Stand up – or sit up- and be heard

by Jasmynne Sloan


Want to make a good first impression? It starts with appearance – in fact, many people judge others before a single word is exchanged.

“Whether you like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, people judge you when they first see you,” said Erin Reser, assistant professor of rhetoric and speech. “It matters how you present yourself, how you stand, what you wear.”

According to Reser, communication depends largely on body language. The problem is that many young people don’t know how to use it effectively.

Reser said she pays close attention to her students’ body language – and it doesn’t always send an ideal message.

“I see people yawning and looking out the window or talking during class or exchanging looks,” she said. “It’s just hilarious to me. I don’t know if students think I can’t see them or I’m just not looking, but I’m very attentive to it.”

There are places outside the classroom that require appropriate body language, though.

Sophomore Travis Cherniss has studied body language for several productions through Theatre Simpson. He said the body-language skills he has learned can help in a variety of situations.

“In general, body language can send a lot of messages,” Cherniss said. “How someone sits, points or looks can give you clues about how open to talk to you they are or how closed off they are. It can also let you know whether what you’re saying is important to them.”

Reser hesitated to give advice for what body language to use in specific situations. She said there’s no one correct way to act in a given situation.

“It’s very contextual and it’s very personal,” Reser said.

She did suggest, however, that students need to learn how to conduct themselves in a business setting because no matter what profession they go into, there are some general body-language rules.

“Everyone, no matter what you’re doing, has certain guidelines to follow,” Reser said. “That means looking capable, it means carrying yourself with confidence, it means making eye contact, and it means being attentive or at least acting interested even if you’re not.”

Reser noted that it’s common for people to form opinions about others based on what they look like.

“We see people before we talk to them 99 percent of the time,” Reser said. “People make their initial judgments based on what they see. That’s why nonverbal communication and body language is so important.”

Cherniss knows it’s true.

“I pay close attention to body language when I first meet a person,” he said. “I use it to gauge what kind of signals they may be sending.”

Cherniss also said his peers don’t use body language as well as they could.

“A lot of us don’t think about it,” he said. “We use it – everybody does – but it’s a good communication tool and we aren’t as conscious of it as we could be.”