Management guru Peter Drucker famously said: "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."
From the minute you walk in to the very end of your interactions, potential clients and business partners you meet will carefully observe you to decipher if there is anything about your actions that does not match with what you are saying. Read on for some good tips to convince them that you are worthy of their trust.
It is normal to get tense before an important meeting or event. However, this may give others in the room an impression of fear and diffidence.
Leadership coach Carol Kinsey Goman advises you to take a deep breath before you go in. Exhale through your mouth, letting out the pent-up stress. This will help you calm down.
2. Greet and seat
Much has been said about a strong handshake, as it is the established way of greeting business partners you already know or introducing yourself to new ones. Accompany this with a friendly but not overly familiar manner. Always make it a point to remember new names and faces. However, never seem like you are sizing people up.
Hand out business cards whenever required. When introductions are done, seat yourself but do not make it look like you are grabbing someone’s chair.
3. Be mindful of posture
The way you sit or stand as well as place your arms and legs will be interpreted by others in the room. Your posture should convey that you are alert, attentive and open to discussion. Crossed arms or legs may send out negative signals. Leaning back can indicate you are trying to get some perspective on a problem, while leaning in can show your counterpart you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work on the issues at hand. Obviously, one should not slouch, or give an impression of exhaustion or boredom.
4. Listen and talk
Listen to everything that is being said. Make periodic eye contact, but don’t stare. Contribute as quickly as you can once the meeting has started. If you are seen tuning in and out of the conversation, other attendees will feel you are focused on your interests alone. Similarly, if you listen passively, without any affirmative body language or verbal input, you will be seen as mentally absent.
Tone of voice and choice of words are important too. Be concise, polite and even firm if required. However, never interrupt or outshout anyone.
5. Hold an audience
If you are making a presentation, a lot of the same guidelines apply. Your posture should be alert, while relaxed. Moving and standing still can be used effectively to take the audience through a key point or drive it home. Hand gestures are known to aid communication.
Also stay receptive to how your talk is being received. Explain technical terms and provide relevant examples so that you keep the audience interested. Remain ready to learn. The podium might be yours for the moment, but everyone will have a thought to lend and you need to listen to make the discussion fruitful.
6. Watch the signals
Throughout a business meeting, others will give you clear or subtle signs of their feelings and intentions. Twirling a pencil or swinging a foot means they are not seriously interested. Looking at the door or fidgeting means they are ready to leave. Restless feet indicate anxiety. Observe carefully and respond appropriately to these cues.
7. Try to be sensitive
It would serve you well to understand and respect customs specific to a group or environment. A business partner from an older generation will expect more formality than one’s peers, while a meeting with potential partners from a blue-chip firm is unlikely to involve backslapping unless you have known them for a really long time.
Across cultures, behaviour deemed harmless by you may not be viewed similarly by someone from another country. Stay informed about these unspoken rules. If possible, research before a meeting about the attendees and their cultural and organisational backgrounds.
8. Trust your gut
With so much information out there, there’s a chance you could get really confused about how to carry yourself at meetings and events. While it is good to be in the know, it is equally important to rely on one’s instincts.
When it comes to your own actions, also don’t let go of your originality and spontaneity. While observing others, remember you have the time to react wisely because their body language only conveys intent, not decision.
From being sensitive to the context to making a favourable impression, enough can’t be said about the importance of comportment at business gatherings. A perfect balance may take a bit of time and practice, but it is very achievable. You can get there by constantly observing yourself over occasions and intelligently interpreting feedback from colleagues and associates.