By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
If you read my newsletter frequently, then you know I’m always on the lookout for real life examples with practical applications that I can turn into articles. I even have a friend who’s an Executive Director of Admissions who asks me each time I see him if he’s going to end up in an article one day. Not today, but I was ironically with him at last week’s NACAC National Conference, more specifically the counselors’ college fair, when today’s article came to me.
Body language matters! I’ll explain why in just a minute.
If you want to become a better admissions counselor or leader, every aspect of communication (even the nonverbal kind) is important as you try and connect with a prospective student or parent, or when you try and lead your staff. We all give and receive signals every single day…things like how fast or loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make, and the gestures we make. Even when we stand and don’t say a word, we’re still communicating non-verbally.
Throughout last week’s conference in Salt Lake City, I saw numerous examples of good and bad body language. I saw vendors who were overbearing, moving around too much, looking around while talking to people, and standing in a manner that was standoffish. And I saw admissions counselors at the counselors’ college fair having relaxed, easy going conversations with each other…smiling, laughing, hugging, and eyes totally locked in. There’s more, but I’m sure you get the point I’m making.
Why is this important? Because body language can totally change how you, me, your colleagues, and your prospective students interpret messages. Did you know that some studies have shown as much as 70% of our communication is done non-verbally? Crazy, right!
Knowing all of this, the first piece of advice I want to give you is if your prospect’s words don’t match his or her body language, you’d be smart to rely on body language as a more accurate reflection of their true feelings. This goes for things like college fairs, high school visits, campus visits, and video chats.
Here’s another important reason that body language needs to be something you think about. Research shows that we decide in the first few moments of meeting someone whether or not we like them, and in some cases, feel like we can trust them. You can create a favorable first impression and build rapport quickly by using “open” body language. In addition to smiling and making eye contact, show the palms of your hands, talk slowly and normally, and keep your arms unfolded and your legs uncrossed.
When you’re at college fairs, doing high school visits, or leading an information session (in-person or virtual), are you looking at your audience or are you staring at your PowerPoint, the marketing materials that you brought along, or somewhere other than that little dot on your computer? How’s your energy level? Do you look like you want to be having that conversation?
Does your body language mirror that of the person you’re talking to? Mirroring indicates interest and approval.
All of this matters…a lot! You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
One final point – It’s hard to fake nonverbal communication. Some people can sit a certain way or shake hands in a way that makes them appear confident. The truth is that likely won’t work unless you truly feel confident and in control. This is something that I talk about a lot with young, new admissions counselors. You can’t control all of the signals you’re constantly sending off about what you’re really thinking and feeling.
Body language is a great way to gauge how a prospective student or parent is responding to what you’re telling them, but you have to be very aware of what to look for and what you’re communicating to them.
I hope this was helpful. Reply back and let me know. And if you have questions about anything I’ve said, I’m all ears, so let’s start a conversation.