Coaching Millennials on Body Language

Did you know that, according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules: Twelve Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, “vision trumps all other senses” when it comes to perception? That, in fact, it’s “probably the single best tool we have for learning anything”?

In no area of business communication is visual acuity more important than that of body language. People’s first impressions of others are powerful (and difficult to overcome), and reading other people’s faces and gestures is a critical skill.

Yet according to numerous articles, Millennials are especially weak in this area. For example,body language photo

  • A Wall Street Journal article makes this claim in its title: “Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Nonverbal Cues: An Emphasis on Social Networking Puts Younger People at a Face-to-Face Disadvantage.”
  • An article based on employer interviews (Alsop) also blames Millennials’ “extensive reliance on online communication” for inhibiting their learning “how to speak in a polished manner, listen attentively, and read others’ expressions and body language.” Employers are thus finding “that their young hires are awkward in their interpersonal interactions and ill-prepared to collaborate effectively with teammates and develop relationships with clients.”
  • The Harvard Business Review blog posted an article by a psychologist who has collected “solid evidence” that “exposure to digital media reconfigures the neural networks of young individuals, possibly at the expense of empathy and social skills.” Their resulting “inability to pick up on nonverbal cues” can be a serious professional disability.

You may have gathered your own evidence from your classrooms. My colleagues and I have noticed that our students are often facially nonresponsive in class (as if they’re watching a tv show) and that the facial expressions they do make are sometimes inappropriate (as if they can’t be seen). One of my colleagues got the idea to discuss this issue with her class, offering such advice as “nod if you agree” and “do not roll your eyes when you teacher says something you don’t like.” We now have a heightened sensitivity to this issue and watch for opportunities to advise our students to be more attentive to body language—both their own and that of others.

A recent book by Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist at Columbia Business School, points out that we all have difficulty reading each other, as well as projecting the emotion we want to project (“Mixed Signals: Why People Misunderstand Each Other“). For example, “how you look when you are slightly frustrated isn’t all that different from how you look when you are a little concerned, confused, disappointed, or nervous.” Because humans are “lazy processors,” the people reading you may not pick up on fine visual distinctions.

But Millennials are at a special disadvantage because so much of their social time has been online. One interviewed employer noted, “Where we really see interpersonal issues is where students have to self-regulate when they are told no,” and others complained that the informal nature of texts and tweets have made job applicants too “curt” or “casual” (Alsop).

So look for moments when you can do some body-language coaching. You might tell students how to look receptive when a guest is speaking, or have them practice keeping their expressions under control in a disagreement. You can also analyze speakers in videos—especially those of job interviews—to discuss how facial expressions and gestures add to or detract from the speaker’s communication.

Do you have other methods for raising your students’ body-language IQ? If so, please share what works for you. And if you haven’t been discussing body language with your classes—now’s the time.


End-of-the-School-Year Resource Roundup

Yes, indeed, the end of another school year has arrived, and I am already thinking ahead to the next academic year. In planning ahead, I’ve also reflected on the past year and realized I have gathered a LOT of online resources related to business communication. I’m guessing many of you are like me in that you never really leave the classroom and are always thinking about the next semester, class, or lesson.

The articles below appeared in the news feed generated by my Zite app, and I then saved them to Pocket. (Zite and Pocket, by the way, are probably my two favorite apps.) You can also find more resources by following me on Twitter (@pjglentz) or viewing my teaching board on Pinterest. If you have any “must have” resources you’d like to share with us, please do!

Corporate Culture

Design & Typography





Leadership & Teamwork


Presentations & Oral Communication



 Technology & Communication


It’s pretty easy to put together a lesson on the dos and don’ts of interviewing for a job: Say this, don’t say that, dress appropriately, research the company…the list goes on. If you’re looking for stories, statistics, or trivia to enliven your class discussion of the job interview, here are a few articles, courtesy of my Zite app and Twitter feed, that you may find interesting.

On another note…Are any of you going to the Association for Business Communication conference in New Orleans this week? If so, look us up. We would enjoy seeing you.

PechaKucha What?

Those of you who were at the ABC Midwest-Southeast meeting in Louisville a couple of weeks ago may have attended a presentation or two about (or using) PechaKucha. PechaKucha (Japanese for “chatter”) is a delivery format in which a presenter delivers images in 20 slides, spending only 20 seconds narrating each slide. Because slides advance automatically after 20 seconds, presenters must stick to the time limit, meaning that the entire presentation lasts only 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

Why use PechaKucha? How might it help students in the business communication classroom?

  • PechaKucha forces presenters to really think about their main points and stick to them. The time limits on the slides ensure that presenters do not get off on tangents or extensively elaborate on their topic.
  • Because the slides contain mostly images rather than text, presenters avoid the trap of reading slides to their audience and instead focus on the delivery of their message. Another benefit, of course, is that audiences are not subjected to a mind-numbing reading of the slides and then left wondering why they attended a presentation when they could have read the presentation on their own.
  • We all know the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because PechaKucha relies on images, audiences may be more likely to recall a main point or idea if they can associate it with an image rather than with a lot of words or lines of text.

To see an example of PechaKucha, visit the PechaKucha Web site and check out Greg Judelman’s 18 Tidbits on the Design of Change. You can learn the 18 tips in 20 slides in 6 minutes, 40 seconds…impressive and effective.

Is PechaKucha right for every business presentation? As with any communication channel, PechaKucha should be used if it is right for the audience, purpose, context, and content for a presentation. Do you use PechaKucha in your classes? If so, tell us about it.

Tips for Effective Cross-Cultural Presentations

An article that has been picked up recently by several training and development newsletters is one by Dave Underhill,  founder of Underhill Training and Development, entitled “The Successful Global Presenter: How to Engage Audiences Across Cultures.” No wonder it is getting a good bit of play–it packs a lot of useful advice into a short space. And it’s advice that can serve any cross-cultural business communicator well.

Underhill recommends that presenters develop what he calls “cultural agility”: the ability to adapt to “the mindsets and expectations that people in different cultures have about communication, relationships, conflict, and other aspects of conducting business.”

Here’s a quick summary of his specific advice:

–Tailor the information to the audience. 

  • Use “analogies, metaphors, and themes”  that will resonate with the target audience–for example, instead of using US-based metaphors from sports, use a more broadly appealing theme, such as navigating rough waters.
  • Use inclusive pictures as well.
  • Provide your content to the audience in advance to give them time to process material that may be somewhat foreign to them.

–Adapt how you interact with the audience.

  • Some nonnative speakers may be hesitant to join a live discussion. Increase their comfort level by establishing contact with them before the presentation to make them feel more comfortable with you and your material.
  • In some cultures, it is considered rude to speak during a presentation. Give these participants a way to offer feedback less publicly–for example, by inviting them to email you with their questions and comments after the presentation.

–Modify your nonverbal communication.

  • Be sure you know how your gestures will translate into other cultures’ body-language vocabularies. For example, the “thumbs up” signal is positive in the US but offensive in some other countries.
  • Speak in short statements and pause often to give nonnative speakers a chance to process what you are saying.
  • Adjust your eye contact to your audience’s preferences–more contact with Americans, Germans, and Canadians and less with Japanese, Native American, and Hispanic audiences.
  • Be sensitive to what amount of animation your audience will consider appropriate. Dramatic facial expressions and body movements may undercut your message in some situations.

As Underhill says, “When it comes to presenting on the global stage, cultural agility matters.” You can share his useful little article with students to reinforce this point. Better yet, consider building a cross-cultural component into your presentation assignments to let students practice their cross-cultural presentation skills.

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Greetings from Chicago!

The opening plenary session was excellent! Patti Wood, certified speaking professional and expert on body language, gave us a lot to think about. Did you know that it can take up to six months to undo a first impression?

Particularly interesting was her discussion on handshakes. Yes, handshakes. According to Patti, a handshake is the equivalent of three hours of face-to-face contact. Yet, she said, many people approach the handshake incorrectly. Many people directly extend the hand straight out toward the receiver with the thumb pointed upward. This, however, leads to a wimpy handshake. A better approach is to angle the hand and extend it as though it were a plane circling for a landing.  Doing so allows you to lock thumbs and connect palms with the other person and makes for a much more powerful handshake.

Not so excited about shaking hands? Patti says a “fall-back handshake” can include approaching someone from the left and lightly touching the person’s left forearm with the fingertips of your left hand. Research shows that this has some of the same rapport-building effects as the handshake.

And a little trivia…Patti reports that depending on the research cited, 80-82% of those who give “bone crusher” handshakes have low self-esteem. Hmmm….

There are many  other wonderful sessions scheduled for the rest of the conference. As Jane noted, there are so many that we can’t attend them all. In the spirit of sharing our knowledge, please post your comments here regarding what you learn in your sessions. Enjoy the conference!

~Paula and Kathy