Improve Your (and Your Students’) Professional Presence–Use Good Body Language

Forbes recently posted about Body Language Mistakes That Can Cost You the Job.  These are great tips to avoid creating awkward situations in professional contexts. Most of us won’t be surprised by any of them.

Something most of us probably haven’t considered is how easy it would be to integrate this into academic curricula.  All educators know young people who would benefit from explicit work on professionally appropriate body language.  

Frequently, I hear from educators who have had the experience of mis-reading students’ body language. You know–the student who sat with arms crossed, looking bored and glaring, but who gave the most enthusiastic feedback on the course; or the student who never made eye contact and constantly hid his hands and then asked for a high-stakes letter of recommendation. These students probably have no idea that they are deploying body language that hurts their professional image.

We all want professional success for our students. And we know students who miscommunicate in class with poor body language will have the same problems when they go out on interviews and into professional contexts.  So why not be explicit with students about the importance of friendly, professional body language for their career prep?

If you do some of these things, your students will be over the learning curve on professionally appropriate body language while their less-prepared peers are still struggling to understand the basics:  

At the beginning of the course, explain the importance of body language to professional success (share the link) and tell students that it will therefore be part of your course.  

During pair and group work, have students begin by practicing hand shakes and eye contact.  While they’re at it, they should use target language expressions to exchange names, introduce people to each other, and otherwise engage in professional small talk.  

Later in the course, add in personal space and posture–or any of the other body language tips from the article.  

Make professional body language part of the grade for any and every in-class presentation. Students really care about grades so there’s no better way to ensure they will work on positive body language than taking points off for doing the following during a presentation: crossing arms, playing with hair, fidgeting, bad posture.

Remind students throughout the course that the goal is to get over the learning curve so that professionally-appropriate body language comes naturally to them before they are in high-stakes job interviews. If you’re not explicit and don’t consistently remind students, they may wonder why you seem so obsessed with body language.  

I always include work with professional body language in the campus workshops I lead for faculty and students. Not only do we talk about the importance of being aware of your own tics and controlling them, but we also practice with a speed date format mock interview in which students get two or three opportunities to get feedback from peers, relax, and improve their answers and their body language.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
This entry was posted in Career Advice, darcy lear, interview prep, Networking. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Improve Your (and Your Students’) Professional Presence–Use Good Body Language

  1. Pingback: Is There a #CrisisInTheHumanities? | darcylear

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