Body Language for Interior Designers: How Nonverbal Communication Affects Your Success

As an interior designer, you’ve undoubtedly devoted ample time and attention to your brand image, from your logo to your digital presence to what outfit you wear to an initial consultation. However, you may not have given much thought to your nonverbal brand—the signals you send via your body language, tone of voice, gestures and even the type of eye contact you make. Take a moment to think about it: Are you even fully aware of what you tend to do with your hands or your vocal cadence during important presentations or introductions?

These are hardly trivial details—in fact, nonverbal communication makes up the majority of our communication, explains business coach Nancy Ganzekaufer, a certified body-language trainer who works with many interior designers. How you say things is just as important as what you say, if not more so—especially for interior designers aiming to close a sale. In her Ivy webinar, Body Language 101: How Your Nonverbal Brand Can Affect Your Sales Success, Ganzekaufer details several important ways interior designers can use body language and other nonverbal methods of communication to improve their bottom line. Here’s a cheat sheet to some of her best advice; for even more, watch the full webinar as soon as you have the chance.

When you think about body language, keep these four “Cs” in mind:

1. Communication: We tend to focus on the actual words we’re going to say, but you access a whole other level of sales potential when you harness the power of nonverbal cues.

2. Context: The “right” way to use  body language will always depend on the specifics of the situation you’re in.

3. Cross-Cultural: While most nonverbal communication is universal, some is unique to different cultures and countries—something worth keeping in mind as you conduct business.  

4. Consistency: Make sure your body language always stays congruent with what you’re saying, to get your point across more effectively.

It all starts with your hands: “Your hands are key to getting someone to trust you,” Ganzekaufer says, noting that we have a dedicated area of our brain that responds to the hands. Ways to take advantage of this:

Make your hands visible—Don’t put them in your pockets or lap, or clutch your phone during a first impression. When possible, let your hands be visible in professional photos of you, too.

Use gestures—Ganzekaufer notes that the most-viewed Ted Talk speakers use an average of 465 hand gestures during each speech, while the least-viewed use an average of 272. Gestures help make speech smoother and more natural while simultaneously encouraging people to relax and listen to you. They also convey expertise—you know your topic well enough to mirror what you’re saying with gestures. A few ways to use gestures like a pro:

  • Make numbers with your fingers as you list things clearly. Example: When it comes to furniture, does your client prefer good (1), better (2) or best (3) quality, and here are price ranges that go along with each level. Mirroring a list with gestures makes you seem authoritative and trustworthy.
  • When you’re saying something heartfelt, put your hand on your heart to emphasize this. Example: “If this was my house, this is what I would do.”
  • To avoid looking like you’re doing an interpretive dance, picture keeping gestures within a “box” near your body—keep your elbows at your sides and gesture from there.
  • Don’t go overboard incorporating gestures; this can make your speech feel chaotic or overly scripted.

Nail the all-important handshake: Humans are wired to connect touch with trust, since skin-to-skin contact prompts our bodies to produce the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel connected. That’s one reason a good handshake is so important, especially during first impressions. “I’ve often seen designers walk into a home and not offer a handshake,” Ganzekaufer says. “You should always begin an interaction with a shake, though that might evolve into a hug if you become friendly as you work together.”

A few factors that make for the most trust-inducing handshake—

Keep your hands dry. If you tend to get sweaty palms, keep a handkerchief in your bag so you can quickly wipe them when needed.

Angle your hand for a natural grasp. Keep your thumb toward the sky, your pinky toward the floor.

Match the other person’s firmness.  Show a client you’re meeting them where they’re at by matching their level of firmness, although in general, a firm handshake is best, as it indicates confidence.

Things to know about eye contact (and “power gazing”). “Most people know eye contact is important, but they don’t know how to do it in the most powerful way possible,” Ganzekaufer says. “All eye contact is not created equal.”  There are three main forms of eye contact, each of which covers a different zone of the face:

1. Social gazing: When your eyes shift between the other person’s eyes, nose and mouth.

2. Intimate gazing: Eye contact that drops down to the neckline.

3. Power gazing: When you look only at the eyes and forehead, never dropping below eye level.

Women often default to social gazing, even in professional settings. “That’s because they are taught appeasement in body language from a very young age,” Ganzekaufer says. “They’re told to get along with everyone, to be well-liked, so they begin using a gaze to signal warmth all the time—but this can undermine their power and authority in negotiations and interviews.” Men, on the other hand, often default to power gazing because they’ve been taught from a young age to succeed, to get ahead, to win. This can undermine their ability to connect or collaborate.

When it comes to business, shift to power gazing. When you’re in a professional interaction and want to be perceived as confident, smart, and a leader, you always want to power gaze. “Once you get friendlier with a client and are in their home, social gazing is fine,” Ganzekaufer says. “Just be aware of the difference and be purposeful with your gaze.”

Harness your vocal power: bNonverbal communication also includes the way your voice comes across: its tone, pace and cadence. A confident voice is an essential part of a professional presentation, so here are four steps for leveraging the benefits of effective vocal power:

Speak using your lowest natural tone. Everyone has a different vocal range, or tone you’re comfortable speaking in, but confident people tend to use the lowest end of their natural range. “The reason has to do with the space in their body—the way they stand up tall and breathe,” Ganzekaufer notes. When you’re nervous, you may notice that you don’t breathe and your tone gets higher-pitched, as tension and nerves make your vocal chords and jaw tense. Not only can a higher-pitched voice make you seem nervous, it can make you seem younger (in a not-beneficial way). It pays to practice getting to the lowest point of your range. And when you hear yourself go a bit higher in range during a presentation, take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, then speak as you breathe out.

Avoid the question inflection. Say, don’t ask. The question inflection is one of the biggest killers of vocal power. Its sound implies that you’re unsure of what you’re saying. “One big mistake interior designers make is that they ask their price—’So my initial consult fee is $350?’” Ganzekaufer says. “Don’t ask, just state: My fee is $350.”

Practice vocal variance. The most effective speakers use varied pace, cadence and tempo to keep listeners engaged. They might slow down sometimes, speed up sometimes, stop to show emphasis.

Let your personality come through. Whenever possible, don’t memorize what you’re going to say; try to speak off the top of your head so you sound more authentic. When possible, harness the power of emotion by telling a story.

Use these vocal tips during business phone calls: Even when you’re on the phone, it’s not just about what you say—cues in your tone can affect the direction of the conversation. A handful of key tips for phone success:

  • Say hello as you’re breathing out.
  • When you’re caught in a bad moment, do not answer the phone. Collect yourself and call back.
  • Practice delivering bad news with a low tone, avoiding using the question inflection.
  • Pull up someone’s picture when you’re on the phone with them. “That tends to make me slow down, look in their eyes and have the cadence and tone I want,” Ganzekaufer says.

Watch the full webinar for more body language tips for interior designers that’ll help you come across as confident, knowledgeable and experienced—and ultimately close more sales.

More pro tips from the Ivy Magazine archives:

6 Digital Marketing Tips Every Interior Designer Should Read

8 Pro Tips for Organizing Your Interior Design Studio—and Your Precious Time

How to Attract Clients With a Better Website