The Etiquette of Getting Your Message Across

Using Effective Posturing, Tone of Voice & Social Savvy

The aura surrounding you when you are confident of your actions is a powerful tool in making your way successfully to the top in life and business. The following are proven techniques and skills that allow you to smoothly navigate your way through even the most demanding of social and business situations.

• Whether it is a meeting in your office, at the office of another, in a restaurant or if you are having guests into your home, be on time. If you are delayed for some reason, let someone know. Delays can cause stress so try not to allow it to show. Apologize to those who were on time, then from that moment on, keep your posture open and relaxed. Do not let your posture or body language give your stress away. Meanings of gestures and actions like body wrapping can vary wildly throughout the world and easily be misinterpreted. According to authorities on kinesics (the science of nonverbal language), what a person is verbalizing can be loudly contradicted by the person’s own body language. Don't allow your conversation or presentation to be side-tracked by yours.

• If you are on time for meetings with groups you are unfamiliar with, stand tall and pause just slightly at the door, then pause again before taking your seat. Oddly, studies have found the more time you take, the more status others will attribute to you. You are creating an air of importance.

• When mixing with others in social and professional settings, do not let your emotions reveal themselves through desperate or aggressive posturing. Display assertiveness instead, by slightly leaning in toward a person who is speaking to you, to show you are listening attentively. Then move back slightly when you are speaking, so as not to appear overly needy or aggressive. This is also true for hand gestures. Use gestures with your hands sparingly. They can accentuate your message when done correctly, but distract and detract from your message when overdone.

• If the seating is informal, ask where you should sit before sitting down. Survey the room casually to know who you will ultimately need to impress. If you are in a boardroom for example, look to see who is sitting where. If you are in any type of negotiations, you will want to know who sits in the “Power Seats”. Seated at the head of the table is the person holding the most power.  Second in power is generally to that person’s left or right hand sides. The only other real seat of power, is at the opposite end of the table. When dining socially at a formal dinner in the U. S., the seats of power in a couple’s home, for example, are the opposite ends of the table. To the right of the host and hostess are the guests of honor. To the left of the host and hostess, are those who are the second in importance.

• Never directly point to someone or at someone. If you need to recognize someone or gesture toward an object in the room to make a point, lay the palm of your hand out facing upward and gesture by stretching your hand out in the direction of the object or person you are mentioning.

• Make sure you introduce yourself to all others around you who you do not already know. Reintroduce yourself to persons who may have forgotten your name, or forgotten meeting you before. Have business cards ready to give to people you meet. Always ask for one in return.

• If giving a presentation of some sort, request the lighting be altered if needed. Excess noise reduction is also a must. To be fighting for everyone’s eyes and ears is difficult even for the most experienced of professionals.  The more control you have over the room, the more you will feel in control in general.

• Stick to a highly structured and “safe” agenda for any talk you are giving. Avoid being trapped into speaking on something you are not ready to speak about, comfortable in speaking about or something you are not knowledgeable about to a professional degree. Do not try to “wing it”. Unless you are an Oscar winning actor, your chances for success are slim.

• Be prepared to back up anything you say publicly, or even privately. When you have inevitably been given the status of “Professional” or “Executive”, you will find that the most private remarks of yours may be quoted. When in doubt, before you speak on sensitive issues or giving your personal opinion, you can drop the line, “This is strictly off the record...” or “Speaking off the record for a moment...” Said with a smile and conviction, the person you are speaking with will know it isn’t to be repeated. Beware; Your comments may still be quoted, misquoted or repeated regardless.

• If speaking to a group, tuck your chin downward to maintain eye contact on a level basis or lower. Do not throw your head back to emphasize a point.  Do not “play” with bracelets, necklaces, ties, earrings, accessories or items of clothing. It will distract your listeners from your talk. If nervous, make any movements out of your audience’s eyesight; bouncing knees, etc...

• Make your statements assertive as opposed to aggressive or passive. For example: “I believe this is the correct choice.” Not, “Maybe we should look at some other choices... I don’t know... But for right now this is what I think.” Or, "This is only choice for me and it should be for you too!” Wishy-washy doesn’t work well in any situation unless you want to be perceived as someone who has no real opinion. Questions that begin with, "Don't you think..." or "Don't you agree..." leave others feeling as if they have to agree with you.  Try to drop those from your conversations.

• On that note; Never use false sincerity or false personal statements as a gimmick to make the sale, or in an attempt to get your point across. Phony testimonials and speaking about fake clients can be very transparent. Listeners will see through you faster than you think and will leave them questioning your abilities, product or services.

• Unless your business is politics, refrain from discussing personal political opinion. The display of political pins, buttons, or even bumper stickers on your car, etc... can kill your business and social ties 50% of the time. If cornered by someone with little social savvy who demands to know your affiliations, use caution when giving an answer. This same person was most likely a school yard bully in younger years, and may require “creative” or evasive answers. Do not invite emotions or passions in to your business negotiations or social relations unless the politics are more important to you than the relationships themselves.

• Control the attention span of an audience with brief silences if members of the group are whispering, texting, or otherwise causing a disturbance. That pause will be heard loudly and generally will get the attention of the offenders. Let listeners absorb what you’ve said before moving from one point to another. Use a second or two to look around the room and make eye contact with several people before saying something like, “The next point I’d like to mention... ” or “Another matter that needs to be discussed is...”

• The average attention span for a speaker to an audience or group is only 20 minutes. (Video or power point presentations come in lower at only 8 minutes) Attention drops considerably after the first 20 minutes and significantly more after 30 minutes. Get key points across within the first 10 to 15 minutes to make your talk or presentation more memorable.

• Try to sound natural. Do not use tired phrases or jokes unless they are truly spontaneous or suddenly timely again. Culture speak, or phrases and terms heard continually in popular songs, television commercials and advertising jingles, are also best left out of professional conversation and presentations.

• Archaic phrases, words and references may make you sound well educated among some groups, however they may also confuse your audience and throw off the effectiveness of your speech, or presentation, entirely. Speaking in plain English will get you heard.

• On the other hand, avoid using slang or words that you think might endear you to a specific group. It can cause problems, create misunderstandings and leave others with an impression of you that is unflattering.

• When you are the one listening, try to recognize the needs and desires of those speaking. Experts believe that a person’s conversation can have 2 or 3 differing levels of interpretation. Do not assume you know someone is in agreement with you. You can hear, “That’s a good idea...” and think the person agrees with you, when actually, he just thinks it’s a good idea, but not necessarily a good plan.

• In mainstream American culture, nodding one’s head signifies agreement with someone. Nodding one’s head, in many other cultures may mean the person understands you or hears you, not that he or she agrees with you. Just as you watch your own body language, watch those around you. What signals are you getting?   If you are unsure of what people mean, do not be hesitant to ask them to elaborate.

• Use personal stories and anecdotes sparingly. If you frequently speak to the same people, chances are you’ve told the story previously.

• Leave personal problems at home. Don’t bring them with you. Everyone has bad days now and then. You are not the rare person who experiences stress. When you are in a place of business, keep a businesslike demeanor. When you are socializing with acquaintances, the operative word is sociable.


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