In a high-speed, hypercompetitive business world, you have little time to make a big impression. You have to project credibility in an instant or risk being overlooked or rejected.
Today your credentials may get you in the door. Yet to really succeed, you’ve got to look credible when it matters most: in face-to-face interactions. Whether you’re meeting one-to-one or presenting to a packed audience, your credibility is immediately being assessed.
But what does credibility look like? And, more important, why do some smart, capable people project credibility, and others—who are just as smart and capable—don’t?
In studying this phenomenon with thousands of clients, I’ve identified 25 specific visual and auditory cues—explicit “codes of conduct” for posture, gestures, vocal skills, and eye contact—that affect the perception of credibility. And unlike countless other cues, such as gender, age, or physical features, these 25 cues are within your active control. What’s more, small changes can make a big difference.
To get fast results, start with these five cues:
1. Keep your head level. In the dog world, renowned trainer Cesar Millan has exceptional “executive presence.” Dogs recognize his alpha status by the way he carries himself. In the business world, one of the best ways to project such presence is to keep your head level when speaking—no raising or dropping your chin, which can appear aggressive or submissive. The power of this one skill—to literally be levelheaded—can be transformative.
Practice Tip: Lengthen your spine and level your head. Now, moving only your head, like a camera on a tripod, scan your environment while keeping your torso still. Stillness is an authoritative behavior, so try not to let your shoulders twist with the movement of your head.
2. Keep your hands in the gesture box. In poker parlance, a “tell” is a subtle signal revealing the strength or weakness of a player’s hand. Similarly, in meetings or presentations, your gestures alone can be telling to others. The most effective hand gestures happen inside the “gesture box”—no higher than your sternum, no lower than your hips, and no wider than your shoulders. The sweet spot is your navel, where gestures tend to look the most natural.
Practice Tip: A common tell of self-consciousness is when your mouth is engaged but your body language isn’t. To appear comfortable, get your hands involved immediately, reaching out to your listeners with interactive gestures. In short, if your mouth is moving … so are your gestures.