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Presence, influence and finding your voice

Louise Mahler, Ph.D.

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Because the mind, body and voice are linked, your state of mind determines the way you hold your body and how your feelings resonate through your voice, ultimately influencing the effectiveness of your communication. Mahler, one of the foremost experts in the psychology of face-to-face engagement, provides techniques to help you present more effectively, influence people for a win-win outcome and apply a greater empathy to personal interactions.

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My name is Louise and I come from Australia. My background is a Ph.D. in business and leadership. But I spent 10 years singing opera and had a soloist contract at the Vienna State Opera, and that kind of flavors the way that I see things.

One of the things that I think we’ve all been fascinated with over the last couple of weeks was Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Did everybody see that? I don’t make political comments; I just look at the body language, and what I saw was just fascinating. Trump made every effort to be friendly and everything within our Western culture. Did you notice that at one stage, he tapped his fingers? Did anyone notice that? Which was a frustration. Most people didn’t see that.

But my absolutely most favorite part was when, at the very end, Kim Jong Un, who hadn’t reached his hand out once, actually put his arm around Trump as they walked toward the door. Now, that is a winning move; whoever gets his arm on last wins. And I thought, What is Trump going to do? What is Trump going to do? What is Trump going to do? And he held his nerve. He held his nerve. He held his nerve. And then just as they got to the door, he put his arm around Kim Jong Un. The man is, when it comes to body language, a genius. He’s hypnotic. It’s amazing.

And I’m not talking about his politics. I’m talking about how he hypnotizes people and what that actually has led to. I mean, people say, “Oh, that’s not good. He’s the president of the United States. That’s where it gets you.” Now, I know that you all are fabulous at what you do. But what I want to do is to have us all think more deeply. And if you can get one more skill, I would be delighted. Here is a reality of face-to-face communication: It’s all about the body and what you do with your body.

Second, and most importantly, it’s about your vocal tone. Third, it’s about what you say, especially when there are difficult situations. What happens is, that percentage of how people listen to what you say can go right down to something like 7 percent. They are watching your body and listening to your voice. So bring it. There are tons of research in this area of body language, nonverbal studies. So what does it actually show for the voice of leadership?

You’re going to your client, and you want the voice of leadership. How does that sound? There are three qualities to the voice of leadership. What about the pitch? Is it high or is it low? It’s low. The voice of leadership is low. Is it loud or is it soft? It’s loud. It’s low and it’s loud. And the third quality is that it’s slow. It’s low; it’s loud; it’s slow. And that is what Margaret Thatcher was trained to do. She actually got coaches who helped her to get lower, slower, and louder.

Now, spot the obvious mistake here. [visual] A rising number in your industry are women. And women’s voices are an octave higher than men’s. So for us to go lower actually sounds ridiculous. If I were to say to you, “Go back to your clients and say, ‘Hi, I’m Louise,’” they would just say what? “You are really weird.” And certainly what happens in Australia is that, although there is all this research around nonverbal studies, what we do is we tend to say, “Oh, get lost. Get lost.” And then we say, “Night, night, night.” I bring myself to the engagement. I just bring who I am to the engagement. And we do these ridiculous voices because we reject the studies on nonverbal studies.

I can go around every day and meet people out there. I go down to my local supermarket and very often I put my things on the conveyor belt, and the young girl will look up at me and she’ll say, “Good day, how are you?” And I think, Oh heavens, is that permanent? Because I believe voice is a choice. And if voice is a choice, why would you choose that one?

So what we have to do in our lives is two things. One is to realize that there is perception in nonverbal studies. People will perceive you. But actually, and more importantly, it is bringing your authentic self to the engagement, but not one that has been molded by your habits so that you are speaking in a ridiculous way, but actually one that is guided by the mind‒body‒voice cycle. Now, how does that work?

You know, our mind influences our body, and then our voice is like a computer printout. You are the music, as Eric Whitacre said. You are the music. Your voice is your music. And how do you get that? With our minds, there is obviously nervousness when we get nervous. Our body jams, and then we get a vocal outcome. But there are things other than nerves. And all of you are beyond nerves. There are things that you might look for, like defensiveness. When we get defensive, which part of our body jams? It’s the neck. The neck jams. When you get defensive, it’s like you’re up against a wall, and your neck jams. When your neck jams, you start talking tight like it might break. It’s very common.

What do you do? So what I want to do is run through a series of skills so that you can analyze what you do, looking at it from the perspective of nonverbal studies, but also, your authentic self, bringing the best of yourself to the engagement. I ask everybody please to take a deep breath on the count of three. Take a huge, deep breath, and then breathe out. Now, I don’t have to look very far to see a whole lot of people in front of me at tables go like this. [visual] Now that is a disaster. First of all, we do this so often—we give ourselves the instruction to take a deep breath, and we lift like this. [visual] And then we stand in front of people and say, “Hi.” First of all, you look stupid. Second of all, it’s going to squash your voice so that after a while you’re going to have a vocal output.

But the most important thing is that when you breathe high into your chest, and when you lift your shoulders, you actually aren’t getting any oxygen at all, and the first part of the body to fail is the brain. You’ll find yourself under stress saying, “Sorry, what was the question?” We lose our brain. It is stupidity. And if you looked at Eric Whitacre yesterday—that man was a fascination. As he was conducting, did you notice that he never lifted his shoulders once? He had his legs down, and he was jumping. He was down like this. [visual] Never once did he lift his shoulders. It is a rule of music—professionalism. It is a rule for your industry as well.

So where do we see the breath? We actually see the breath down here. [visual] I know you know this. Put your hands on your stomach. I’m not going to ask you to breathe in this time. I’m going to ask you to breathe out. Are you ready? One, two, three. Now breathe out. Did your stomach go in? Or did your stomach go out?

That’s what happens. The reality is this—when your lungs fill with air, there’s a thing called the diaphragm. It’s that layer there at the bottom of the ribs. And the diaphragm goes up and down. It moves quite dramatically. So when you breathe in, your diaphragm goes down, and your stomach comes out. That was for a breath in. When you breathe out, your stomach goes in. That was the correct answer. You won’t find it any different anywhere else. That’s the way it works.

So, again, put your hands on your stomach. I want you to breathe out. Anything else is stress breath, because the diaphragm contracts, which is what takes your breath high. We want it down. We want a nice breath. We want to know where it is. Get it down. I want your stomach to go in as you breathe out this time. And I want you to turn to the people at your table and say, “Hi.” Turn to the people at your table. Then say, “Hi. Hi. Hi.” Stomach goes in. “Hi. Hi. Hi.” Now does that feel ridiculous for anybody? I don’t care. Because that’s the way it works. The stomach goes in, and the air comes out.

So, physiologically, this is what you need to do to have a nonstress breath. But there’s more because that breath has massive psychological impact on the people around you.

Yesterday, we heard from John Maxwell. What was it? That trust is the human currency. Well, if trust is the human currency, breath is the currency of trust. So what happens when you breath out and you translate that into sound by vibrating your vocal cords high, high, high? It goes to people’s ears, and the eardrum vibrates. The faster it vibrates, the higher the pitch it recognizes; the bigger and stronger it vibrates, the more volume. It’s not rocket science. But those waves don’t just hit your ear. They actually massage people’s skin. So when you push your breath out in the right way, and you say, “Hi,” people actually think you care. They think you care.

Now, yesterday, I was in a shop, and there were some young girls sitting there. They were talking to each other, and they were doing something called “vocal fry.” Have you heard of vocal fry? Vocal fry is where you withdraw the air so that there’s only one-sixth of it coming out of your body. And it sounds like this. [audio] That’s vocal fry. And it’s become really chronic. Men do it as well, but in young women, it is complete career destruction because the psychological message behind vocal fry is “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to engage.”

And many of us in a sales environment will actually put that at the end of the sentence. So we may say, “I really think that this would be great for you,” and we put the fry in at the end. The psychological message is “I withdraw myself from this engagement. I do not want to touch you with my sound.” So it is critical that we actually get the sound out. Not only that, but did you realize that, just like massage, when we actually give our air out to people, and when that air continues to flow, that is the voice of trust? We don’t trust people who break their air. We don’t trust them. Can you hear that? [audio] Can you hear how it touches your skin? Goes on and off? So giving your breath out is actually giving, and then having your air continue to flow is trust. This is so important that we need techniques to make sure that it happens.

When we hold our breath, what happens is, our arms get stuck to our body as well, and we get techniques like the “penguin.” People say, “Hi, I’m Louise.” [visual] That’s called the penguin. Or we get “tyrannosaurus rex.” “Hi, I’m Louise. What will we be doing today?” [visual] And tyrannosaurus rex is very, very common. I get texts from people all the time who say, “Oh my God, Louise. I’m at lunch, and they’re doing tyrannosaurus rex on the stage.”

We get the “windscreen wipers.” “Hi.” [visual] We get the “double windscreen wipers.” “Hi.” [visual] We get the “seal.” They all have names. And this is one of my favorites, which I saw at a finance breakfast. A lady came out and said, “Good morning, everyone.” [visual]

What do you call that? You give it a name for me. “Blinkers.” I don’t know. But I started laughing just like you did. I had a hilarious time watching people speak at breakfast doing really weird things. Not only that, but we tend to go for our underclothes a tremendous amount. Every five years, I think I would need to adjust my bra strap, and yet I see women get up on the stage and invariably and suddenly think, Now would be a good time. I’m thinking, That’s an odd choice.

So what we have to do is actually get our arms off our bodies. And I put it to you that every time you greet people and you say, “Hi, how are you?” that you actually get your arms off your body. Could we try that at your table please? Turn to the people and say, “Hi, how are you?” Give them your ear. Give them your embracing. Sam? Can you come up on stage for me please?

Say it again for me. Sky. OK, now that seems quite easy. So let’s get Sky to do it for us. Sky, could you just go to the bottom of the stairs, please, and come up again? I’m going to pretend Sky’s here for our group. He’s going to be building trust and engagement, building that relationship. And he’s going to greet you. OK, Sky, let’s have a look. Yay, Sky. Up here, Sky. Yay, Sky. Yay, Sky. OK, great. Let’s get that right.

Now, Sky, you’re going to do it again because you didn’t get it right. You know, we think the show starts here. [visual] It doesn’t stop here; it actually starts down there. Now, one of the things we’re going to do is add in different techniques. Not only is your stomach going to go in and your arms are going to open, but I need you to make eye contact with the audience. So, what Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, would do when he came on stage is always look to the far side. Then he would move his eyes around to that side, and then he’d come front and center. Did you realize that?

There’s actually an eye pattern. Why he does that is because it is trusting; it’s a connection with the audience. Not only that, if we don’t look at our audience, what happens is, we tend to look down, down, down, down, down. We then get in front of people, and it frightens us to death. So what you have to do, Sky, is you’re not allowed to look at the stairs. You get a quick glimpse of the stairs; otherwise, up you come. Please don’t break your neck, Sky. OK, go down the stairs, and look at your audience. We’re going to do that again, Sky; just stay here.

It’s not as easy as it looks. There’s another thing, and it is that there is actually movement followed by static. What we need to do then, for professionalism is a magician’s technique. And the magician’s technique is movement followed by static. In that book Where’s Wally?, you have to find Wally, and you can’t find Wally because there is no movement. What they do in film is, if there’s a crowd, they get everyone to sit dead still except for the lead character, and they’ll get that character to just slightly move, and your eyes are drawn. It’s that contrast between movement and static.

So I love that energy you come in with. Come in with that energy, but then I need you to stop and say, “Hi, everyone.” Now, you did that the first time, actually. Then what happens is—can you see Sky’s arms are up? Actually, they’re not up; they’re down. And the arms come up and they must never karate chop hello. People say, “Hello, hello, hello.” [visual] Actually, they come from down low. Now, do people do this, Sky? Let’s just check. [visual] Yes, they do. But let me tell you, this is not original from Trump. A lot of these things came from the Romans. And, in fact, all people of warmth are depicted with their arms out. It is good practice. And they’re down here, like that—down, not up. Do you see that? [visual] So what I want you to do is walk from there to there with your energy. Stop. And then lift. Let’s see it. Yay, Sky. And stop. Can you see that difference? And you reach out and you cuddle your group. You cuddle your group. Now, if the group were just a few tables, it would here. If it were one table, it would be there. [visual] So, actually, there’s kind of more to it than you would think. So just lift your arms up and say, “Hi.” Brilliant. Thank you very much. A round of applause.

Now, it’s not only that we’re greeting groups like this. I want you all, during your conference, to walk around embracing people. “Hi. Hi.” Reach out to people. But we shake hands. Now, what happens with shaking hands? Shaking hands is actually, again, something that came from ancient times. When we shake hands, it’s a sword thrust. You go with the right foot and the right hand. Many people go with their left foot and the right hand, and when you do that, what happens is, you’re out of balance. And so people will come in and shake hands, and they’ll say, “Oh hi, how are you? Sorry. Sorry. And the issue is, I’m absolute brilliant at my job. I have a lot of trouble standing up. That’s a challenge for me.” Which totally undermines trust. So we want a sword thrust. Right foot, right hand. Straight in. I want the elbow off the body. And the eyes, again, to build trust. It’s not optional. They cannot flick to the hand; they stay eyes on eyes. The right foot forward, the arm off the body, eyes on eyes. And I want you to add to that your stomach going in and saying “Hi.” Share your air around the room to show how much you care.

Jump up, please, and test your handshake on someone else in the room. Long arms. Beautiful. All right. Have we got our handshake touching people? Critical. So we’ve got our handshake happening. We’ve got our entrance happening.

So one of the things about Kim Jong Un is that he did not hold eye contact during the handshake with Trump. Trump was straight in, but Kim Jong Un went to the hand. Now, there are many reasons. It could be that he’s inexperienced in that kind of stress. It could be that it was cultural. And it could be that he was playing the role of a deity who didn’t need to actually respond in any way. I don’t know the answer to that. There’s no right or wrong.

But, definitely, culturally, what we need to do is understand our own patterns in what we’re doing. What I find with the handshake is that many people will come in with the wrong foot, the hand in like this, and squeeze the hand the wrong way. The eyes go down. And then people just say, “Oh, that’s naturally what I do.” There is no “naturally,” it’s “habitually.” We need to look at our habitual patterns and get them under control. Then, within the cultures that we go for, we need to actually find out what is appropriate and do that. But a handshake is pretty universal.

When you put two hands on, it can’t be neutral. I call that flavoring. If you met with the president or someone who has a position of authority, you wouldn’t go in with two hands. So it is warmth. But it’s not something you add as flavoring.

Now, one of the funny things in Australia was that we had a prime minister in the 1980s who, every time he met a woman, would shake hands and then pat her on the bottom. It was the 1980s, right? That was Paul Keating. Now, where did that go wrong? The Queen came to Australia. He couldn’t stop himself. He patted her on the bottom. It made international headlines.

How do you deal with a wet fish handshake? Now, the thing with a wet fish handshake is that you can only manage your own behavior. You can’t manage someone else’s behavior. So, if someone gives you a wet fish handshake, your challenge is to remain neutral about that and to read it and think, Oh, that’s interesting. I thought he was a stronger person. But you certainly don’t respond.

Recently, I had somebody who shook hands with me who had only two fingers. Well, we came forward, and you can’t think, Ugh, what happened to your hand? No. There is no response. No response. It’s maintaining state at all times.

What about when they put their hand out and don’t do anything? Well, again, you have your professionalism. They can do whatever they like. And then you have, of course, what Trump will choose with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. He chose, actually, to put his hand underneath, which was a sign of subservience. Normally, what he’d do with you and me if we greeted him is, as you know, pull us off our feet. He’d test us for our strength. And he would yank you until you fell. And that is a sign of your weakness.

Some people are testing you out; most people have no idea what they’re doing. They’ll do very odd things. And you maintain your state. That’s the critical thing.

I deal in leadership with a lot of men, and, let me tell you, with women, they have no idea what to do. They’re just thinking, I don’t know what women want. I don’t know. I don’t know. And then the women are thinking, I don’t know what to do. So I put it to you that a woman’s role is to initiate the handshake. Because men really don’t know whether they should do it or not. So you need to strike out first to help them know because handshakes are part of what we do in business now. It is for everybody.

And, of course, if somebody doesn’t shake hands, perhaps because of religious beliefs, we also go into crisis. We think, No, no, they don’t want to shake hands. It doesn’t matter. You go out. Someone doesn’t want to shake hands, you say, “Hi. How are you?” You just improvise in the moment.

I’d love to have a master class on this. I really would because it’s fascinating as you get into it.

The kiss. I love this. Do you know what? Men kiss beautiful women. And let me tell you this secret. So what happens is, you can go into a group of beautiful women. The men think, Beautiful woman, beautiful woman, and say, “Oh hello, Louise.” Having said that, Julio gave me a beautiful kiss because he’s from a Spanish-speaking country, and I loved it.

How far into the relationship? There are no rules, and it’s very much improvised. You’re going to sense it in somebody’s movement. You’re going to improvise and see if it’s acceptable. That’s something we’d do in my master class because there are no rules. There are no rules, except don’t fiddle with your genitals. And you would be surprised how often I have to say that.

Let me give you an example. When we are standing and listening—and I saw this yesterday on the street with some people being interviewed—what will happen is that men tend to overpower and women underpower. So what I saw was a man do this, which is very common. [visual] We get up for questions, and we say, “OK.” And then we’ll say, “Are there any questions?” [visual] I’m not meaning to offend anyone, but this is a common move.

The issue here is that there has been research on this. I did do a Ph.D., and most of the research has been done with gorillas. And what they found was that the wider you go, the stronger the psychological message about the size of the male genitalia. So, if I’m a man and I come forward to you and I say, “Are there any questions?” the issue is here because you know who you’re dealing with. Now, of course, it becomes habitual pattern; people may not be thinking that in the moment, but they just do it.

What women do is they tend to underpower. So it’s very classic for a woman to cross her legs, cross her arms, and say, “Hi, I’m Louise. And I just wonder if there are any questions.” Again, I’ll fall over. And this pushover ability, the fact that you’re able to literally push me over, says to the people talking to you that you can actually, figuratively, push me over. And you’re much more likely to be attacked until you fall. We must think about our professional position. And we do so little of it.

In today’s growing digital world, what’s happening is, they’re saying it’s created autism. And I’m sure if I asked you as professionals, who are very highly trained in face-to-face, that you would have thought about it. They ask about other people, and they haven’t. What is your position for listening? And, again, there are no rules, but a good guide would be that the feet are apart and far enough that they’re parallel. Because actually being ready to engage is as much of a martial art as anything else. Feet that stick out just look dorky. Feet are parallel and 1-foot distance apart. And then the knees are loose. The knees are your shock absorber.

It’s critical that your power is in your lower body. So the pelvis is tipped under. The pelvis and lower body, like Eric said yesterday, are where the power is. The upper body is free. So, what if I were Pavarotti and I was singing to you? You know how he does that? He leans back into this power. That’s what singers do. They do not do what so often you see. This is today, which is lean forward from here. [visual] Now, that is aggression. And if Pavarotti went this way, that’s what would happen. It doesn’t work in reality. And, actually, I saw many of you leaning forward in your handshake. That’s a head butt. You maintain your height in a handshake. And it’s the same when you’re listening—you maintain.

Now, what was really fascinating about this was when Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed by Congress. This certainly went international. That man was trained to within an inch of his life. Did you know that they used a booster seat to get him up? He normally sits forward. He normally punches his hands. He normally tightens his mouth up. He did none of that. He sat up straight. They lifted him so that he was the right height. His body never moved off the vertical, not once in two days.

The body is upright. The head nods. The head nods because, remember, I was saying defensiveness when it jams and the mouth seals—defensiveness and closed straight. This is what happens when we stand like that. [visual] We actually want the head to nod. And what the head nodding says is not that I agree with you; it actually says that I’m flexible of mind.

The trick is, what do you do with your hands? You can’t put them behind your back because in trust we always have the hands visible. Hands are never hidden, not under the table, not on your lap—always visible. Now, we can’t stand like this all day. We could bring them by our side, but most people don’t feel all that comfortable like that. In fact, usually it’s the left hand that actually turns into when under stress—what’s called the “claw.” And the claw does this, and it gives away and misdirects to a sign of stress. [visual]

So what we do is actually what I’ve seen Obama do a lot, which is bring the hands together. But just like lifting the hands, there’s more to it than you think. Because when I put my hands here, there’s a problem. [visual] What’s the name for this position? It’s called “fig leaf.” And what does a fig leaf lead to? “Flashing fig leaf.”

You can see that when you’re talking to your clients and you’re saying, “Hi, thanks very much for coming. What were we talking about today?” And the other gesture that I get a lot is this. [visual]

There are a couple of key points that I think we need to focus on. You’ll get away with it once, and you’ll get away with it twice. You won’t get away with it for a third time because gestures can’t be repeated. And people won’t actually raise it up to their conscious awareness. They won’t think, That’s unusual. John seems to be flashing his genital area at me. We just have a switch that actually goes off. And we turn people off.

I was doing a presentation a few weeks ago, and there was a gentleman before me. It was an in-house presentation, and he walked halfway through and said, ”OK, you lot, turn your mobile phones off. You know, you’re not good listeners. You’re not this.” And I thought, Mate, this isn’t about them. They’re trying to save their lives from ultimate boredom by going to their phones to keep alive. It’s about you and what you’re doing.

And when we do flashing fig leaf and these things, it drives people insane. So the trick is this. Instead of having the hands like that, you put your hands asymmetric so that both hands are revealed and that hand is actually on the wrist. Can you see that? [visual] And when you’re seated, you do the same thing.

Mark Zuckerberg, if you watch those tapes of him at Congress, actually sat at the table. It’s not in that picture. But most of the time he was asymmetric. And he often checked that he was doing the right thing. He was quite stiff about that because my understanding is, from what I’ve read, that perhaps he has something like Asperger’s. And so he actually will do things to the rule, and it doesn’t make it very flowing. But he did it. And he came out unscathed. This is your neutral position. Hands revealed and hands asymmetric. Do you like that?

Tulio, may I ask you please to come up on the stage. And, again, I’ll show that this isn’t as easy as it looks. So, Tulio, up you come. Just imagine that we have just had a meeting. I’m your client and I say, “Thank you very much, Tulio. That’s fantastic.” And now you turn around and leave. And then I say, “Oh, Tulio, sorry. Just before you go, I want to ask you a question about what was happening when we were talking. And what I found was that I didn’t really understand. That took him about half an hour, didn’t it? It took him about half an hour. Tulio, it’s got to be fast.” So you see how slowly he turned, and then he wants to go to here, this is his rest position. [visual] That’s called the “John Wayne,” when you put your hands like that.

So, instead, you need to turn around straightaway and say, “Yes, Louise, how can I help you?” Open your arms. Embrace, and then to the rest position. So Tulio is leaving, and I say, “Hi, Tulio. Thank you very much. Great meeting.” You leave. I say, “Oh, Tulio, before you leave, I just wanted to ask, was that better?” And now I say, “I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”

Now, what Tulio is doing there is so often what we do. One leg. Now, one leg has been well researched in nonverbal studies to show something. What it shows is, we think it’s casual. What it actually has been shown in perception is, when you go to one leg it says, “Tell someone who cares. Because I don’t.”

So we tend to say, “Are there any questions? Of course, if there are, tell someone who cares. I can’t even be bothered to stand on two feet, let alone listen to your question.”

But, actually, if you watch any of the voice competitions, singers never stand on one leg because, as I said, power, not aggression. Power comes from the lower body. So I can’t give that power away. You have to be on your two feet. I want those feet parallel to you. Parallel. And don’t cover your hands. That’s it. And the bottom hand, hands free.

Now I’m saying something like, “I was very unhappy, actually, with what you said earlier. And I was concerned that . . . right, right, right.” Now I need him to nod his head. Nod to show flexibility of mind. And the other thing that I need is that the mouth can’t be sealed. I need the mouth slightly open. A sealed mouth says that my temporomandibular joint, at the side, is jammed. And that’s a sign of stress.

So the trick here is to press your tongue to the top of your pallet, which just releases the temporomandibular joint and gives you a slight opening of the lips. So you’re standing there, and I’m abusing you. You’ve got your hands asymmetric. You’re nodding your head, and I’m saying, “I’m very unhappy with why I wasn’t given that form weeks ago.” Keep the mouth open, and nod.

It’s very difficult in a room this size to practice your rest position. But, at your table, just move forward and do asymmetric hands on the table, and see what that looks like. Don’t lean on the table because that would be your weight and your upper body. You want weight in your lower body, up straight and hands asymmetric so that both hands are revealed. And that, if you listen to any of the panel programs, watch any politicians, is the position they go to. It is a classic rest position.

With the shaking of the hand, often people will say to me, “But I am a left-hander.” Well, do you know what I say? I don’t care. We shake hands with the right hand. That’s it. I mean, of course I care. But the reality is, it’s done with the right hand. So one thing that I was told with one of the cultures was that it should be the left hand over the right hand. But, certainly, in Western culture, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re left-handed or right-handed. It’s my understanding that you can do either, and it doesn’t matter if you’re left-handed or right-handed.

One of the things with the throat is that we don’t realize that the larynx makes sound. That, however, is its secondary function. Its primary function is to stop you from drowning. The vocal cords are just simply a valve in the throat that opens and closes. And when air comes out of your body, that makes sound. But when food or water comes into your body, they seal. And they seal to stop fluid or solids getting into your lungs. They don’t do that alone. They’re actually part of a triple seal: vocal cords, false vocal cords, and the epiglottis.

The interesting thing about this part of the throat is that it can’t tell the difference between drowning from water or drowning from emotion. And so, when we get really emotional, the throat closes, and people can’t speak. Have you had this experience or had it with your clients where suddenly they can’t speak? Now, every single one of these blockages is undoable. We know when the diaphragm jams, and everything goes high. We do a breath out to kick it free. When our mouth seals, we press our tongue to the top. When our neck seals, we nod our head. When our arms seal, we lift them out.

What are we going to do for the throat when it seals under stress? Below here we say breathe, but that doesn’t work. [visual] And what happens is below here there is no sensation. So to ask you to open up your vocal cords and your larynx is like asking you to move your liver closer to your kidneys. You can’t do it.

But they’ve proven it with cameras, and they’ve proven this, and I honestly think this should be taught in schools. [visual] There is a muscle in your body that when you lift it, the throat actually can’t close. And it’s this: the cheeks. When you lift your cheeks, the false vocal cords retract back into the lining of the throat and free you to speak. And that, of course, is a singing technique when people come out to sing. They will always lift like that. It doesn’t have to be, but the easiest way for you to get this is to smile like a lunatic.

Now, what happens when somebody yawns in the room? We all yawn. Why? There is no other reason other than that the throat, actually, is a secondary form of empathy. That’s what happens. It’s an ancient form of empathy to imitate throat shapes. So, if you are somebody leading others, lift those cheeks in a smile, and the people around you can’t help but to empathetically open their throat and relieve their stress. So this is a great way of influencing others.

Now, I want to look at eyes very briefly. I know that you’re experts at this. And you would know that for all of us, no matter what culture, our eyes go up, sideways, or down for different types of thinking. We go up for visual thinking—80 percent of us; sideways for sound, for auditory thinking; and down for feeling, kinesthetic, for any emotion or feeling, literally touching or feeling internally. The eyes go up, sideways, and down. Not only do they go up, sideways, and down, but they actually go to different sides for different types of thought. We tend to go to our left-hand side for remember thinking and our right-hand side for creative or constructive thinking. What’s another word for creative or constructive thinking? Lying. That’s right. Lying.

Now, although you perhaps know this pattern, the general public doesn’t. All it knows is that if you move your eyes in any direction, you’re a liar. Which is not true. So people who lead others in Western culture must have eyes on eyes. So turn to a person at your table and tell him or her one thing you’re going to change or practice. But the key thing is, as you say this to each other, don’t move your eyes.

Did anyone find that challenging? It’s key for professionalism. The eyes have to be under control. Now again, the eyes under control means that you then alter it for different cultures. So there are cultural rules with eyes. In Western culture, we look at people for respect, but we look away for disrespect. Actually, in Aboriginal culture in Australia, you look at people for disrespect, but you look away for respect. It’s very different. I train people in both styles. The key thing is, you have to be in control.

Now, did anybody feel like a psychopath? That’s because looking at people like this is what psychopaths do. Psychopaths actually stare. So how do we make it not staring and not give the people around you the feeling that you are a psychopath? How are we going to do that? It’s movement. It’s face movement. So you can smile. You can nod. We’ve done those two things. But, actually, there’s one other thing that is the most critical. Blinking is what you do.

We’re going to blink. And that blinking makes it not staring. The question is, how often do you blink? They’ve measured it. It’s every four seconds. It’s 15 times a minute. So you can add that to your rest position. You’re standing with your feet parallel. You’ve strengthened your lower body. Your upper body is free. Your hands are asymmetric. Your head is nodding. You’re smiling like a lunatic. And you’re blinking every four seconds.

You might say that’s hard. It’s just habitual patterns. You need to practice it 1,000 times until you get it right. You need to practice when you go to order coffee. You may stand in the queue in rest position. You don’t walk in rest position. Take a step back to rest position. Finally, you get to the front of the queue, and you say, “Hi, could I have a cappuccino, please?” And this is where you practice your arms open in the everyday so that when you’re there with clients, it just happens. It becomes part of you. It’s just a matter of practice.

You know, it’s not so easy. I had a client who was the chair of a board, and she said to me, “My board finds me intimidating.” So I said, “Oh, well, great, let’s have a look. Come and show me what you’re doing.” So she came in, and she said, “Right, what do you think?” I said, “Well, I think I’ve spotted something.” Now, the thing is, if your head is not on straight, you get white underneath the balls of the eye. And when you get white underneath the balls of the eyes, that is the definition of senesta. And that is what the Joker did on Batman.

I then said to her, “How do you soften that?” because we know we nod; we smile big. She said, “I smile,” which of course made it worse. So the head has to come on straight. The eyeballs need to be in the center of the eye, and then we nod.

Maintaining eye contact is actually the easy thing. The really complicated thing is grasping the eyes of the people whom you’re dealing with. And this is where the hands come in. They are essential. Often we’re told to stand still and to put our hands by our side. And this really is stupidity. It doesn’t work. We need these hands as our guide. So where are we going to put them? We know that we greet like this; we know that we listen like this. [visual] Where else do we put them?

Well, let’s look at that eye pattern. If we’re trying to get people to think visually, to think of their vision, where do we want their eyes to go? Up. We’re saying that everything is up, and that is the gesture for vision. Can we all do that? Get your hands up in the air, please. That is the visual gesture. “I want to have a look at your plan today.” That would be a classic gesture. [visual] “I want to have a look at that.” [visual] It looks much less silly than it actually feels at first, and then if I want to get questions from somebody, that’s auditory. I bring it into my ears. So I may say, “I’d love to have a look at your plan and then if I could just get your feedback.” [visual] So go into your ears, can we do that? Get your feedback into your ears.

And then—kinesthetic. We actually go down, and we do the hands like that. [visual] Can you do the hands like that? So we may say, “Look, I want to have a look at your plan today and just get your feedback if I may. And just check that you’re onboard with what we’re doing.” [visual] That’s called congruent gesturing. What if I were to say, “OK, well, thanks for coming. Look, what I want to do today is have a look at your plan and just check and listen to what you’ve got to say. And just check that you’re happy with that. OK? Did you have any questions?” [visual] It doesn’t work. We have to be more professional.

So we have visual; we have auditory; we have kinesthetic. Could I ask you for the timeline? Where is the future? Can you point to the future, please? You know what? If you go back to the ancient Romans, it’s your right hand. It’s your right hand, and I want you to put it out in front of you, and I want you to grasp the future. This is infinity and beyond—Buzz Lightyear. But this is the future. From people who have the future in their grasp, this is the future. [visual] Hold it. A good psychopath holds gestures; a lot of these are the skills of psychopaths. We have the future. Where’s the past? Behind you; don’t look to the past. [visual] Don’t look to the past; it’s behind you.

We have the future in front of us on the right side. Our past is behind us. Where’s the present? You’re in it. [visual] So we have the future, the past, the present. And you may say, “Today, what I want to do is have a look at your plan and get your feedback so that we’re really happy with what’s happening, and it’s not what happened in the past for you. You know the future is going to be quite different.” [visual] And we talk in this way that actually guides people’s eyes. This is a major skill of influence. Your eyes don’t move, but your hands do. You blink.

So, if I look at every person here, I know that you’re all brilliant at what you do. I know that in the past, there may have been problems that you’ve learned from that suitcase, lessons from the past in a suitcase. You’ve learned from that, and today what we do is we incorporate all of that, so that both for you and your clients, the future just gets better and better.

Now, I want to have you do a little test just to see how that works. Could we all stand up, please. We put all of these things into patterns for difficult situations. And they actually then go on to the structures for presentation, the structures for difficult situations, the structures for feedback. But today we’ve had an opportunity to look at a few skills. And we don’t get the scrutiny that Trump or Kim Jong Un gets, but we have the scrutiny of our clients, and not only that, it’s not just about the clients. Actually, working in this area is really good for you. It opens your body. It gets you under control. So can I ask you please to put your hands to your stomach. Which way will your stomach go for the breath out? In. Never different. Check the people around you. Try “Hi, hi, hi.” Now let’s test that a little bit psychologically and just add a little pitch onto that and try “Hi, hi, hi.” I smile when I hear that because that’s so beautiful to hear your air.

Now, where’s the future? Out there? [visual] Yep, out there. The future is out there. So let’s with a hand gesture try a bit of a movement and try “Hi, hi. Hi, hi.” And we hold it up there because psychopaths hold gestures. [visual] That’s the future. That’s the past. [visual]

If we have numbers, where do they go? Beside your head. That’s where numbers go. I had a CO I worked with, and he had a big international AGM, and in the rehearsal he said, “You know, we’ve had two deaths in the organization.” [visual] I said to him, “You can’t say that.” And he said, “Why not?” I said, “Because that’s a rude gesture.” He said, “Oh, only you would know, Louise.” No, actually lots of people know. You cannot have the backs of the hands. It is the front of the hands. Two fingers, and fingers stay upright when you have numbers.

So we have the future. Give me the future. We have the past. We have the present. We have kinesthetic. We have auditory. We have visual up here. Our arms are off our bodies. We greet people. We stand up straight. The feet are parallel. Our power is in our lower body. And we give it to show how much we care.

So now can we try this: “Hi, hi.” Let’s add some words and try this: “Somewhere over the rainbow way up high.” You can do it. “There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.” Now I want you to lean your hands back, please. Get your body back. Get into power. And I want you to give all you’ve got as you finish up by saying, “If happy little bluebirds fly.” Are you ready? And then the big finish. Let’s go: “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, then why, oh why, can’t I?”


Louise Mahler, Ph.D., is a communication specialist, proven performer and vocal intelligence coach. She is the foremost expert in the psychology of face-to-face engagement. With a doctorate in business, degrees and post-graduate studies in service management and music, and a master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming, Mahler combines her years of professional performance on the European opera stage to put her in a league of her own.


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