make people feel welcome!

  • Introduce yourself
  • Introduce them to others in your group
  • When someone tries to join your group conversation, be the one to make eye contact and get them involved in the conversation
  • Remember people’s names – it makes them feel important



  • Listen to the person’s name when they are introduced to you, repeat it in your head a few times, and use it right away to help you remember it. “Hello, Justin, very nice to meet you.”  Nothing is sweeter to someone than the sound of their name…so use it, make them feel good.
  • Look at the person when they are talking to you; don’t veer your eyes away
  • Nod occasionally to acknowledge you are understanding and listening
  • Ask open ended questions – instead of saying, “Do you like the buffet at this event?” (where the answer could be “yes” or “no”), say, “What was your favorite part of the buffet?” This allows conversation to unfold.
  • Ask questions of the person with whom you are speaking. It’s more important to ask about them, not talk about yourself. 
  • Never fold your arms, sigh, roll your eyes, pretend to be listening, play with your hair, tug at your clothes, look around for others to speak to, interrupt or be a one-upper. Listen with respect.  If you want to leave the conversation, be appropriate and say, “Hey Justin, it was great speaking with, I’m going to say hello to a few people I haven’t seen.  Please enjoy the party.”
  • When you come into a group of people who are already conversing, go up to the group and look at the person speaking. If someone makes eye contact with you, just nod, wait for the person to finish speaking and introduce yourself to someone in the group.  Or make a comment to what you just heard.  You could say, “That’s an interesting point you just made!  Hello, my name is Robin, very nice to meet you.”  And before you know it, you are meeting the entire group. 
  • Remember, when two people are speaking and their feet are facing each other toe to toe…they are in a good conversation…walking up to those two may make you feel a little insecure, like you are intruding. Go for the people who are alone, or show body language that they are bored, and go introduce yourself.  Say, “So, are you having a good time?” Break the ice.  Introduce yourself, and ask an open ended question.
  • Remember – always make others feel like the VIP. It’s all about them.  Just like you, everyone worries too much about how they look, what people think of them, and talk about themselves, etc.  Be different…be the one who already KNOWS they look great, SHOW your confidence by smiling and carrying yourself with good posture and a smile.  Most important – MAKE YOUR CONVERSATION ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON.  Don’t talk about yourself.  You’ll be the most liked person there.

Pay attention to your body language.  Walk tall, stand straight, smille and be positive, and you will be very popular.  People are attracted to confidence.  Make sure your presentation says you are a confident, happy, well-adjusted individual.  Dress to impress, even in casual clothes, be thoughtful that you present in a clean and caring fashion.  It may not be fair that we are judged by our appearance, but it is true.  It is also true that confident smiling people make more money!


Make sure your 7 seconds of making an impression on someone is a positive one…every time! 


For more information on body language, presentation, etiquette skills or dining, contact Etiquette Manor Alabama, a division of Pinpoint Marketing Team, LLC.  Corporate Training Programs and Social / Dining Skills Training Available.

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Robin Wells

I have been working for over three decades in marketing, customer service and corporate image consulting. I have been around long enough to have learned important lessons from the greatest leaders (and continue to), while still being able to bring passion, energy and creativity to my work. For my clients, it’s a great blend. My experience and my variety of clients over those thirty years, have made the "getting it done", better than anyone else, my reputation. There is nothing I can't do for my client - whatever it takes. And my team and network of professionals know that only too well - and deliver everytime.


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Birmingham Post-Herald (BPH) is Birmingham, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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