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Peter Clayton

Sales Solutions

Manageing Director

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The body language clinic: Building rapport with a new prospect


This month Peter Clayton looks at the importance of posture and eye contact in that crucial first meeting. How much do you give away through your body language when you first?

When visiting a new prospect, the most awkward part is usually the first few minutes because a new prospect is focusing on you. Can they trust what you are saying, do you have the appropriate knowledge and experience, or will you just say what they want to hear?
During the first few minutes of a new meeting, more reliance is placed upon instincts and observation because a new prospect is listening, watching and weighing you up. We all subconsciously rely on body language but much more so in the early stages of a new meeting.
Assuming your body language matches what has been said and it is relevant to them, then the first stage of rapport has been achieved. Instincts that initially were focused on you have now changed to the real purpose of the meeting.
Sometimes we fail part one because we concentrate solely on the prospect and forget to make sure that we are coming across okay.
So, get the first part right and you stand a much better chance.
There are no hard and fast rules to part one, but I will explain what I do to minimise the risks.
  1. If they want to get to know me, I follow their lead until they want to get down to business. This means I look, listen and answer and I don't take brochures or a notepad out of my briefcase to take notes just yet
  2. Whichever way they are sitting, I mirror it. (Upright, serious, relaxed or leaning back)
  3. However they sound, I mirror it. Are they using quick short sentences about themselves, the company, and their requirement or are they quiet, using longer sentences with plenty of detail?
  4. If they want me to "get on with it", I do. I give them a brief overview and watch to see what's important to them and where they want to start
  5. I would avoid telling them about the company I represent, history or reputation if I can. I prefer to explain what I have found out about their company. If I have done my homework, I would have found out what issues they have had with a similar supplier and what problems it may have caused. I use an example based upon a past problem, similar to one they are experiencing, and to explain how we approach and solve a situation. A past example carries more weight than telling a prospect what you would do. That comes later at the end when having discussed all the issues you can offer a complete solution
  6. Whilst this is happening, I'm making sure my own body language does not slip and at the same time I'm watching them to see what happens and the reactions I'm getting. Understanding micro-gestures can be really useful here. (More on this in another article)
Assuming all has gone well, I would expect a prospect to relax and start focusing on specific areas of interest. This is where it can go wrong if your answers are not to their liking or don't fit with the way they work.
By reading their body language, you can see how well things are going. You can check what you are seeing against what you logged away in the small talk before the meeting became more serious.
What was their posture? Slightly forwards, straight or slightly back and relaxed? Was their eye contact 60/75/90% of the time? Did they look you directly in the eyes or at your face? What was the volume and tone and speed of their voice.
As the meeting progresses and topics have changed to the specification, functionality, delivery, price, guarantees, backup, etc, you can measure it against what you saw earlier in the meeting and if things are going wrong, you can easily spot it and can change tack.

What will you seen and how noticeable will it be?

The first thing to bear in mind is that business body language is different to social body language. It's usually professional, polite and business-like. Signals are smaller and slower and can be more difficult to read. People who are slowly losing interest and enthusiasm would not usually want you to notice it, especially if you have travelled some distance to get to their office. Remember, they might warm to you but not necessarily your ideas so they would not want to be rude.


When someone is enthusiastic and interested they become more animated, they lean slightly forwards and gesture as much with their hands as they do with their voice. Voice volume is slightly up and they probably speak 10% quicker than when you first met them at the start of the meeting. This type of body language is easy to read because there is no need for them to hide it (unless they are in negotiation of course).
When someone loses interest it takes time and the body language you see happens slowly. They may even appear to be relaxed. They move back in their seat, then eye contact drops by 20% or more, and when they comment the voice volume level has dropped and has less tone, even though they appear to agree that what you are saying makes sense. All these changes happening over a short period of time are called clusters.
When this happens to me, I change tack, ask question that get opinions about something I have said, e.g. "Whilst I have outlined how we might go about the project, you might have a different approach that would suit your requirements better. What are your thoughts?"
If I have read the body language changes correctly, I would expect an answer such as "I agree with much of what you have said, however we work differently here and what I think is more important that we..."
I would expect the person to come forward and talk with a noticeable rise in volume with more tone and inflection. Now, all I have to do now is listen, ask more questions and adapt my ideas and solutions to suit their requirements where possible.
In conclusion, the first part of the meeting is as much about body language as it is about requirements. You can store the movements away and when the main part of the meeting gets going and you see that they are losing interest, you can change tack and get them back in the meeting.
Peter Clayton is a leading body language expert, speaker and trainer as well as a consultant for the BBC and ITV. He writes for a wide range of national papers and magazines and is a specialist consultant to other speakers, leading businesses, celebrities and politicians. For more information, visit his website:

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Peter Clayton

Manageing Director

Read more from Peter Clayton

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