TJ interviews: Author and coach Robin Kermode

Robin Kermode gives TJ his best tips for good body language, both real world and virtually.

Do you think our body language has changed now we spend more time looking at devices and if so, how?

I recently watched an old episode of Downton Abbey and was struck by the period body language. As we know, in the past, for etiquette and clothing reasons, people held themselves in a more ‘upright’ way. Of course, the world is less formal now, but the use of mobile devices has caused several body language changes. 

Shoulders are more rounded and the body is looser as people look down to read texts, and walking whilst texting causes strange random ambling movements.

Eye contact has changed too. Try talking to a teenager about a personal matter and we find they’re often more comfortable to have deeper conversations when walking side by side or sitting in a car where all eyes are looking straight ahead. This could well be a result of communicating via machine much of the time.

Another side effect of the use of mobiles is that people seem less ‘present’. Almost as if they are constantly waiting for the phone to ping with a text or an image. I find watching couples on a first date in a restaurant where both sit there are on their phones quite sad. They could have stayed in their own homes and almost had the same experience.

Listen well. If you do, your body language will show appropriate respect.

It’s true in business meetings too. I advise clients never to leave their mobiles on the table in a meeting. It’s so easy to get distracted by the light flashing as a notification arrives. It’s rather like when you make the effort to go to a store and the salesperson answers the phone and keeps you waiting.

It makes you feel less important than the person on the phone. Better to put all phones away and be fully present. We can always check them later.

One thing you specialise in is preparing for speeches and interviews. What are the common mistakes people make that they think are actually helping them?

Here are three tips:

  • Don’t sell.

Never look like you’re selling. Try to look like you are the solution to a problem.

If you visited a plumber’s website in the early days of the internet, it would have told you how good they were. It would probably also have told you that they’re a family business, they’ve being going for over fifty years and show you several quotes from loyal customers saying how amazing they were.

But none of us goes to a plumber’s website to find out how successful they are. We go there because water’s dripping through the ceiling and we need to stop the leak. Or we go because we need a new boiler.

So if you visit a plumber’s website today, it’s all solution based. Their website will probably say, ‘Got a leak? Click here’ or ‘Need a new boiler? Click here’. They are not selling. They’re solving a problem.

When constructing and planning a pitch or presentation simply try to be the solution to a problem.

  • Make it about them.

Before you even start to think about your speech or build a slide deck, just stop to think why you are giving it. Do you want to motivate, to inform, to get them to buy or to change their way of thinking? Ask yourself what’s in it for them. Why should they care?

In the 60s a company selling lawn seed ran this advertising campaign: THE BEST LAWN SEED IN THE WORLD.

Their sales didn’t go up when the commercial was running. Something was wrong. They soon realised that the audience didn’t want the best lawn seed. What the audience wanted was the best lawn. So they changed their strapline to: FOR THE BEST LAWNS IN THE WORLD. And their sales shot up.

  • Start with a memorable hook.

Most talks start something like this: ‘Hello, my name is Robin. I’d like to talk to you for about 20 or 25 minutes, if that’s ok. Then perhaps we’ll have some questions. So if we are all ready, I’ll start.’

That’s what everyone else does. Let’s be different and start with an interesting, quirky phrase to ‘hook’ them in. I remember hearing a politician once speaking about his political ambitions. He opened with, ‘My chances of being Prime Minster are about as likely as my being reincarnated as an olive.’

An olive? Yes, an olive! It’s the ridiculousness of that image that makes it work so well. That’s the memorable ‘hook’.

Digital body language is something that is becoming more popular as virtual meetings are becoming more commonplace. What are your tips for positive digital body language?

Here are my top tips for video or voice conference calls:

  • Don’t slouch.

Sit upright so your voice sounds clearer. It’s often easy to be upright when speaking but remember to stay still and upright even when listening.

  • Don’t shout.

Many people feel that because the microphone is a couple of feet away they have to be louder than necessary. Conference call mics are designed for the space they occupy. Rather like an in-car phone system. There’s no need to lean into the mic or raise your voice. Don’t shout, just try to sound human.

  • Keep twinkling.

Try to keep eye contact with camera. You can look away to think of your answer but when you have decided what to say, come back and say it straight down the lens. And if you can add a twinkle into your eyes, you will look (and sound) much more relaxed.

Also – virtual meetings and remote teams are often spread out across the globe. How do you avoid making cultural faux pas when it comes to body language?

There are many cultural nuances in behavior. The biggest faux pas in any country is showing lack of respect. So the easiest way to make sure that we never put our foot in it when dealing with someone from another culture is to be respectful.

Don’t speak over someone else. Allow them to finish.

Keep your voice respectful too. Don’t be too loud.

Listen well. If you do, your body language will show appropriate respect.


About the interviewee

Robin Kermode is the author of the bestselling book SPEAK SO YOUR AUDIENCE WILL LISTEN, and founder of the coaching consultancy, Zone 2.




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