I Command You to Look Natural

One of the hardest things for public figures to do is to look natural when someone tells them, “Look natural.” I recall a photo of the GOP presidential candidates early in the 2016 campaign that stands as proof. Every one of the public figures was accustomed to the spotlight’s glare thanks to years of high public profiles. They deliver high-powered speeches, appear on network TV interview programs, and drag themselves onstage before thousands of potential voters. Yet how many looked comfortable posing in the photo? Few, if any. It might as well be a mug shot.

Presidential election 2016

What were the problems?

  • Those awkward appendages at the end of their arms were plagued by the old “What do I do with my hands?” conundrum
  • Shoulders were either extremely rigid or slumped
  • Tight grins marked an indecision on whether to smile or look serious
  • They were clearly uncomfortable being crowded, showing no desire to touch one another

It’s lessons like this that make me tend to avoid posed photos. Candid, real life shots tend to show us in a far better light.

Most of us are unlikely to make the scene in a presidential cattle call lineup. What does this mean for you and me In our professional lives? We are most likely to be photographed at a meeting or reception. To avoid that uncomfortable pose, when a photographer urges you to smile and look at the camera, try this. Smile and say, “That’s okay. Just take a casual shot of us talking.” If he fails to take the hint, ignore him and let him take (or not take) a candid shot.

Cultivating that Natural Look

From head to toe, you have a lot of options that can make you more interesting to watch. A tilt of the head does wonders. Continuing down the body, a shrug of the shoulders shows more meaning than many words ever could.

People also tend to like us when we gesture. Studies show that teachers who gesture get better results from their students and that their pupils like them more (share this with your children’s teachers and see if they respond with a gesture or two). When you deliver a presentation you are, to one degree or another, a teacher. Gesture as you speak and feel the love.

In addition, keep your gestures close to your body. You do not want to give the impression that you are flailing about on stage.

Make your gestures purposeful. Avoid scratching your chin, wiping your eyes, tugging on your ear, and rubbing your hands together. These distractions (academics call them self-touching or self-manipulation) sharply reduce your credibility.

Space Is the Place

The spacing between you and your audience also matters. In general, the shorter the distance, the more you enhance your persuasiveness. But beware of getting too close and invading their sense of public space. This could cause them to feel uncomfortable, perhaps without their even knowing why.

While on the subject of your stance, I will mention one more idea. Leaning forward provides you with a powerful means to establish a closer connection with your audience. Whether you are standing or sitting, this represents a real positive in terms of your ability to bond with a group.

The forward lean also applies if you are seated. While leading a large group presentation skills training, I observed one of the presenters lean forward in his seat during the Q&A session. I pointed out in the critique immediately following that this is a good way to demonstrate excitement. Talk about a learning moment. A number of the other presenters who followed also adopted this forward lean. It not only made them seem more engaged, it also raised their energy level.

Looking natural isn’t necessarily easy when you are commanded to do so. With some forethought, however, you stand a good chance of looking more natural than that lineup of president hopefuls.

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