How To Sort Out Your Body Language
Illustration by Ms Anje Jager
Can you talk the talk but not walk the walk? Here’s everything you need to know about how to hold yourself.
The science of body language has had a tough time recently. In 2012, a popular TED Talk by Ms Amy Cuddy claimed that by adopting “power poses” – such as standing with your legs wide apart – you could increase testosterone, be perceived as more assertive, and be more likely to take risks. Recently, Professor Dana Carney, one of the authors of the study that the TED Talk was based on, claimed that new research shows no such link. But we hardly need science to tell us manspreading looks stupid. Or that standing tall conveys confidence. We “feel” a smile or a hug in a deep and primal way. Body language, like dancing or acting, is more art than science. One person who feels it more than most is Mr Les Child. A former dancer with the prestigious Messrs Michael Clark and Lindsay Kemp companies, and a contemporary of Mr Leigh Bowery, Mr Child is now hired by brands such as Gucci, Prada and Alexander McQueen to boost models’ stage presence and confidence, and also, to get them into character for shows and shoots. He’s even been on tour with The Rolling Stones to teach Mr Mick Jagger a few moves. Here, he gives us his top five tips for improving body language:
Make open gestures
Open gestures such as, open palms (no clenched fists), having your legs uncrossed with knees parallel, and motioning with your hands as though you are offering something all help to communicate friendliness when talking to someone. “Looking someone in the eye and smiling. Opening your arms and palms. Gesturing as though you’re giving them something. Pointing your toes and hips toward the person you’re talking to. All of these things demonstrate an open and interested countenance,” says Mr Child.
The mirror is your friend
Narcissus’ pool of water has given the male reflection a bad name. But not so for Mr Child: “Life, going from A to B, is all performance. Try to look at yourself as objectively as you can, and imagine how another person will see you. Put your favourite music on and stand in front of the mirror and get to know yourself.” He recommends having at least one full-length mirror and a smaller one just for the face. “If you have the space, walk towards a full-length mirror. Practise a deliberate and confident walk,” says Mr Child. “You can also use it to practise standing in different ways, and, if required, to adjust and correct posture.”
Finally, try talking and practising presentations front of the mirror, so as to experiment with different gesticulations, looks and expressions. “There’ll be points you want to emphasise. So you might do that with a hand gesture or a particular look,” says Mr Child. “A mirror helps you to practise self-expression.”
Less is more
Sit up straight but don’t sit ramrod straight like a sergeant major. Smile, but not so much that you look like a loon. Give a firm handshake but don’t crush fingers. “Less is more. Keep movements measured and deliberate,” says Mr Child. “Not too much arm waving, not too much rolling of the eyes.” Mr Child recommends observing Mr Cary Grant, “He had a wonderful way of moving. Very elegant and masculine.”
As someone who has worked with the world’s top supermodels, Mr Child knows more than most what women want on a date. “First, women like an open, comfortable, interested countenance, and a relaxed disposition,” he says. So try not to show nerves by moving around too much or fidgeting. Lean in towards her to show that you’re interested in what she has to say. And avoid crossing your arms and legs, especially if you are sat opposite one another, as this puts an unnecessary barrier between you. After that, it’s about striking a balance between confidence and humility. So no power poses, but no hunched shoulders either. Ultimately, there are no pre-canned manoeuvres which will guarantee success, “It’s about observing and reacting accordingly. Her smile, the way she looks at you, the positioning of her body, all of these will tell you how she feels about you.”
Think about context
A presentation at work is very different to walking into a bar, so it’s best to use your common sense. But ultimately, “I’ve not got a list or bible or 12 steps that I use”, says Mr Child. “Body language very much depends on the person and the situation that I’m working with.” However, definite faux pas in any situation include any unfriendly gestures, including scowling and rolling eyes, and also, defensive gestures such as crossed arms, slouched shoulders and bowed heads. “All of these say that you’re not interested in the social situation and would rather be elsewhere, or that you are also lacking in confidence,” says Mr Child.