Richard Newman reveals insights on the small–but impactful–shifts anyone can make to become a more powerful communicator.
- How to maximize your impact with two hand gestures
- The key to looking like a charismatic leader
- The most important question to ask before any presentation
Richard is the Founder of Body Talk. Over the past 22 years his team have trained over 120,000 business leaders around the world, to improve their communication and impact, including one client who gained over $1 Billion in new business in just one year, using the strategies that Richard teaches.
- Research: “Non-Verbal Presence: How Changing Your Behaviour Can Increase Your Ratings for Persuasion, Leadership and Confidence” by Richard Newman, Adrian Furnham, Laura Weis, Marcus Gee, Roxana Cardos, Alixe Lay, Alistair McClelland
- Book: Lift Your Impact: Transform Your Mindset, Influence, and Future to Elevate Your Work, Team, and Life (website)
- Book: You Were Born to Speak
- Website: UKBodyTalk.com
- Software: Mentimeter.com
- Book: Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language by Desmond Morris
- Book: Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
- Book: Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within by David Goggins
Richard, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Thanks, Pete. Good to be here.
Oh, I’m so excited to talk to you about your book and wisdom and insights associated with body talk and You Were Born to Speak, but, first, I think we got to start with tell us the tale, you, Tibetan monks, six months, nonverbal communication. What is the story here?
So, what happened was that when I was at school, high school, I was planning on going straight to university just like all of my friends, and I knew though while I was there that I was not great at communication, and I didn’t know why. I just really struggled with it. I’d grown up being called shy. I didn’t realize I was an introvert at the time, but I’ve since come to understand that term more. And I’ve only very recently been diagnosed as autistic.
And so, anyway, when I was back at school, I was struggling in communication, thinking, “I really want to do something about this, and I want to do something good for the world as well.” And I was starting to read books around communication, and I read this book all about body language that I was fascinated by, and I thought, “Wow, I want to do something with this and explore where this can take me.”
So, just before I was about to leave high school, I had my university places organized, and this guy who’d been at our school a few years prior, he came back and he did a speech to all of us, saying, “Look, if you’re thinking about maybe taking a year off before university, here’s something you could do.” And he had been on an adventure to go to Katmandu or somewhere near there to work in an orphanage. He gave his story, and I thought, “That’s the kind of thing I want to go and do.”
And so, I put myself forward to different organizations who arrange this sort of thing, and one of them told me about this monastery where they never had a teacher before but they really wanted help with connecting with the outside world. So, it’s a group of Tibetan monks who were in exile, living in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, and they needed a teacher. So, I said, “Yup, that’s the one for me.”
And so, I ventured across India, I’d never been on a holiday without my parents at this point, so I’d never been overseas without them, and it took me days to find this monastery. And, eventually, when I got there, I then realized that the monks couldn’t speak any English, and I thought I was there to improve their English, but it turns out they didn’t speak any English, so I had to use body language and tone of voice just to connect with them to understand “Where am I going to speak? Where are we going to do a lesson together?” that sort of thing.
And then I was teaching them for six months, so I spent six months with them learning how to use nonverbal communication in a way of being able to explain myself and help them to learn my language. And so, by the end of that time, they could then have a good conversation in English with me, and I’d learned how to speak Nepali, which is the main language of the area we were living in, and it was also the easiest language to learn because Tibetan is quite challenging in comparison.
And so, I came back to the UK with this sort of profound feeling about nonverbal communication, wanting to do something with that, which then started me on the journey of building up my communication training business.
Oh, wow, Richard, there’s so much I want to dig into there. That’s cool. So, one, congratulations, mission accomplished. I don’t know if I’d spent six months living with folks who didn’t know any English whatsoever, where we’d be at the end of that. So, that’s cool that you pulled it off. So, I’m curious about that right there in terms of how did those breakthroughs occur exactly? I guess you could maybe pick up stuff, “Bowl, this is bowl.” Or, how is that even done?
I started to realize that I could explain myself better if I was being really congruent, meaning that if my body language and my tone of voice and my words were all headed in one direction, they understood me. And if they weren’t, they had no idea what I was saying.
So, for example, if I wanted to teach these words, teach the monks how to say the word excited, I needed to look excited, sound excited, and say the word excited. Whereas, if I wasn’t doing those three things in unison, going in one direction, I could’ve been saying pineapple and they wouldn’t have any idea about the difference. So, it really taught me that sense of congruency.
And so, there were elements that I taught. One of the most fun lessons that I did actually was where I was teaching them about texture, and I thought, “How am I going to teach them? I wanted to teach them about smooth, and wet, and rough, and hard, and so on.” And so, what I did was I got a big bucket, and I got a blindfold. So, I blindfolded them and I put their hand into this bucket, and then they would touch something that was hard, something that was wet and so on, so they would understand when I’d say the word, and so they’d suddenly learn those pieces.
But other pieces were much more visual, which people won’t be able to see listening to the audio recording. But I would do this where I would point or gesture as I was talking to them about prepositions. So, where I would say up, down, into, onto, over, under, out, in front, behind, next to, opposite, round, and roundabout, and I would mimic those pieces to give them those sort of physical senses of things.
And so, it was a gradual buildup of a sense of using props, using very specific directive gestures, and then, primarily, using congruency in communication that was enabling them to build that up. And that’s what I then gone on to teach people in my career is particularly that congruency piece, which is really missing in day-to-day communication in business and people’s careers, where I find people might really think carefully about their words, but they don’t necessarily think, “Well, what tone of voice do I put with those words? What body would I put with those words?”
And so, this is where you’ll have people attending conference, and the CFO gets up on stage, and says, “Hi, everyone. Really excited to be here today. We’ve had some really good financial results.” And what people are seeing and hearing is they’re thinking, “Are we about to go out of business? Are we about to go bankrupt, because he doesn’t look very excited? Like, what is he not telling me here?”
And so, that congruency piece has been one of the major pieces I’ve focused on for clients over the last two decades to make sure that everything is matching up so that people really believe everything that you’re saying, and get the right message in the end.
Okay. Well, now, at the same time, you mentioned you’re recently diagnosed as autistic, and so my knowledge of autism and the spectrum is somewhat limited to a few things I’ve read on the internet. But isn’t that not often associated with missing these very things that you are speaking to? Tell us how that fits into all this.
Yes. So, my diagnosis has been a long time coming, actually. So, when I was a teenager, friends noticed that I was having challenges with communication. So, one of the big challenges for me would be, as you mentioned, around sort of figuring out the nonverbal side of communication. So, an example of that is banter. So, banter, being when, from my perspective, what I see is I’d see two neurotypical people engaged in banter, looks like they are insulting each other, and then laughing at each other’s faces.
“Oh, you old sandbagging SOB, how are you doing? Uh-oh, look what the cat dragged in, this guy.” Yeah, I love old people is my favorite, watching them banter.
Right, yeah. So, I’ll watch this sort of thing, and I think, “Oh, that seems to improve their relationship.” And whenever I try it, people get really insulted. And, just like you said, what I hear is…
Could you give us an example, Richard, of how you blew it? That sounds like an interesting scenario.
So, I think back to about sort of ten years ago, I was at an event with a couple of colleagues of mine, and I can’t remember exactly what they said to each other but it was along the lines, from my memory, of one of them said, “You’re just so ugly that blah, blah, blah, ha, ha, ha, ha,” and the other one said, “No, no, no, you’re so ugly that blah, blah, blah, ha, ha, ha, ha.”
And I thought, “Okay, I think I can engage in this conversation. I’m going to try this.” And I said something like, “No, no, but you’re so ugly that blah, blah, blah,” and they both looked at me, like, “That is so offensive. I can’t believe you said that.” And I was thinking, “But I just did what you did, didn’t I? I didn’t mean it. Obviously, I didn’t mean it. You didn’t mean what you said.” So, I thought, “Okay, banter is not for me.”
And so, yeah, from teenage years, I realized that I wasn’t very good at that but I started studying books on body language, and I was originally reading books by people like Allen Pease and Desmond Morris, were sort of the forefathers of the areas that people look at now with body language, and also people like Joe Navarro, other people that I was reading up about.
And it got to the point where I’d realized, “Well, hang on a second, I’ve studied so much on body language, I now understand more than the average person about what these things mean, what nonverbal signals we’re giving off, and how to improve our nonverbal impact.” And when I started leading then my company, one of my first clients that I worked with was a Formula One racing team.
And for them, they gave me a script that I needed to deliver in meetings for their clients who would come in from all over the world. And, essentially, what happened was that I memorized this script that I needed to deliver word for word, it was a legally approved script, and I delivered that script about one thousand times to one thousand different audiences over the course of five years.
And because I couldn’t change the information, each time I delivered it, I thought, “Well, what if I changed a bit about my nonverbal communication, just see if it gives me a better reaction than it did yesterday and the day before?” And I would note down, I’d look through all the books I could find on body language, all the research I could find, and I would note down, “Okay, let me try this technique tomorrow.” And sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, and sometimes it worked for maybe a European audience but it didn’t work for people who came in from Asia.
And so, I’d note this down, and it got to the point where I thought, “Okay, these are the things that definitely work universally.” And then I put together a research project in 2016 to get all these verified, and we had this breakthrough research paper that was published in the Journal of Psychology that was peer reviewed. And the people who were working with me on this, the experts in this field from the University College London from the psychology department, they said that they’d never seen statistics like we had achieved on this project.
So, to come back to the question around autism, I think that what this has given me, in my particular case, is a unique lens to be able to look at communication with, where neurotypical people, which is most people, sort of just look at information from other people, body language, they’re not really aware of what they’re looking at. Whereas, I’m laser-focused looking at, “Well, what’s happening right now? What does that mean? What can I do in response to that that will lead to a positive outcome?”
And I was able to put all those building blocks together for people, and then teach my clients. If you imagine like a wall, and they’re saying, “I don’t seem to be having presence at the moment. I haven’t got the gravitas I need.” I look at the wall that they’re putting together and their body language, and think, “Okay, these three bricks are missing on your wall. We need to put these three bricks into place, and now you have presence.”
And that’s what the research project showed. So, from my perspective, it’s actually been an advantage to me in many ways that I’ve been able to have this other way of looking at communication that would be different to most people, that’s allowed me to analyze it in a way that I can then be useful to my clients, and then to build up those techniques for myself to the point where I can be effective as an onstage speaker, knowing what techniques to apply to get the right reaction.
That’s fascinating. And so, to recap, whereas neurotypical folks just sort of intuit, like, “Oh, okay, this is what’s going on, and this is why this banter is okay,” you are kind of dissecting the components and the ingredients that build that up. And is it because you did not have that natural intuition about things and you just happen to be fascinated by the subject matter that you went ahead and determined, “Well, what are those ingredients?” Is that fair to say?
Yeah, exactly, because sometimes I get people saying to me, “Oh, well, you can’t really demystify this communication stuff. You either know how to do it or you don’t.” And that, for me, is a very neurotypical response to things, where I can see why people are saying that because they can’t see beyond what’s happening.
Whereas, for me, it’s a little bit like looking at a goldfish in a bowl and being outside of the bowl, and being able to see how the interactions are happening, what’s happening there from a perspective, almost like, if you think about a nature documentary presenter who’s watching how another species interact, and is then able to observe it, build up research around it, and think about how to apply that in different situations.
So, that’s what it’s been like for me.
Beautiful stuff. All right, let’s talk about this 2016 study here. Tell us, what are these eye popping statistically mind-blowing discoveries, and can you share some of the numbers associated with them and the key takeaways that all of us should use if we want to have more presence, and be more compelling and persuasive?
Yeah, sure. So, this study we put together, first of all, we looked back over sort of 30 to 40 years’ worth of research in the area of nonverbal communication and influence to see what had already been proved and what sort of protocols have been used by people that we could build upon. We then spent 18 months building up the research project that we did to really refine it down to certain pieces we wanted to measure.
And so, the essence of what we’re aiming for is to see is, “Is there certain body language choices that every person can make no matter what your gender is, no matter what country you live in, no matter what your skin color is? Is there something that every human can do that improves their impact?”
So, we put this all together, and the way that we did this, we created over a hundred videos of people speaking to a camera where they would be saying the same words in every video, they would wear the same clothes as well, but in each video, they just slightly change their communication style.
We also used, in the videos, there’s four different actors. So, two female, two male, and they had two with lighter skin, two with darker skin, and they also, all four of them, went through an aging process with prosthetics because we wanted to see if they did exactly the same thing but they looked 30 years older, “Did that change how people rated them as a leader or for confidence and so on?”
And to our complete surprise, it didn’t matter what their gender was, it didn’t matter what their skin color was, it didn’t matter how old people thought they looked, and it also didn’t matter if we did the test for people who were watching it in Mumbai versus people watching it somewhere in California. And the people who watched these videos, we had more than 2,000 people take part, people age from 18 to 65, men and women who were looking at this, that didn’t matter either.
The only thing that really changed our results is that if people went from the most common forms of body language that you see in day-to-day life, and they shifted away from those most common elements across to what we thought would be a more effective, this is where we got these eye popping results, where we found that with a couple of simple shifts anybody can make, you can then increase how confident people think you are by 25%, you could increase how many people you convince with whatever you’re saying by 42%, you can increase how many people think you’re a good leader by 44%, and you can increase how many people would vote for you in an election by 58%.
And that is while you’re saying the same words, you are the same person, you’re wearing the same clothes, and you just change a couple of things nonverbally, and that’s the reaction you get, and it was working universally for people. So, we’re really excited by that.
So, I want to ask, of course, what are the things? But, first, just so that we can fully link and, for all of the enthusiasts out there, what is the full journal article name so that we can link to it and read it, the full text in all its glory?
So, I believe if you Google nonverbal presence, and then you put in my name Richard Newman, you should be able to find it. It’s been downloaded and used and commented on many times over the years, and it’s from the research journal Psychology. So, if you put those into search engines, you should be able to find it. You can download the full reports. I think it’s like a 16-page in a PDF that people can get on this.
And so, for me to go through a couple of pieces…
Okay. Oh, sorry. And co-authors?
Oh, co-authors, yeah, Adrian Furnham. So, Adrian Furnham is known to be one of the top five psychologists in the world. I believe that he has authored or co-authored roughly a thousand research projects over the last 30 to 40 years, and he gets to go and speak and do keynotes all over the world, the head of psychology at UCL. And also, I mentioned there should be Alistair McClelland and Roxana Cardos. So, people can go and check that out.
All right. Now, I feel like I need a drumroll or something. Richard, lay it on us, what are the body language choices any person, anywhere, can do to see a 25% to 58% lift in key things we’d like lifted?
Sure. Okay. So, let me start with something really simple. So, one of the big questions I’ve been asked by people over the years is “What do I do with my hands when I’m speaking to people? If I’m in an interview, I’m doing a presentation, that sort of thing, what do I do with my hands?” And it’s quite a funny question because if you think about it, when you go out to a bar with your friends, and you’re just talking about telling people what you did on the weekend, you just move your hands and you don’t really think about it. You just gesture, and you create stories, you don’t worry.
But when people are in situations where they get self-conscious, like a job interview, sales pitch, presentation, they suddenly think, “I don’t know what to do with my hands. I don’t know what I normally do,” and they freeze. And so, something that’s very common is that people stop gesturing altogether. In fact, I’ve trained many people over the years who’ve said, “I was told by my boss early in my career, ‘Stop gesturing, sit on your hands. You look unprofessional. You’re flapping your arms around.’” And this is really detrimental.
Now, what we already know from other research by Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow from the University of Chicago is that the more that you gesture, the more you stimulate your mind, you can speed up your thought processes. So, it makes sense to gesture while you’re speaking because it allows you to think and process information well.
There’s really interesting studies that she put together. One of which shows you that, and I believe I’m quoting this right, they took a group of mathematicians, and they took the mathematicians who were scoring the highest results, highest grades in the class, and they put them through an exam, an oral exam, where they got them to sit on their hands and answer math questions. Then they took the people from the group who were previously getting the lowest grades in their class, and they got them to frequently gesture while they had an oral exam.
I’m sort of simplifying the results, but those who used to get the lowest results, when they gestured, got much higher grades from the test, and those who used to be the highest-scoring in the class were then getting much lower grades, and it’s based on the amount and frequency they were gesturing. So, anyway, we wanted to do our own version of this test around gestures to see, “Well, how does an audience react to gestures?” So, importantly, if you do no gestures, you get terrible ratings. So, to be very clear on this, like if you’re keeping your hands held in one position, or you’re having them down by your side, very poor.
Secondly, if you do low-limp gestures, you get the worst possible ratings. And low-limp gestures is, effectively, if you imagine your arms sort of loosely by your sides, and you just sort of occasionally flapping them slightly away from your body because you think, “Maybe I probably should gesture but I don’t really feel like it. I feel a bit self-conscious,” then you look very low status by doing so. And that’s gesturing below the waist or if people are in a meeting or a virtual meeting. Gesturing out of the camera’s view or gesturing under the table, very low ratings.
However, if you gesture where people can see it, above the waist, the key area to do it is between the waist and the shoulder height. So, if you go above shoulder height, it looks too dramatic. If you go below waist height, it’s then suddenly, it looks low limp and disengaged. So, between shoulder and waist height, you need to be slightly away from the body.
So, if you go towards the body, then you look like you are being timid. If you go too wide, you look like you’re overreaching. But you want to go slightly away from the body, getting your elbow away from the body, and there’s two positions to think about which work universally. It doesn’t matter where you are around the world.
So, importantly, with gestures, if you do like a thumbs up or an okay symbol, that means different things in different parts of the world. But there are two gestures that mean the same thing everywhere, which is palms up and palms down. Now, palms up, it indicates an open message, it could be a question, it’s a warm gesture, it’s inviting for people. Palms down means the opposite. It is a closed statement. So, as if to say, “There’s no arguments, no questions, that’s just the way it is,” doing it palms down.
And so, if you use them back and forth, those two gestures, congruently with your message, we talked about congruency earlier, if you use them congruently with your message, so palms up for open statements, and palms down for strong closed statements, then suddenly you’re being utterly congruent with your message, and your measure for how charismatic you are suddenly shifts completely because people see you as totally congruently connected with your message, verbally and nonverbally, so make sure palms up and palms down.
So, I talk about those, like if people think about tennis, you got a forehand and backhand. These are your forehand and backhand that you can go to over and over again. You can do it with one hand, you can do it with both hands, and you can use them no matter where you are. So, that one suddenly gave people a massive leap upwards.
Oh, could we do a quick timeout there, Richard? That’s so powerful
So, we want to talk about the up with I’m thinking, all right, let me just see. Tell me if this feels right. So, if I say palms down, “We are 100% committed to investing in the metaverse over the next three years,” and then palms up, “But we’re going to have to learn a lot of new things in which we’re not sure of a few key points, and so we’re going to have to do a lot of listening to figure out what’s going on.”
So, palms up, we’re listening, and then palms down, “But make no mistake, we will be spending $300 million, or whatever, in order to be the leader in this space,” palms up, “And we want all of you to come with us on this exciting journey.” So, is that kind of what we’re talking about here?
Yeah, exactly. And what you’ll notice as well, for people listening to that, is that your tone of voice changed each time you did palms up versus palms down. And we find that people do this without us even sort of saying to them, people who aren’t as much expert as you would be in front of a microphone. But when we change someone’s gestures, their tone of voice naturally changes. And if you change the pace at which you gesture, the pace and the fluidity of your voice changes as well.
So, sometimes if I’ve got a leader who’s being very choppy in the way they’re being, and being a little bit aggressive, I say, “Look, move your gestures like you’re stroking a large dog. Just imagine you’re doing that,” and suddenly their tone of voice changes with it as well. But the way that you did that palms up and palms down, that’s exactly the right sort of idea behind things. And it makes sure that people really believe you, because seeing is believing.
We’ve got so much data that we take in through the optic nerve, we want to make sure that what’s going through the optic nerve and cranial nerve, while we’re listening to things, they go in and they seem to all fit together perfectly, where you think, “Well, everything I’m seeing and hearing matches. Wow, that’s charisma. That’s a great leader. I believe them. I want to follow them. I want to vote for them.” So, yeah, that works really nicely. So, that’s the piece on gestures.
And, Richard, may I ask, we got palms up, we got palms down. What happens when I’ve got my palms, I guess, parallel to the ground? It’s like neither up nor down. I’m sorry, perpendicular, excuse me. Perpendicular to the ground.
So, you can call these palms even, palms equal, or palms neutral, if you want to. And this is good for time gestures or for showing people the size of things. And this is a really important one that we teach people. So, for those listening to this, if you just imagine that I gesture, I make a large gesture, and I say, “If you give us $100,000 investment,” I’m doing a big large gesture, palms even, and then I make a small gesture, and say, “I will give you a 10% return.” So, I’m going from a big gesture, “If you give us $100,000 investment,” down to a small gesture, “I will give you a 10% return.” It seems like it’s a bad deal.
Yeah, it’s terrible.
I’m going from something big to something small.
I don’t even know the terms but I was like, “I don’t think I like that, Richard.”
Exactly. So, watch, if I do the opposite, I make a small gesture with palms facing each other, and I say, “If you give me $100,000 investment, I will give you a 10% return,” with a big gesture on the end, you suddenly think, “That’s amazing. Of course, I’m going to do this. That’s really exciting.” So, it’s really good for showing people the size of numbers.
I always say to people, “Look, 27% doesn’t actually mean anything, 4.7% doesn’t mean anything. It might mean something to you but it doesn’t mean anything to me.” People only understand what a percentage means or a block of time means if you show them with the scale of your gestures. So, you need to show people “Is a month or three seconds, is that a long time?”
Three seconds in Formula One racing, or doing the 100-meter race at the Olympics, that’s massive. Three seconds is huge. Whereas, if you’re talking about something along the long arc of history between us and the time of the dinosaurs, three seconds or three months or three years is nothing. It’s tiny. So, it’s very useful for scaling, that’s if you’re doing palms facing each other.
Okay. So, we got our palms. What’s next?
Okay. So, another piece to talk about, and this one is utterly fascinating, too, is all about your feet position. So, imagine that you are standing talking to people, what we often see, the most common one, we tested this one out, is that if someone is standing talking either to one person or talking to a group of people, which could be a small group in a meeting room or a large group on a stage, what you often see people doing is that they lean their weight from one hip to the other hip, and then going back again, in this sort of rocking direction.
And what they’re always doing is always having their weight on one foot rather than on both. And by being in that position, what you’re doing is you’re physically placing yourself so that gravity is working against you. So, you physically look like a pushover, meaning that if someone came up and pushed you on one of your shoulders, you’d fall over because your weight is off-balanced, off-center, and you’re in a position called anti-gravitas, so you’re going to be easily pushed over.
Whereas, if you do the opposite to that and you do what so few people ever tend to do, so if you place your weight so that your feet are shoulder-width apart and your weight is equally balanced between left foot, right foot, toes, and heels, so you’re physically centered, again, if someone came to you and pushed you on the shoulder, you’d be much less likely to fall down. This is the position that people stand in.
If you look at sports, if you look at someone playing golf about to putt on the final tee, if you watch someone playing basketball, they’re doing a free-throw shot, if you watch someone playing tennis and they’re about to receive serve, what are they doing? They are shoulder-width apart with their feet, maybe just slightly bent potentially, weight equally balanced between left foot, right foot, toes and heels. They’re in a very strong ready position about to perform at their best.
Now, if you do that when you’re standing and speaking to one person or a large audience, then your ratings go very significantly up, but the distance between your feet is key. So, we tested this, we said, “Let’s get the person balanced but let’s try three different widths that they could have their feet.” So, we tried having their feet completely touching each other, so together, they’re still standing balanced on each foot but their feet are together, then we tried feet shoulder-width apart, then we tried going beyond shoulder-width apart, so beyond shoulder-width apart.
And we said, “Okay, let’s just try, keep everything the same and test that worldwide, and see what reactions we get.” And what we found is that when people have their feet together, feet touching, it got the lowest possible results. So, that person was not inspiring, they’re not confident, they’re not a good leader. And the reason being, even though they’re standing centered, their weight on both feet, because their feet is so close together, again, if you give them a nudge, they’d fall over. They look weak. They look like a pushover.
If you put their feet wider than shoulder-width apart, then the person looks more commanding but it also looks a bit strange. It looks like they’re trying to be some sort of superhero rockstar sort of thing. It doesn’t look natural. It’s just like, “Why are you splaying your legs so far apart?” It looks better than the subservient feet together feet position but it doesn’t do the best.
And then, finally, and this was the really strong one, if you just go from feet together to feet shoulder-width apart, and this worked for men and women, you get an increase of 32% increase just by doing that one piece, 32% increase in how convincing people think you are, saying the same words, wearing the same clothes, using the same tone of voice. You just change that one thing because, physically, you are going from being a pushover to having gravitas, gravity working with you.
When people recognize that, they see you as a pack leader or a tribe leader, somebody who has strength and gravitas behind their words. It’s that physical instant reaction that people can do. And it works for men and women, it worked no matter who we tested this on around the world for different cultures because it has that sense of the laws of physics working with what we are seeing.
Well, so, Richard, I love the precision that we’re looking at here. And as I’m thinking about shoulder width, are we thinking that the feet are aligned to the center of the shoulders, or the outer part of the shoulders, or the inner part of the shoulders? Or, if a tailor were to measure straight across the back, shoulder to shoulder, that’s the distance of space that should be between my shoes? Or, how are we defining shoulder width?
So, the way that we did it in the study, if I’m getting this right, is that we used a tape measure to measure the width from one side of the shoulder to the side of the other shoulder, and then we measured their feet, and we made sure that from one side of their foot to the other side of their foot was the same distance. And then we went from that.
But if people want to check this out, the reason that we know this works, it’s so universal, if you look at a child who’s around about one year old, then they’re usually at that point where they’re trying to stand up and trying to get their balance and maybe start to walk, and it’s the position that children, effectively, stand up in.
So, if children try to stand up, and they put their feet too close together, they fall down. If they stand up and they’ve got too much weight on one leg and not enough on the other, they fall down. If they stand up and their feet are too wide, they fall down. But, eventually, they work out, “Wait a second, if I get my feet shoulder-width apart and there’s no tension in the knees, I can stand and I don’t need to hold onto the furniture. That’s amazing.”
We’re bringing people, essentially, back to the way they are born to stand, the way that gravity naturally works on their body. And that’s why it works so universally.
Okay. So, the outer point of the shoulders aligns to the outer point of the feet. Got it. All right. We got our palms, we got our feet, keep going, Richard, this is awesome.
So, there’s been a multitude of these pieces that we put together for people, but the key extra element that I want people to keep in mind is the congruency aspect. So, you can have those aspects if you’re, like, working for you, but if your message is not congruent with them, then suddenly it starts not to work.
So, importantly, let’s say, if we go back to the piece around the posture, then if you say to somebody, “Look, I really want to hear what you have to say,” then suddenly you don’t get a useful reaction. If you’re doing palms down and strong and centered, you say, “Tell me what you think about this,” then suddenly your ratings go down. So, what you have to do is to lean your weight onto one side, palms up, “I’d love to hear your thoughts,” and you give the floor to the other person. By that way, you’re being congruent with the message. Does that make sense?
Got you. So, the feet shoulder-width apart is saying “I am in charge. I’m authoritative. I am ‘whoa.’ I’m laying down the law,” versus, I guess the feet together, or leaning, is sort of like, “Hey, I kind of…” maybe more deferential, like, “I’m curious as to your take here. I’m not all that. I’m just a humble…I’m your humble servant who’s here.”
Exactly. Yes, we’re always keen to say to people you have to be able to adapt to what you’re doing here to different situations. So, if you want to be seen as a tribe leader in some way, then it’s critical to understand what a tribe leader looks like, which we talked about with those gesture and posture positions.
So, the extra piece that I added there is you then stop to think, “Well, how do I want the other person to feel? What is the end feeling I need them to have by the end of this sentence? Let me get everything towards that piece.” So, sometimes you need to look like a commander, sometimes you need to address them like more a facilitator, like we were talking about there with that sense of, “Let me ease off. Let me show you that you now have space to come into the conversation.”
Sometimes I want you to engage with me in a way where you’ll maybe laugh, we can have more of a friendly conversation. So, then you need to go into more of an entertainer position. And what we found on this, again, we looked at this universally with clients we’ve coached over the last 20 years, when you go into an entertainer space, the place you need to go is that your gestures need to be much more floppy.
When I was in the States recently, they described this as loosey-goosey, if you’re familiar with that phrase. That was a new one for me, so loosey-goosey, that the tone of your voice needs to go up and down much more. And the pace of your voice, if you’re going to be the entertainer, would be faster than if you’re going to be more of a commander. So, you need to get them congruently going towards that direction if you’re going to work on that.
So, yeah, I think the key question really, I will say to any leader, is think “How do I want people to feel by the end of this meeting, or by the end of this interview, or by the end of this presentation? What is that feeling? And now I need to get everything I’m doing in my body language and in my tone of voice headed towards that outcome.”
And so, you’ve got to think, “Well, if it’s light-hearted, what is my tone of voice?” So, again, if you think about people who are reading the news, they’re expert at doing this. They can go from a major international crisis to some uplifting good-hearted news.
“Here’s a puppy.”
And they do this really well with their tone of voice, and they do it as a transition. So, they’ll say, “And that is the latest update we have on the war in Ukraine. Now, we’re heading over to San Diego Zoo where we’re going to talk about a new baby panda.” And they do that transition in their tone of voice, which very often people don’t do, and people are not doing that these days, particularly on virtual meetings. They just talk to a camera lens and a screen, and they’re saying, “Here’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. Here’s the neutral information,” and it all sounds the same.
And, suddenly, we’re getting this very flat response. And the reason being, we’re not telling people through our tone of voice how they’re supposed to react to this information. So, it’s critical that people focus on that target of, “How do I want people to feel? What can I do, congruently with my body language and tone of voice, that heads us in that direction?”
All right. Well, so, Richard, I could talk to you for about six hours about this. So, maybe let’s do a demo. Let’s say I am doing a training, or a bit of persuasion, so it could be sales or training. I think I want a similar emotional response. And what I would love for my audience to feel is a sense of inspiration, excitement, possibility, like, “Whoa, that’s really cool. That thing you’re teaching me is really cool, and I’m excited to go try it,” or, “That thing, that product you’re introducing me to is really cool, and I’m excited to go give that a demo.”
So, that’s what I’m after. I want them to feel excited, inspired, curious, to go forth and take action. Can you give us the alchemy here, Richard, in terms of what do I want with my gestures and my tone, etc. to bring that magic together?
Yeah, absolutely. So, actually, what you just demonstrated that people would’ve heard in your demo of being that excited audience member, that’s exactly what you need to embody as a speaker. So, if you think about, “What is the end result? How are they going to leave this room?” And the way that you energized that with your voice and with your body was, “Hey, wow, this is amazing. I really want to put this into action,” that’s fantastic.
And so, we say to a leader, “Okay, if that’s how you want them to be, then guess what, nobody is ever going to be more excited about your ideas than you look and you sound. And so, whatever it is you want them to look like and sound like at the end, you have to go to that level and/or more than them in order to achieve this.
And so, we would call this going into the motivator style. And so, if you’re going to go into motivator style, again, I’ve checked this with people, audiences we worked all the way around the world, where we worked in across the Middle East, we’ve been into South Korea, we’ve been to South Africa, all across the Americas, and so we say to people, “Okay, if you think about a motivator style, what does that look like and sound like?”
Well, people repeatedly say, “It’s fast choppy gestures,” so it’s not that sort of stroking the dog piece that I talked about earlier on, it’s not loosey-goosey. It’s high intensity in your arms, and you can be going palms up or palms down but they need to be congruent. Then you need to match that with a faster than usual pace of voice.
So, if you think about this, the average pace of voice, it’s about 140 words per minute. If you slow that down to around about 100 words per minute, then that’s where when somebody is doing their inauguration speech as President of the United States, that’s roughly where they might be.
If you speed it up and you go somewhere around 180 words per minute or higher, then suddenly you’re in that motivator zone. And, in fact, if you go even higher than that, Tony Robbins has the average of around 240 words per minute when he’s being motivational in his talks, and I think that’s the average pace of his TED Talk that he gave. So, you need to be in that higher zone in terms of your pace of words.
Other things that you need to think about doing is to use words that are one syllable. So, you can say things that sound really punchy rather than them having to people having to break it down all the different syllables to figure out, “What on earth did that mean?” So, you want to make it super punchy in your words.
And then, last piece to look out with this, which you can add into the pieces I was talking about before, is to think very simply about a shift in your sternum, and this is where we get a little bit more precise about things. So, the sternum is the center of the chest plate, and this tells us a huge amount about how someone feels about their message and how people are going to react.
So, the sternum is a place where you can, literally, the Latin behind it which is inspirare and expirare. So, inspirare has given a word inspire, or to breathe in, or to feel inspired; expirare, to breath out, or to feel expired. And so, if you just notice this, the next time you see someone, and you think, “Wow, that person looks like they’re really inspired.” What they do is, just before you think that they’re inspired, they breathe in, they lift the sternum, they go, “Hah,” and you think, “This person is inspired. They’ve had some inspiration. I need to listen to what they have to say. That sounds really engaging.”
Equally, if you see your boss in a meeting, and you think, “Why does this person looks like they just mentally left the building?” Well, the reason being, they may have just breathed out and dropped their sternum, and so you see them go, “Ahh,” and suddenly this sternum drops in, they look concave, they look de-energized.
And so, when you’re speaking to people in an interview, in a meeting, in a presentation, it’s important not only to get your feet planted right, to get your gestures working for you, but lift that sternum slight. And you don’t want to go too far, you don’t want to look like you’re sort of trying to be the Hulk or something like that, but just slightly lift it to a point where you think, “Okay, now I’m in a position of inspiration.”
And then you want to be the motivator, you want to get them energized, you have the gestures up, and it’s going to be somewhere near to shoulder height, so slightly lower down is more commanding, slightly higher is more motivational. Fast and choppy and energized voice, changing your pitch up and down as you go through at a pace towards energizing people towards taking some action.
So, as an example of this, just to sum all that up for you. I get people to do this sometimes as an exercise where I say to them something along the lines of, “This will change the results by 3%.” Now, let’s just imagine, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything. It could mean something serious. It could be something exciting. It could be we need to act on this, we need to think about it, we need to debate it. What does it actually mean, “This will change the results by 3%”?
If you want to say it in a commanding way, like, this is life and death information, you go back to what I was saying before. You have a strong start, you do palms down, you slow your pace right the way down, and you say, “This will change the results by 3%.” And so, people think, “Oh, that’s just lifechanging information. I need to sit and think about that for a minute.”
If you want to motivate them to actually take some action, like you’re trying to energize some salespeople behind this to get out there and go and get their commission, then you come back and, say, lifting the sternum, fast choppy gestures, around about shoulder height, and make sure that you’re going fast in your pace as well, and you say, “This will change the results by 3%.” And people think, “Wow, that’s amazing. We need to get out there and get our commission.”
And so, suddenly, by energizing the message, what you’re doing is also you’re engaging more with the emotional brain rather than the logical brain, and people are more likely to feel that sense of energy and excitement from you, and, therefore, will go out there and just straight away get into action.
This is beautiful powerful stuff, Richard. And I think you’re demystifying something that I have wondered since I was a high school student and wanted to become a professional speaker as my career, which I did. And I’ve done many keynotes and it’s been a lot of fun. And I tend to really be fascinated with the words people are saying, such that I put a lot of thought and attention on them, and I’m really wrestling with them, like, “Is that true under all circumstances or just a few circumstances? Under what circumstances is that true? And how would I apply that? How is that useful?”
Now, in so doing, I think I have a little bit less of wowed, razzmatazz, hypnotic entrancement with some speakers because some people say like, “Oh, my gosh, that speaker was amazing,” and I’m like, “Really? I mean, he didn’t really say anything novel or applicable or relevant. His stories were kind of entertaining, I guess.”
And I think what’s happening is they’re doing all of the things you’re describing just right such that folks whose brains are not doing what mine are doing, are just like along for the ride, like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And I think that’s my leading hypothesis now, decades later, is that, “Oh, that’s what’s going on here.” What do you think?
Yeah, and actually to pick up on that, I think that you’re right in terms of the way the audiences react to certain elements. But the piece I’m always keen to stress for our clients is to say, “You’ve got to make sure you have substance and style because, eventually, style by itself runs out.” The challenge though is that if you’re to take either/or and say, “Well, which one do you need to make sure that you’ve got?”
And I’ve tried this, I’ve tested people from many different countries, and I ask this question, I said, “Would you rather have a random person dragged in off the street who’s going to read to you from the works of Shakespeare, or would you rather have your favorite actor in the world to read to you from the ingredients from the back of a cereal packet?” And every single time, people choose their favorite actor reading from the back of a cereal packet.
And the reason being, we love that sense of just being emotionally engaged in their delivery. You think, “Whatever they do is going to be interesting.” But what I always say to people is you’ve got to make sure that you’ve actually got both because, eventually, the logical brain is going to kick in and go, “But how is that valuable to me? I don’t really understand. This is fun but fun runs out. When is this actually going to be worthwhile?”
And I’ve seen too many people who have brilliant and such valid points that they’re making but nobody is actually listening to them. They can’t keep people engaged long enough to get them to understand the value of what they’re saying. So, I’m always telling people, we put both those together and use the power of storytelling and the science that goes behind storytelling, and match that up then with your style. So, then you have both coming together, and people leave, and they think, “I know why that’s important. I know how I’m going to use it. I know how I need to put this into action,” and years later, they can repeat to you what you talked about and why it was important to them.
So, there are certain aspects that I’ve talked with clients. There’s one other client we’re still working with today, that we’ve worked with about 13 years ago, I think, was the first session that we did with them, but they’re still using the techniques that we taught to them back then those early sessions because we’ve designed it in a way that they can put it into action and be using it immediately. So, it’s key for people to make sure that they have made sure they’ve got both of those pieces that are working with them.
Absolutely, Richard. And I think Aristotle said something along those lines back in the day with logos, pathos, ethos. Like, straight up, when you’ve got them all, it’s a power pack. Well, Richard, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and quickly hear about a couple of your favorite things?
Sure. So, I think, actually, I’m going to share with you, because you mentioned how fascinated you are sometimes by watching speakers and how you can do this. I’m going to share one little tip I love to share that people can read more about if they want to go and check out my book and so on, but I love teaching speakers how to do this. If you want to be really utterly compelling on stage, you need to understand timeline. And when you understand this, it changes everything.
So, if you imagine, for anybody listening to this, imagine you’re looking at a graph, and zero is on one side, and a hundred is on the other side, which side of the graph is the zero? Or, if you imagine a graph that’s showing January on one side and December on one side, which side is January? Which side is December?
So, anybody listening to this no matter where they are would say, “Okay, well, the zero is on the left and the hundred is on the right. January is on the left and December is on the right.” And the same goes when somebody watches you on stage. And what do I mean by that? When somebody watched you on stage, they see the past on the left hand side of the stage. As they’re looking at the stage, they see it on their left hand side, that is the past.
Their left, the speaker’s right?
Their left, the speaker’s right.
The center of the stage is now, and the audience’s right hand side of the stage is the future. And so, if you want to utterly compel people to listen to your stories, then when you’re talking about the past, you move to the audience’s left, when you’re talking about right now, you move to the center of the stage, and when you’re talking about the audience’s future, you move to the right, the audience’s right. And by so doing, you’re helping them to process your information based on a timeline.
So, some people just like wander backwards and forwards, and it just has no correlation to what they’re saying. But if you can use that, you can use it by walking to parts of the stage, or if you’re just in a small meeting where you want to convince and compel clients or your team, you want to gesture to their left to talk about the past, gesture to their right to talk about the future. And, suddenly, they can take on board what you’re saying in a much more persuasive and compelling manner.
So, I wanted to share that with you just to get people’s brains worrying around, thinking, “Okay, I’m going to put that into action.” For me, it was one of the hardest things for me to learn. It took me about 10 days of practice to get really used to doing that so I could do it second nature. But now that I’ve been doing it, it’s so much easier to talk to people about the past, talk to them about the future, and not have to think about it. So, that’s one piece.
But I think the last piece that I would just offer up as a key principle that’s gone into my new book, the title is Lift Your Impact, ways that going all the way back to what we talked about, about me coming back from being shy, introverted, autistic. How did I figure out communication? It simply all came down to one thing, which is the word lift, where I noticed that great communication is about taking people from a negative or a neutral state, and by the time you leave the room, they move to a positive or a more positive state because of their interaction with you. That’s what great communication is all about.
And it’s about generating that feeling of lift. So, great leaders lift the room. When you leave the room, everybody feels lifted. If you do a really good job in a job interview, when you leave the room, the people interviewing you, they feel lifted by your presence. And if you can apply that to all of your communication, thinking, “How can I lift these people by the end of this conflict resolution, this challenging conversation, this sales pitch? How do I make sure they feel lifted?” then you know that you’ve had a great impact as a communicator. Everything needs to head towards that.
And that, for me, it’s come back to what we talked about earlier about banter, that’s where I thought that’s the ingredient I’m missing. Everybody is going into banter, thinking, “How do I lift the other person?” And what you say is not that important but the lift is the key to it. So, for people to have great communication this week in any situation, just remember to focus on lift.
Yeah, that is great in terms of demystifying banter there, because, you’re right, when folks are bantering, and they might be saying words that are quite sharp, like, they’re looking at them, they’re smiling, they got a tone and a chuckle, and it’s like their body language, all the nonverbal stuff is saying, “Hey, you’re here, and we’re going to honor this moment that you have appeared.”
I’m thinking about the guys at the wagon, “We’re going to honor this moment in which you ventured our space by giving you the attention and pointing general good vibes that we have, that we’re pleased that you are here.”
That’s cool. All right. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Throughout my life, I’ve always had like vision boards and plans and maps of where I’m going to go with my career and with my life and so on. And I’ve also worked with people on mindset and goal-setting so that they can achieve their goals, too. And something that people have said to me that I’ve thought about is, “Is it okay that you’re sort of struggling towards something where you’ve eventually going to end up being happy?”
And what I’ve always been aiming to quantify for them is to say, “It’s not about you’ll be happy in the end when you’ve achieved something, but to happily achieve it along the way.” So, to come from place of being grateful, come from a place of being centered in where you are, and enjoy the journey. And I saw somebody put this together recently, I can’t remember the person’s name, but it was he talked about “The Pursuit of Happiness,” the movie, and he said, “Actually, what we’re aiming for is not the pursuit of happiness. It’s the happiness of the pursuit.”
And that landed with me so well, where I thought, “That’s exactly what I’d like to work on with people.” Whenever I’m working on mindset and goal-setting is have happiness in the pursuit.
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
The one that instantly comes to mind for me is one that I was fascinated about to begin with, which would be around, it was two people, really, come to mind. So, firstly, Desmond Morris, whose book Peoplewatching… If people are really deeply interested in body language and nonverbal stuff, which I picked up with you during the course of our conversation, this was one of the original books that I looked at.
It’s about 600 pages long, and it was written a few decades ago so it’s not like an easy read but within there, there were some great research, about certain projects that were done. One of them, I believe, was a group of 25 students from Oxford and Cambridge University were taken around 40 cities within Europe to look at what are the commonalities and what are the differences in how people communicate going from one place to the next.
And what I found fascinating in there, one of the pieces was if you look at people in Germany, they gesture significantly less, as do people in Sweden gesture significantly less, than people in the UK. Whereas, people from Latin cultures, say, Spain and Italy, would gesture significantly more. And so, while we have the palms up and the palms down we talked about earlier is universal, the frequency at which we gesture is going to be different based on our culture. And that was one of my first ways in towards that.
Other studies that I’ve been fascinated by is a Paul Ekman’s piece where this is years ago. If they’ve seen the TV show “Lie to Me,” they may be familiar with his work, which was put into a fictional story there. But he was the first person to prove universality of human expression, where he went off to, if I’m getting this right, Papua New Guinea where he found that there were tribes there that their understanding of human facial expressions from people from different parts of the world were exactly the same as they would be in the US and Europe and elsewhere.
And so, he was the first person to find that facial expressions are understood the same way by everybody. And there was a certain number, I forget what it was, I think it was six, it’s around the region of six different emotions that everybody can identify the same way from different faces from around the world.
All right. And a favorite book?
I’ve been enjoying David Goggins’ work. So, if people are okay with lots of expletives, then they should go and check out his work. I really enjoyed his recent one. So, his first book was Can’t Hurt Me, and his recent book was Never Finished. And, essentially, if you’re just feeling like you want a little bit of a jolt of energy, a bit of motivation to get stuck into whatever your mission is in life, then I really encourage people to take a look at his work.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
I think, actually, what comes to mind, the last couple of years, previously, in 2019 and previous to that, everything that I did was in person, and I was used to group activities, group interaction, doing lively talks with people. And then when I went online, I thought, “Well, how do I do that in a way that keeps everybody engaged?” And we came across Mentimeter.com, and it’s a brilliant tool for group interactions online, where I hosted up to 3,000 people at a time on interactive live virtual sessions that I’m hosting.
And by using Mentimeter, what it allows me to do is I can get the voice of every single person in the audience, taking part in, like, virtual quiz, sending me what they feel about what I’m saying at all times. And running that session, you don’t have to download anything for an audience to use it. It’s anonymous for them to take part as well and so it’s allowed people to share with me what they’re genuinely honestly feeling in a way that I couldn’t do if I was live with a thousand people in a room. So, I’ve loved using that tool the last couple of years.
And is there a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?
I think the most important piece that has resonated with people over the last two decades is simply focusing on how you want people to feel. So, it’s all very well thinking about what you want to know and what you want to do, but everything that I have taught around storytelling, around body language, tone of voice, slide design, handling objections, conflict resolution, always comes back to “How do I want this person to feel at the end of my interaction? And how do I target everything around helping them to feel that way?”
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
So, my new book Lift Your Impact is out in all good bookshops, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, everywhere else that you’d like to go to. And you can find more information at LiftYourImpact.com. And also my main website, if people are interested in some of the body language stuff we talked about here, UKBodyTalk.com. There’s loads of free videos, free articles, and a bunch of stuff on the website there.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
My suggestion is really very simply write down your dream of who you would love to be, who you would love to become in the next few years, and then work on yourself until you become that version of you.
And remember that the sky is the limit. Back in the day, for anyone to have predicted that somebody who, as a teenager, was very uncomfortable, shy, introverted, and autistic to become a highly paid keynote speaker, who teaches communication, well, the prospects of that are very, very small. But, for me, it was about working on who I wanted to become, and, in the journey of doing that, getting to go on amazing adventures as a result.
Richard, this has been a huge treat. I wish you much lift and fun in all your adventures.
Great. Thank you, Pete.