Expressively yourself: the circles of contact and connection

Regardless of whether you are naturally introverted or extroverted, everyone wants to be seen and heard. Yet there are so many situations in which a good talk, a great presentation or a strongly argued meeting document does not get the space it deserves. Not because the person speaking has a bad message, but because their personal presentation and non-verbal communication gets in the way.

Text Josanne Toussaint

Situations where there are communication clashes, where people don’t understand each other, or when a speaker fails to connect with the audience can literally give me a stomach ache. Because I see the potential, the opportunities, and I know that things can be done differently.

Learning tricks is rarely a good idea. Making sure you are listened to (both on- and offline) starts with knowing why we are, or are not, inclined to listen to another person. The next step is knowing what this looks like for you.

What is your voice telling you?

Rarely does the quality of the message determine if we are willing to accept it. Whether or not the message is accepted depends largely on the sender and their presentation and non-verbal qualities. The listening brain is constantly weighing things up: do I believe you? Do I like you? Is this helping me?

If you want to influence the how your message is received, it is important to know what it is you’re doing. What is your voice telling you? What is your facial expression or posture communicating?

The key factor when it comes to connection and contact is relaxation. Relaxation creates brain space, space in your head for making connections and for the content of your message. Too much tension, working too hard at convincing someone or too much pressure all makes you less able to truly make connections from within.

The three circles of contact and connection

You can think of it as three circles of contact and connection. In your own circle (the middle one in the picture), you are expressively yourself. You are in touch with yourself and your audience. Your breathing is calm; you are grounded, relaxed and active. And you are also sharply focused on content. This circle looks different for everyone. In your circle, you can have a varied tempo, rhythm and position for example.

We soon step out of circle 2 when under pressure. Then you become instantly less credible and less likely to make contact and connections. There will almost always be more physical tension in your body at that time. When you feel irritated, rushed, nervous, anxious, angry or insecure, your survival brain switches on. You instinctively want to fight, flee, freeze or please. Which way you go depends very much on your personal preference and the situation.

Regardless of whether you are naturally introverted or extroverted, everyone wants to be seen and heard

From blacking out to inflating yourself

In circle 1, you make yourself smaller. You take up less space, start rambling, talking at a higher pitch, making busier movements or just start mumbling. In circle 1, you actually want to escape. You want to disappear through a hole in the ground. Or at least stop talking as soon as possible. You aren’t making true contact. You are moving backwards rather than forwards and your volume decreases. This may be accompanied by tension in the jaw and face. Or even more extreme: you may black out completely and freeze up.

In circle 3, you are actually inflating yourself. You make yourself bigger and start fighting to be seen and heard. You start talking louder and moving forwards rather than backwards. Your movements, intonation and rhythm become staccato and are over-emphasised. If you look at people in circle 3, you can see and hear that they are working very hard.

The behaviour of a circle 2 speaker elicits relaxed behaviour from the audience. But if you are ‘fighting’ for example, your conversation partner will most likely either flee or fight back.

You can only do something about this once you become aware of what is happening. Staying relaxed in yourself may seem easier said than done. But this is something that can be trained very effectively. Just like exercising the muscles in your arms, legs and stomach, you can also exercise your brain and awareness. This allows you to become more and more expressively yourself. You can find three initial tips below.

In my book, you will find even more practical tips and tools to help you get started right away.

Josanne Toussaint

Instituut Wijs

  • Tips for staying in your circle
  1. Breathe out

We often breathe in more when we want to perform or when we feel discomfort. This will cause you to feel inflated and float out of your circle even sooner. So it’s better to exhale before you start speaking. Let your stomach release so you can breathe in again naturally.

  1. Feel your feet

Wiggle your toes in your shoes for a moment before or during any important conversation, meeting or presentation. This will help you keep in touch with your body and more easily stay in your own circle.

  1. Establish a clear purpose and a core message

Align your non-verbal communication with your purpose and core message (verbal communication). This helps you relax into yourself and your conversation partner(s), so you can stay in your circle.

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