Bimbo Banter

Bad Advice

  • Leadership
  • February 12, 2016
  • by Merrie Spaeth


Regular readers of our blog know one of my rants is how much you can pay for bad advice. That seems to be particularly true about advice about presentation skills, specifically in the category of body language.

Once more—for the record—the most important part of the presentation is the content:

- Who’s your audience?

- What do you want them to remember?

- Do you have motivating stories that bring your point alive?

- If using visuals, are they true visuals that help you tell the story?

- Do you spend enough time setting up the point?

If you’ve done these things, you are almost guaranteed to be in good shape. If not – well, how you move your hands while speaking won’t help.

Recent articles from recognized sources (Forbes and a giant health care company) provide predictable, useless or just plain wrong advice.

Forbes: don’t glance at the clock. Really? The tired advice, “don’t fold or cross your arms. It makes you look closed off.” Maybe, but it all depends how you cross your arms. Do you convey “Don’t talk to me” or just “I’m standing casually.” 

The health care company newsletter covered body language as a relationship tool. They advised “nodding conveys you are listening.” It may, but it can also convey agreement. We have a new training clip of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fielding a question, “Are you worried about the negative publicity about the Clinton Foundation’s contribution from countries with terrible records on women’s rights?” She smiles – and nods, and it looks like she’s agreeing.

Next, they advise “smiling means you’re friendly.” But what if it’s critical, like the question to Clinton, a tragedy or an angry comment? What you want is what we call the lifted or “listening face.” Cheek bones up, lips turned a little up, so you convey “I’m interested in you, I like you.”

Facial expression influences likeability, which in turn influences listening. We can show you close-ups of executives who think they look approachable but are really grimacing. Instead of looking regal, they end up resembling the Jester... This technique needs to be practiced on camera.

Both articles go on to dole out even more erroneous advice. The bottom line: people can pay a lot for bad advice, some of which is not just wrong, but dangerous.

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