Read Between The Lines: Client Body Language and Vocal Cues
You’ve done your homework. You’ve prepared for the big meeting. You’re standing in your Wonder Woman power pose. But, you’re unsure if the presentation is going over well. The room is silent, and you can’t read your audience.
In professional, just as in personal relationships, non-verbal communication often speaks louder than words. Are your clients interested? Confused? Bored?
Can you really get inside your client’s head?
Recognizing and interpreting body language cues can help you better understand your client’s needs. Being attuned to their state of mind, and acting accordingly to ensure their satisfaction will prove to the client that a relationship with you is one worth keeping for the long term.
Therefore, when you’re with a client, on a video conference, or participating in a conference call, it’s advantageous to look out for non-verbal cues. If you pay attention to body language you’ll have the power to:
- Detect boredom or frustration
- Amplify enthusiasm and interest
- Increase meeting productivity
- Ensure positive meeting outcomes
How to Interpret Meeting Participant Body Language
When a client needs reassurance or clarification
You know your product inside and out. You could riff on the intricate inner-workings of the service for days. But for the prospective client, ten minutes of your well-prepared sales shpiel feels like a century. The clients have questions, but can’t get a word in edgewise. You would have no idea until you notice this nonverbal behavior:
- Pen chewing or nail biting
- Tension in the brow
- Head scratching
- Rubbing back of the neck
During meetings, take advantage of conference calling features that provide your clients with the option to raise their hand and ask questions. This helps align your meetings with the needs of the participants involved. It also makes it much easier to manage question and answer sessions.
When a client is lying
The meeting went well, or so you thought. Promises were made, the next steps and contracts were discussed. So why haven’t you heard a peep from the client in over two weeks? Next time, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not the person is being honest. Watch for what Carol Kinsey Goman calls clusters of non-verbal signals. More than one of these actions together have been proven to indicate a high likeliness of deception. The four telltale signs of lying are:
- Hand touching
- Face touching
- Arms crossed
- Leaning away
When a client is uneasy or unhappy
Nothing kills productivity during a meeting like a person who simply won’t contribute. So why not get to the bottom of why? Could the person be unhappy about something? If you pick up on unconscious body language that represents unhappiness, consider clearing the air before moving forward. Pause the meeting and check in if you notice:
- Blocking or putting an object in front of the body
- Crossed arms
- Lack of eye contact
- Acting distracted/checking phone
It could be the most valuable action you take during the entire meeting
When a client has checked out
During the meeting, you realize the subject matter is about as engaging as the directions on a box of macaroni. And it seems that your clients have caught on and lost interest. But, the meeting is only halfway through, so you still have a chance to steer the ship in a new direction. It’s a chance you’ll definitely want to take if you notice this nonverbal behavior exhibited by the people around you:
- Sitting slumped, with heads downcast
- Gazing at something else, or into space
- Fidgeting, picking at clothes, or fiddling with pens and phones
- Writing or doodling
When a client is definitely on board
A meeting where everyone involved is engaged and is participating in the decision-making process can have the energy exchange of a rock concert. The more the audience gives, the more the leader gives back. Take note of these positive cues, and prepare to extend the power and productivity of your meeting even further:
- Moving toward or leaning closer to you
- Uncrossed arms
- Eye contact
- Vocal agreements such as “mhm” and “uh-huh”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Don’t forget about vocal cues in a meeting too. Tone, volume, inflection, and pace of speech can change the emotional impact of any message. Silence, throat clearing, and grunts of approval are ways to communicate without saying a word.
But, in those instances when client body language is baffling, don’t be afraid to be direct. It’s worthwhile to verbally check-in during meetings to ensure you’re on the same page. Ask how you are doing. Inquire if your material is understood. Asking direct and explicit questions engages your audience and promotes their participation.
And remember, your own non-verbal cues speak volumes, too. As a meeting leader, what non-verbal messages are you sending?