One of the benefits of networking with people face-to-face vs. online is that you can see their reactions and get a “read” on them. At the same time, they can do the same with you. On the plus side, you can convey your interest and genuineness more easily. On the downside, you have to be more aware than ever about your body language and expressions.
Here are four of the most important components of body language that you need to pay attention to:
- Your posture
The way you stand can communicate how open you are to being approached, your energy level, your professionalism, and even the way you were brought up. Didn’t your mother ever tell you stand up straight?
Make sure you do stand up straight, but not as if you’re in the military. You want to appear open and friendly, not rigid and formal. If you slouch, you may look tired or unenthusiastic. Find a happy medium where you stand up straight with your shoulders back, far enough away from the other person to allow personal space, and with a sense of energy.
- Arm movement
Gestures and where you put your hands when you’re not using them are both elements of body language that communicate different things. Waving your arms around while you talk may seem to portray excitement, but it can also be distracting. Putting your hands in your back pockets may be more casual and comfortable, but it can also look unprofessional. Crossing your arms is also a big no-no in many circles since it communicates a resistance to new ideas.
You may be completely unaware of your common gestures, so ask a friend to pay attention to them during a practice conversation.
- Facial expressions
People will be looking at your face more than anywhere else, so be careful of your facial expressions. If you frown at what someone is saying, they will immediately assume you disagree or disapprove. Worse, someone may capture that on camera or see it from across the room.
Keeping a slight smile on your face is a good habit to practice no matter what situation you’re in. It makes you look warm and friendly – like someone that others would like to meet.
- Eye contact
If there is no other body language you focus on, it should be eye contact. The best networkers use their eyes to communicate the feeling that you are the person they are most interested in at that moment. And never let your eyes drift to other people in the room, as if you’re looking for someone better to talk to.
Practice having a conversation with a friend, preferably in a room full of people, and ask them for feedback afterwards on what your eye contact felt like. Did they feel as if you were not fully engaged? Did they feel like you were “staring them down”?
Now go stand in front of a mirror and practice having a conversation with an imaginary person. Answer and ask questions you might normally talk about in a networking event. As you talk, pay attention to your body language and what you need to work on.