There are more ways than ever to communicate with people and tell your stories. But there is one form of communication and storytelling that’s as old as humanity itself.
Having face-to-face conversations.
You need to be able to communicate with people in person, and a big part of that is body language. Terry Vaughan, an expert in body language, said it’s more important than we may realize.
“Body language is the only form of communication that doesn't stop,” he said. “Even if you're not talking, you're still giving away information about yourself or about your state of mind.”
It’s an important part of communication because it allows you to get a more complete read on people, potentially decoding what they’re saying, or not saying to you. Likewise, your listener can do the same to you. So in order to communicate effectively, it’s important to understand body language.
Every Interaction is an Opportunity
If body language is important in communication, that goes double for business communication. Just about every day, we have to share ideas, persuade bosses, and sell products and services in face-to-face interactions.
Body language, just like the content of our communications, is vital in these situations. But too often, according to Vaughan, we revert back to our electronic devices.
“We have never in human history have we had more information and more data available to us than we do now. Our tech gadgets have become a crutch,” he said, adding that their usefulness can be a detriment to our interpersonal communications. “Because there's so much data and because we can escape so easily to find out any bit of information that we want, that we've become disengaged from the people around us.”
That’s a shame, he continued, because human conversations represent tremendous opportunities for growth and collaboration. “Every interaction that we have, it's an opportunity to learn something.”
Those interactions are also opportunities to gain funding for your project, convince a manager to add staff, or get favorable terms from a vendor. And, most notably, get hired.
“A job interview is one of the most stressful things I think any of us can experience,” said Vaughan. “Being able to connect as well as you can use in body language is going to be beneficial.”
But if you get the body language wrong, either in reading it or displaying it, the results of your interactions are not likely to be favorable.
“If your body language is not congruent with what you're saying, you're undermining everything that you are delivering verbally,” Vaughan continued. “If people are faced with a choice between what they're hearing and then what they're seeing, they'll go with what they're seeing.”
Improving Your Body Language
The good news is, you can work on your body language. You can train yourself to read other people’s signals, and you can make sure you’re giving off the signals you want to, with a little training and practice.
One of the ways Vaughan recommends going into any interaction is to ask yourself three questions.
“What do you expect to see in terms of their body language, their gestures, and their facial expressions? What do you not expect to see? And what if anything is missing?” Vaughan advised.
By having those questions in mind, it’s easier to see signals that are incongruent with the message being delivered. If that’s the case, you can begin to ask yourself what might be causing that incongruity, and you’re well on your way to achieving a better understanding with the person you’re talking to.
Another strategy Vaughan recommends is seeking out opportunities to learn about body language. “Workshops and training are good. Also read as many books as you can get your hands on,” he said, adding that body language is a skill that is learned and honed over time.
But absent formal training, Vaughan recommends going back to the three questions, and just making sure you’re in the moment of every interaction, instead of looking at your phone. “Anchor yourself in the actual interaction at the exact moment,” he said. “Stay present and anchored in that moment in that communication. You'll learn more doing that and I think just about any other way.”
Aside from being able to have more meaningful, productive conversations, studying body language and being aware of the signals people give you has another benefit, according to Vaughan.
“You’ll get better at your own body language,” he said. “You’ll be more aware of the signals you send out, and you’ll be able to get your points across.”
Improving Mass Communication
In most forms of mass communication – social media, digital marketing, advertising – body language is typically not a factor. Also, those forms of communication allow you to reach a lot more people than in-person conversations or even presentations.
But body language is actually much more important than those ratios might indicate.
First, just about every communication strategy and every communication tactic starts with an idea and that's an idea that needs to be communicated to somebody else who needs to be persuaded to pay for that idea to be executed.
Also, there are a lot of parallels between in-person communication and mass communication. Storytelling is all about appealing to the human element. As Vaughan said, it's about engaging with someone, exchanging ideas and learning from them and hopefully them learning from you.
It's a human exchange, and it's about being empathetic to your audience so you can communicate more effectively. All of those things make mass communication more effective. So the better you are at communicating in person, the better you are at reaching your audience on a human level.
That’s what makes for good storytelling.