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How to tell the room you’re a strong leader

Portrait of a businessman sitting at office

Whether you’re a C-suite executive or not, there are going to be times when you want to have the aura of leadership about you. There are several pieces to this puzzle, from speaking with confidence, the choices you make, how you dress, and of course body language. We’re going to focus on body language in this article as it’s not totally straight forward; you can’t simply go from power stance to power stance. If you do, at best you’ll come off as aloof and heartless, at worst, you’ll look downright silly. You need to balance authority with being warm and welcoming.

Eye contact
We’ve all been told to make eye contact, but there is a little more to it than that. Too much eye contact and you will come off overly aggressive, like a wolf staring at his dinner, too little and you will seem deceptive and dishonest. You need the Goldilocks effect. Make eye contact with the triangular area that is the eyes and forehead. This will allow you to look them in the eye but also look away without actually looking away!


Too much eye contact and you will come off overly aggressive,
like a wolf staring at his dinner

On pointing
Ever notice how presidents and prime ministers often point with the entirety of their open hand or by using their thumb and closed fist? There’s a reason for that. A study on jurors found that pointing with a single finger came off as aggressive and made the jurors uncomfortable. Meanwhile, pointing with the whole hand gave off an air of authority that was comforting. Give it a go now, try pointing at an imaginary person with both a single finger and your whole hand; which one feels aggressive and which one feels more welcoming?

Merkel and her glued fingers

Steepling
Similar to above, once this has been pointed out you’ll notice presidents and prime minsters do this all the time. Angela Merkel does it so much that people have made jokes that someone put superglue on the tips of her fingers. The reason is simply that it makes you look confident when talking and that you are genuinely listening when they are talking.

The growing smile
This is one of my favorites. Don’t just flash a smile. Instead let it start small and grow slowly and steadily. Doing so will make your smiles seem more genuine and more powerful; the other person is much more likely to ‘feel’ it. However, use this sparingly, too much smiling will make you look weak.

Power of pausing
I’ve mentioned this before as a way to engage others when you speak, but it’s also important for your ability to command a room. Speaking slowly and using pauses will give you an air of authority over both your subject matter and the room.

Move around
If you’re presenting, don’t stay locked in one place. Walk around a little, talk from one side of the projector, then from the other side. Don’t do a lap of the whole board room or try to max out your Fitbit, but talking from multiple areas over the course of a presentation will engage the room more and make you look more energetic. It will also make you look more confident (think of the nervous guy who just stands in one place and reads through his notes quickly) as well as position you as more of an “alpha male” by virtue of simply using more space.

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