How to Speak Through Your Body Language

To command a room, you need to give the instant impression of being at the top of the heap. Body language can do that—but only with the right physical vocabulary. When we nod, smile too easily and keep our hands in our laps, as women have been socialized to do, we convey deference, not dominance, says Larissa Tiedens, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Worried that projecting yourself assertively will earn you a bad rap? Interestingly, power expressed through body language tends not to carry the same negative implications for women as power expressed more directly. “Backlash against assertive women is more likely and more extreme when the assertive behavior is verbal,” says Tiedens

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Take Up Space

“Expanded body posture is the most reliable way to convey dominance,” says Tiedens. “When sitting, don’t cross your legs, don’t press your legs together, don’t keep your hands in your lap.” Instead, plant your feet on the floor and your arms on the table. (If your legs will be visible, wear pants or a long-enough skirt.)


Mark Your Territory

If you’re not dressed to sprawl, expand above the waist: Lean forward in your chair and put papers and a cup of coffee in front of you, says Dee Soder, founder of the CEO Perspective Group, an executive advisory firm. This is also a good strategy if you’re short.

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Look Bigger Standing

To occupy maximum space, keep your hands on your hips or your arms outstretched; stand with one foot forward (the way models pose). No arm crossing, shoulder slumping or spine curling.

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Stop Being Such An Active Listener

Women often reassure others through their body language. Don’t. Hold your head straight, not tilted to one side, and refrain from smiling frequently or nodding your assent to every comment.


Embrace The Big Gesture

The larger the room, the bigger your gestures should be, says executive coach Karen Friedman. Select a few places in a speech to underscore a point. A clenched fist, for example, can convey determination and conviction. Or use a prompting move; if you want listeners to applaud, start clapping yourself.


Ditch The Props

Lecterns prevent people from connecting with you. Walk the stage, stopping periodically to emphasize your argument.

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Grab Your Group's Eyeballs

If you’re having trouble getting people’s attention at a meeting, start talking and get up for coffee. Or tap your pen. All eyes will be drawn to you, says Soder.


Stop Scanning The Room

You’ll look insecure. If the group is small, make eye contact with each person for three seconds, says Nancy Ancowitz, a business-communication coach. With a larger audience, divide the room into quadrants and make eye contact with someone toward the front, back, left and right.

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Work on your pacing, pitch and inflection by reading a newspaper article on video. Play it back and analyze your performance.

Next: 5 Female Execs Share They Command a Room

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First published in the March 2014 issue

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