There are countless ways our careers can be helped with improved poise and good posture. Whether it is how we conduct ourselves in a job interview, talk with a client in person or on the phone, give a presentation, or network, the way we carry and hold tension in our bodies can determine if we are putting the people we are interacting with at ease, or drawing them into our own tense state.
How we balance ourselves through life speaks volumes about how we manage our thoughts and actions. Most people don’t think about their poise or posture when communicating with others. However, take a moment to think about someone that you know who moves with exceptional ease and agility. Does their lightness illuminate their surroundings? Now take a moment to think of someone you’ve encountered who seems stiff and seemingly immobile. Do they bring weight and heaviness to the room? Which of these individuals would you prefer to portray?
Moving with ease requires balance. Poise can be viewed as an expression of how we use our bodies. It suggests an active fluidity in our body use. As we move through life, we encounter an abundance of stimuli that can often stress our nervous system and impact the way we respond. This can quickly throw us off balance and create tension in our bodies.
Repeatedly feeling stressed and performing regular activities with tension result in what appears to be a fixed state of our bodies. We often refer to this state as our posture. You may have glanced over at a co-worker and noticed that they are sitting slumped over in their chair. You might have also caught yourself doing the same thing. Perhaps you’ve even noticed how short the necks of some bodybuilders are, or a protruding arch that some dancers carry with their backs. These types of postural positioning are the result of years of misuse of the body. They are the outcome of not paying attention to the body while sitting, standing or carrying out an activity. Our posture is the physical manifestation of our thoughts, actions and most importantly–our daily habits.
Our poise and posture can either lift us up, or pull us down; they can help eliminate tension or create it. A study published in Health Psychology, found that posture has a direct influence on stress responses. Namely, adopting upright seated posture in the face of stress helps maintain self-esteem and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, participants with a slumped posture used more negative emotion and sad words. Not surprisingly, the study suggests that sitting upright may help build resilience to stress.
When engaging with prospective clients, making a good first impression is a pivotal moment. We strive to appear calm and collected, but sometimes our stress and nerves get the better of us. In trying to appear confident, we often do things that give the opposite impression. We might lift our chests up and arch our backs thinking that it makes us look more confident or convincing. But what that position actually does is create tension and stiffness. It also restricts our breathing and makes it difficult to speak. Likewise, using space with nervous energy looks contrived. Working the room with big gestures, walking around to try and take up space are empty attempts of wanting ‘to show’ who you are rather than ‘be’ who you are.
The Alexander Technique is a method that is used to help us recognize what we are doing that is hindering our growth and potential. It is widely used by performers and presenters in various trades to improve performance and enhance their careers.
So often my Alexander Technique students have asked me what they should be doing with their bodies when they present or perform. What should they do with their hands? Where should they move? Should they sit, stand, walk around? My answer is the same for everyone: rather than look around yourself for things to do, look within yourself for what you should not do. What does that mean? It means that rather than try to be a circus clown and entertain superficially, the real connection with an audience happens when you find that poise–the balance– within yourself.
The notion of doing less to achieve more is also consistent with an article from Forbes about powerful body language. In situations where you want to maximize your authority, minimize your movements. The article suggests that taking a deep breath, bringing gestures down to waist level, and pausing before making a key point, help you appear more calm and contained, which in turn make you look more powerful.
The next time you want to impress, think about doing much, much less. If you don’t know how to do less, begin by thinking about your body as a whole. Don’t focus on doing things, instead, think about not doing them. Rather than roam around the room, think about your feet. Are they rooted into the ground? If they are, you don’t need to roam. Trees never cease to impress with their grandeur. They do nothing but stand tall and still.
In order to know how we come across to others, we must first recognize our behaviors. The next time you have a presentation or interview, practice in front of a mirror or with a video recording. Rather than criticize yourself and nitpick about superficial things, pay attention to your poise and posture. Is your head leaning more towards one side? What about your shoulders? Are they pulled too far back, thus making your torso shorter? What about your neck, is it strained? What is this body language communicating to others?
Try this exercise again by speaking to the mirror or recording while imagining that your neck is free of tension. Imagine your head pulling you up towards the ceiling. Relax your shoulders without collapsing your chest. Talking with less tension in your body will set the tone for how people will perceive you.
The awareness of unwanted habits is the first step to changing them. The next step is finding a professional that specializes in teaching how to stop repeating these habits so that you can exude calmness, confidence and fluidity in your personal and professional life.
To get more information about performance coaching, click here.
For a list of Alexander Technique teachers in your area, click here.