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Practice Management > Building Your Business

9 Body Language Do's and Don'ts For Meeting With Clients And Prospects

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If you’re sure you’ve been saying all the right things but still can’t close the deal with prospects, author Sharon Sayler suggests you consider what you’ve really been saying to potential customers — not just verbally, but nonverbally. She explains while you might be saying, “I’m the person who can help you with your life insurance needs,” the message you’re conveying through your body might be very different.

Words are only a small part of communication. The most influential parts of communication are your nonverbal. And in an ideas-based economy, like the one we have today, your ability to influence others and get them to really listen to you is what sets you apart from the majority in your profession. Your nonverbals play an important role in making that happen.

True communication goes beyond words, and great communicators use every tool they have to deliver their message. When you have control of your nonverbal language, you can communicate confidence with passion, persuasion, credibility and candor — factors that help you soar above your competition in the business world.

Read on for a few nonverbal do’s and don’ts:

1. DON’T fill the air with um, ah, uh and you know. It is natural to pause when you speak — it gives you a chance to breathe. What’s not natural is to fill the silent pause with um, ah, uh, you know and other sounds. Verbal pauses are distracting and muddle what you are trying to say because the audience sees you searching for the next words. Meaningless extra syllables or words make you look less intelligent. Your message will be more effective once you eliminate them. This may take practice.

2. DON’T use the fig-leaf pose. By placing your hands to cover the groin region, you’re making yourself look visually smaller. When you place your hands in the fig-leaf pose, your body says, ‘I’m harmless,’ or, ‘I’m afraid.’ Not exactly the way to convey the level of confidence a client wants to see.

3. DO use hand gestures systematically. When we use only words to convey our message, we make it necessary for our audience to pay close attention to what we say. Using gestures systematically, especially when giving directions or teaching, makes the audience less dependent on the verbal part of the presentation. The visual reminder created by gestures allows the listener two ways to remember: auditory and visual. It thereby increases the likelihood of accurate recall.

4. DON’T put your hands in your pockets. Thumbs hanging off the pockets and hands deep in both pockets both say something similar to the fig leaf hand gesture: “Geez, I hope you like me.” Hands deep in the pockets jingling change say one of two things, depending on context: “Geez, I’m nervous and hope you like me,” or, “Geez, I’m so bored. Is this ever going to be over?” Thumbs tucked in the waistband usually say, “I am staking my territory,” which is a gesture of power, not influence. Thumbs displayed while the hands are tucked in the pockets say, “I know I am superior, and I believe I have dominance.” Pockets and waistbands are not a good place to rest your hands in business situations. You want to convey to those you work with or hope to work with that you are confident in yourself and those around you.

5. DON’T hide your hands behind your back. Depending on the situation, grasping your hands behind your back can be interpreted as meaning, “Geez, I hope you like me,” or, “You better fear me.” Neither interpretation leaves a very good impression of you, so avoid this position altogether. People often do not know what to do with their hands, so they start with the fig leaf, and then when they realize where their hands are, they quickly move their hands behind their backs. The best way to break yourself of this habit is to practice being comfortable with your hands straight down by your sides — after all, it is the natural place for them to be.

6. DON’T cross your arms. This stance is most frequently understood to indicate upset or discomfort. In business, others often interpret it as, “I am not open to discussion,” or, “I am annoyed.” Because the crossed-arms gesture is one of the most misinterpreted nonverbals, don’t do it. Why give others the chance to misunderstand?

7. DO know when to put your hands on your hips. This is a ready-to-take-action gesture — think gunfight at the OK Corral. It makes most people appear bigger because they are actually taking up more space. Yet, it is often given negative labels by others, such as meaning you are annoyed, closed or won’t listen, similar to placing your arms across your chest. If you use it during a difficult meeting with a client, he or she might think you are nonverbally voicing your annoyance with him or her.

8. DO remember the eyes have it. Of all the nonverbal messages one can use, the eyes are the most expressive and really are the window to thoughts and emotions. Little or no eye contact is often thought to be associated with lying, but this is not always true. Experienced liars look you right in the eye every time. It might also indicate lack of self-esteem or interest. Obviously, none of these are messages you want to convey in your professional life. To use direct eye contact in a business situation, position your eyes between the listener’s eyes or just a bit higher. Imagine a triangle with the base below the listener’s eyes and the peak of the triangle at his mid-forehead. Keep your eyes in the middle of the triangle to maintain a professional contact. As to how much or how long to hold eye contact, take your cues from the other person: If he likes a lot of eye contact, do the same. If the listener breaks eye contact on occasion, it is acceptable to break eye contact to the same degree.

9. DO stop fidgeting. Unintentional gestures are emotional reactions or the result of the body’s desire for physical comfort and are often lovingly called fidgets. Even though fidgets can calm us, those pesky, jerky movements or anxious behaviors often make others uneasy. The quickest way to calm yourself without a fidget or two is by pushing your own internal fidget reboot button: your breathing. Because you’re nervous — and fidgety or anxious nonverbal behaviors are so automatic — it can take a bit more effort to be aware you are doing them. If you know you are entering a ‘fidget’ situation, make an effort to become consciously aware of, and control, your breathing. Once you are aware, breathe with low, full abdominal breaths. The purpose is to bring the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels back in balance. Remember to maintain low, slow abdominal breathing.

Sharon Sayler is a certified group dynamics and behavioral coach and author of “What Your Body Says (And How to Master the Message): Inspire, Influence, Build Trust, and Create Lasting Business Relationships” (


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