Last week, I continued the series on the the art of proper body language by laying emphasis on grooming, eye contact, personal space and body language posturations where women were most susceptible. This week, I would like to conclude by highlighting body language posturations for organisational figureheads and people in general. This list includes, company executives, spiritual and religious leaders, bohemians, athletes, representatives of organisations, with government officials and political office holders not in any way exempted. For figureheads who represent their organisations or brands in public speaking capacities or who have to be in the spotlight from time to time, proper attention to their body language will be hugely beneficial. I would share a practical experience with you. I get invited to speak at several functions. Earlier this year, I received an overwhelming offer to speak at a ‘Pastors and Leaders Meeting’ of a fast growing church in Lagos. I say ‘overwhelming’ because of the large size of the church. I was running a few minutes late and l will be honest with you, I got a little nervous. Nevertheless I knew I could not afford to be nervous. So I have to use my boudy language to stave off my nervousness. This is what I did.
First, I looked at the rear view mirror in my car and smiled! I smiled real good, I guess I either laughed or was almost laughing at myself! And guess what, it put me at ease and soon after, I was back to my confident self. Many of us trivialise on the power of a smile and its ability to project one as a winner. A winning team never frowns, simply because there is no cause for it. A smile can and does go a long to project you as a calm, composed and capable figure. Many figure heads in the Western morld have caught up very fast on this insight and I am surprised that in this part of the world we seem to be too slow in following suit. This fact should interest you. There is a phrase commonly hackneyed in the world of etiquette that, while it takes 72 muscles to frown, it takes only 12 to smile! It follows therefore, that a person who frowns often will exert more energy and hence grow weaker and less competent than those who smile. If you doubt my assertion, just watch the 1960 American presidential debate between one John F. Kennedy and the then Vice-President Richard Nixon. Kennedy appeared at the debate most relaxed and smiling. Nixon appeared tense and defensive. He declined make up, seldom smiled, refused eye contact and of course did sweat under the intense lights and camera. Needless to say, Kennedy won not only the dabate but also the election. Do you know that a person who frowns regularly casts allusions as to their inability to take on the issues of life?
On the other hand, the only time where a smile is unnessessary is where a look of remorse or sobreity is called for.
Secondly, I also walked out of my car to the speaking engagement in a manner that portrayed me as well prepared to deliver. I did not walk slowly like a septuagenerian clergy man on a long fast! No, I walked briskly as one exited about the assignment of the day and this is where I would like our figureheads and political office holders especially take this to heart. When you see the likes of Condolezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama walking, they walk with their chest taking the lead and not with their bellies. Walking with ones belly taking the lead makes one appear sluggish and dangling in movement. I have seen many political office holders walk, and it was their pot bellies taking the lead. This is not right. While it is understandable that most of them have pot bellies, they can and ought to still walk with their chest taking the lead as it is not only proper but also easy to do. To walk with ones belly taking the lead gives off a nuance of one who is over fed, over-indulgent and even greedy which ironically is the disposition of most of our political office holders! On the other hand, to walk with ones chest taking the lead gives off a nuance of one who is confident, alert and enthusiastic. Having said this, the technique behind this not difficult at all. And this is it - keep your feet in a straight line. If both feet are kept in a V position, as you walk, your belly will inadvertently take lead. If on the other hand, both feet are kept in an A position, as you walk, your legs will tend to form a bow, thereby leaving your backside protruding more than nessessary.
I need to lay more emphasis on getures peculiar to public speakers. Over the last decade, I observed two of the most followed speakers in Nigeria. I noticed one or two flaws in their body language expressions. I am glad that today, those bloopers are no longer associated with them to the best of my knowledge, but here is what I noticed. One of the speakers kept a mini afro similar to Donald Dukes. I noticed that as he would preach, he would scratch his scalp sporadically. For a public speaker, that was an improper body language expression . Like I said previously, I seldom notice it anymore. However, for figureheads, and public speakers, such body language expressions have to be avoided. A true speaker of class does not engage in any form of scratching or itching in public. The other speaker had a penchant for pulling up the waist of his suit trouser as he would preach. That too as a body language expression is wrong. Overtime, I noticed he ditched his waist belt for a pair of suspenders and the adjustment stopped. After a while he reverted to the waist belt. Only this time, there was no need for him to adjust his trouser suit. As a figurehead, you do not make such frequent adjustments to your clothing in public. That should be done in private if need be.
I will conclude this week on disapproving facial expressions. Our facial expressions are the most important aspect of body language. They tell whether we are humble or proud, remorseful or unrepentant, truthful or untruthful, willing or unwilling. The disapproving facial expression I would like to dwell on is that expression called – The Proud Look. A Bible passage aptly comes to my mind. It’s in the book of Proverbs Chapter 6. In verses 16 and 17, it speaks about how God hates a proud look. I would stop there and begin my postulation. Pride is the chiefest of vices and also one of the most disgusting. Pride puts us off people faster than we put off umbrellas when we get into a building. Think of the Beatles and their infamous comment of how they were more popular than Jesus Christ and how their popularity suffered a collosal nosedive shortly aftrewards? Think of the Williams’ sisters Venus and Serena at the height of their unparalled success and how they let it get into their heads and how many couldn’t seem to stand them afterwards? The list is endless, I could go on and on. As menacingly contagious as pride could be to both success and public perception, it is not nessessarily ochestrated via the insrumentality of what we say and do alone. By the simple look on our faces, we set the ball rolling as to how much of pride we actually have bought into. I find bohemaians most guilty of this gesture. You know the proud look once you see it. It’s often bereft of a smile – that gracious facial expression that does more good than harm – its a look of expected approval. It’s a look of disdain at people expected to be people of low esteem and weaker status complimented with a perfunctory reply when greeted. It’s a look that says quietly but clearly, “I have arrived”. “I am the one (perhaps the only one)”. It is a look that drags men faster into the pit than they think. I think it is apt that emphasis be laid on this facial expression because we live in a society whereby its proponderance has led to an abortion of success leaps and a curruption of reputation capital.
I saw it in Samson Siasia while he was coach of the Super Eagles - shortly after, his appointment was terminated. Just last week a popular european soccer coach in the world of football requested that he no longer be referred to by the titile “THE CHOSEN ONE” but that he now be referred to as “THE ONLY ONE”! Mark my words, this season could end up one of his most abysmal seasons. I should tell you a story I recount often at my speaking engagements about a woman who went to an auto-dealership in Lagos to buy a car. Approaching the reception area, the customer care official looked at her disparagingly as though she could not afford a car just because she dressed simply. She took note immediately and decided there and then that she would not buy a car at that dealership. When the person who referred her to the dealership who apparently worked at the dealership heard that she would not be buying a car at the dealership, she sought to know why. The same reason was told her immediately. Now this customer care official was a youth corper at that time hoping to be retained at the auto-dealership. When the time of her retention came, the case of her illicit gesture was brought up at the auto-dealership and it was decided for that reason, she would not be retained at the company! I think we ought to be careful about our facial expressions and be weary of that proud look so that they do not cause us more harm than good.
The Etiquette Forum is meant to be interactive. Readers are therefore, encouraged to send in comments and questions on issues they would like addressed. Adekanmi Otedola-Olusanya, is CEO of Etiquette Media and Publishing Limited. He facilitates trainings for companies, schools, churches and government parastatals.