3 body language mistakes you're making in a meeting's first 5 seconds, according to actors

Research has found that people make snap judgements about others' trustworthiness within the first milliseconds of a meeting, Sue Shellenbarger writes for the Wall Street Journal.

Snap judgements are instinctive and can stem from unconsciously held stereotypes, says Alexander Todorov, a psychology professor at Princeton University.

During a meeting, leaders only have a few seconds to win—or lose—the trust of their audience, writes Shellenbarger. Some actors are using their body language expertise to coach leaders on their conference room stage presence. Shellenbarger spoke to several actors-turned-entrepreneurs to understand how leaders can ensure their audiences' snap judgements are positive ones.

Mistake 1: Your smile doesn't seem genuine

Research shows that happy expressions are more likely to inspire trust, Shellenbarger writes. But your facial expressions are important—even when you're out of the spotlight, she warns.

When people's habitual expressions seem grumpy, they seem untrustworthy, says Judson Vaughn, chief executive of First Impressions HQ. However, if you notice that you've forgotten to smile, be careful about how you adjust your expression. Suddenly flipping your frown into a megawatt smile can make you seem even less trustworthy, warns Vaughn, a former character actor.

8 body language mistakes sending the wrong signals to your colleagues

Mistake 2: You're not in character

Before you enter the conference room, take a few moments to imagine what impression you want to leave with your audience, suggests Lisa Peers, chief executive of Peers & Players. Treat your walk to the podium as the "first entrance of your character on stage," says Peers, a professional actor. Practicing a symmetrical stance with "straight and even" shoulders will make you seem—and feel—more relaxed and confident, she adds.

Mistake 3: You're sending the wrong hand signals

When you present to a room of new faces, keep your hands visible and relaxed at your sides to seem genuine and warm, says Hilary Blair, a professional actor and chief executive of Articulate Real & Clear. Showing open palms signals that you've got nothing to hide, says Mark Bowden, president of a communications training firm.

And never go in for a stiff handshake across a conference table, says Vaughn. Instead, maintain warm eye contact and subtly "draw the other person closer to you," he suggests. At closer range, a handshake subconsciously signals that you trust the person—without having to say a word, he adds (Shellenbarger, Wall Street Journal, 2/28).

Also see: What to do with your hands during a presentation


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