Effective verbal communication skills are essential for career success. You may have a positive attitude and excellent technical skills, but if you are unable to do a good job of projecting that energy and confidence to your audience, you will not make a favorable impression.

It is not only what you say, but how you say it. Non-verbal communication, or body language, also impacts your audience.

Research indicates how three types of communication affect your audience: verbal communication is 10 percent of the total impact; voice quality is 40 percent of the total; and non-verbal makes up the remaining 50 percent.

Consider the example of Mike, who was about to be interviewed for a project manager’s job in his company. He researched the job and prepared himself for the interview. He felt positive about his chances. During the interview, he appeared relaxed and confident until the interviewer asked him why he wanted to change jobs. His verbal response was logical, but the interviewer noticed that, as Mike answered the question, he shifted in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. Mike’s unconscious non-verbal signals sent a message to the interviewer that perhaps there was more to the story.

As it turned out, Mike had been having problems with his boss and was afraid he was about to lose his job.

Analyzing body language is a complex process and no one gesture or response can be universally interpreted. Looking away from a person during a conversation, for example, may not always indicate nervousness or shiftiness. It may instead be a way of gathering your thoughts.

Nevertheless, you should be aware of how people typically interpret certain non-verbal behaviors so that you will be sensitive to how others may interpret your responses in an interview situation.

To project a positive non-verbal image, try to visualize yourself as a poised, competent and enthusiastic person and you will probably communicate that image to your audience. Have a pleasant facial expression and make good eye contact with your audience. Do not slouch or fidget. If you are tense, your body language will reflect it.

Another important consideration for interviews is your personal image. There is an old saying that it takes only 10 to 15 seconds to create a first impression and a lifetime to undo it if it is a negative one.

There are several things to pay attention to that affect your personal image:

  • Make your first 10 words count. The best way to start an interview is to send a “thanks” message, e.g., “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me this morning, Mr. Williams.” Be sure to refer to the person by name if possible.
  • Tune into others. Make eye contact and smile. If you act friendly and confident, others will respond positively.
  • Walk with a purpose. Move with vigor and vitality. Don’t walk like you are about to collapse.
  • Be impeccably groomed. Your professional attire will strongly affect the impression you make.

You can also make a bad impression in other ways:

  • Sloppy language. Do not use slang such as “you guys” or incorrect language such as “irregardless.”
  • Using lazy words. You may have a master’s degree in computer science, but if you use sloppy phrases like “you know” and “got it”, you will lose credibility.
  • Giggling. Many people laugh or giggle to hide their anxiety or discomfort in a stressful situation. Don’t do it.
  • Hiding your hands. If you have a tendency to gesticulate wildly, don’t solve the problem by putting your hands in your pockets. Using your hands to make a point is perfectly acceptable as long as you don’t overdo it. Hiding your hands in your pocket can be perceived as sneaky.
  • Inappropriate touching. You may shake hands with people, but any other type of touching can be misinterpreted and considered offensive.
  • Gum chewing. Absolutely not under any circumstances.
  • Throat clearing. Constantly clearing your throat can be very distracting to your audience. Try to swallow quietly if you must.

Observe your non-verbal communication skills to the best of your ability and change any actions that may be construed to make a bad impression. The last thing you want is for the excellent verbal skills you possess to be overtaken by distracting non-verbal actions.

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