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2019 PRedictions: Watch out for your non-verbals, and don’t stare at celebrities

This blog is part of our PRedictions series, a collection of posts from PR and communications leaders offering insights, advice, and opinions on how our industry can grow in 2019. To view our full list of 2019 PRedictions, click here.

Yesterday I had an extraordinary, surreal encounter with a world-famous celebrity, one of the most recognised faces on the planet. I spotted her in a shop as I was walking down my local high street. I was rooted to the spot with shock. We weren’t that far apart, either side of the glass window, and I couldn’t help but stare. She looked up, our eyes met and, feeling guilty and embarrassed, I mouthed “sorry” with my hand on my heart, and then “hello” with a little wave and a huge grin. Yes I did!

Incredibly, she in turn mouthed “hello”, accompanied by a little wave and a smile. It was a very brief moment but much was communicated in those gestures and facial expressions.

The other morning I saw a photograph posted on Instagram by a 14-year-old girl in what might best be described as a provocative pose and an immodest outfit. No words there either but plenty of communication.

And in my training room these past weeks, the issue of body language, especially when seated around a meeting table, has come up repeatedly.

So it seems timely to remind ourselves that non-verbal communication, for individuals and the brands they represent, can be extremely powerful, and that it might be giving an unintended impression. I suspect the Instagram girl is not aware how others will interpret her clothing, facial expression and posture. In her mind, it’s a lovely photograph which she’s proud of.

Similarly, our physical behaviour in meetings can be misleading. One client in particular had a habit of leaning back in his seat (in what feels to him to be a relaxed and informal pose). He was unaware what colleagues were reading into this - that he was, at best, uninterested in the content of the meeting, at worst, arrogant. Needless to say, he has adapted accordingly and now opts for a more ‘engaged’ pose – sitting forward on his seat, forearms on the table, more active listening.

Another client tended to lean away from the boardroom table when she feared she had nothing of value to contribute. It was actually a self-defence mechanism to get away from the ‘heat of battle’. Here again, others saw it as boredom/superiority. She too has altered her ‘ways’.

As brands prepare for the challenges of 2019, there are ever more channels through which to resonate with their audiences and ever more ‘noise’ around them. It’s therefore worth remembering the impact of quiet, non-verbal communication; the impression your ambassadors and spokespeople are making. For you and Instagram girl, it might be wise to put on a cardie!