More than words

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Non-verbal communication is the name of the game. Brush up on your technique with Heather Nicholson

The saying goes, it's not what you say but how you say it that matters.

When someone is listening to another person, only a small percentage of their attention is focused on what is being said, according to occupational psychologist Helen Bartimote.

"Tone of voice and visible behaviour distract from what you are trying to say, that is why it is vital to adopt good non-verbal communication techniques to highlight what you are talking about, otherwise your message will not be heard," she says.

Speaking in a too-quiet voice is going to earn you low marks, talking in a monotone means you won't get your message across, and no one pays attention to rambling statements. Cut out the errs, umms and maybes. Try not to hesitate or taper off at the end. Frequent throat clearing might indicate uncertainty. You want your presentation to be fluid.

You should be making statements that are concise, to the point and with a distinction between facts and opinion. An invaluable lesson could be to practise questions and answers and listen to yourself on tape.

Don't saunter or rush into the room and don't start burbling about how difficult it was to get there. Sit in the chair indicated then make your greetings. Don't pull your chair so close to the table your body touches it.

Displacement activities such as fiddling with your hair, rings on your fingers, earrings, tie or cuff links are signs of nervousness and should be avoided. Place yourself in a way that is comfortable, cross your legs, but never cross one on top of the other and then hold an ankle with one hand: such a posture is much too casual.

Once you start to relax, use open hand gestures as a way of expressing what you are talking about. If in doubt, place one hand on top of the other.

Never wring your hands or make washing gestures because the interviewers will look but not listen.

Always keep eye contact because this is a dialogue, a social exchange.

Locking eyes with the interviewer posing the question is important, but when you answer look at the others in turn. Don't look at the floor, out of the window or evasive. Never interrupt or be too quick to answer. Take a few seconds to ponder some of your answers: that suggests you can think on your feet.

A short gap occasionally will impress on them that you are processing the information and considering your answer. If the question comes in two parts, ask for the second part to be repeated if you don't remember it it correctly.

Smile, but not too much. Nodding your head in agreement is positive, but don't overdo it.

Gary Fitzgibbon, a business psychologist, says preparation is the key.

Imagine yourself doing the interview, create a picture, and go through it several times.

In the classroom, he says, make eye contact with all the children, not just the more vocal ones. Moving around the room is preferable to staying in front of the class. Don't turn your back: if you have to write on the board, make brief notes so you interact with the pupils as you go through the points you want to make.

"Interviewees should walk around as a way of indicating 'this is my territory'," he says. "One way of class management is using the pupils'

names. That is a giant step and you can do it by visualising a picture of the name: Bill Smith could be a picture of a bill from the supermarket and a lock, as in locksmith.

"Asking a pupil for a piece of personal information helps to remember their name; get them to write their names on a piece of paper and display it on their desk so you can read them as you pass."

If your interview involves a tour of the school, make sure you are not carrying bundles of papers - put them in a neat folder. Ask intelligent questions, preferably about what you have just been discussing at interview, but don't take notes, which could appear intimidating.

There will be a lot of opening and holding open of doors. Whether you're a man being shown round by a woman or vice versa, don't make a gender issue of it. Share the load with a knowing smile.

Don't be horrified if an unruly pupil barges past, even if he or she knocks you hard. Brush it off as if you consider such behaviour a normal part of school life. Bad manners may be the norm there but it is good manners not to make a fuss.

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