Mastering the Hidden Agenda of Nonverbal Communication

By Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE

Click image to enlargeExecutive Women at the SIGGinny Pulos (second from left), Ginny Pulos Communication, spoke on Mastering thd Hidden Agenda of Nonverbal Communication at NYSAE’s March 7 Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG. Also pictured (left to right): Holly Koenig, Vice President, Kellen Company, and SIG Chair; Pulos; and hosts of the meeting Valerie Cammiso, Executive Director, International Council of Shopping Centers Foundation and Lorraine Mazza, Staff Vice President, International Council of Shopping Centers.

Having the title "leader," doesn't make you one. Leadership and trust are communicated through your voice tone, the words you use, and your body language, says Ginny Pulos, Founder and President of Ginny Pulos Communications and presenter at NYSAE's March 7 Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG. "93% of the impact of your face-to-face communications is determined by the tone of your voice and what you are doing with your body. When these are consistent, we feel we can trust a person—even if we dislike that person," she said.

Marshall McLuhan had it right when he said: "The medium is the message." Within the first seven seconds of meeting someone, we make an impression. "What we do with our body, our clothing, our haircut, are all things to take care of before we even open our mouths," said Pulos. "What are we trying to convey?"

Pulos also spoke about gender differences in the critical communication component of nonverbal behavior. "Women tend to speak face to face, while men tend to speak side to side," she noted. Often women end their sentences by raising the final words, sounding as if they are asking a question rather than making a declarative statement. Pulos also suggested that women pull back their hair when in a meeting, because if they turn to speak to someone, part of their face will be blocked. When speaking at a podium, stand with both feet on the floor, leaning slightly forward.

"Studies show that people look at the speaker about 30 to 60% of the time. Your goal is to get that up to 60 to 70% to show that you are in control," said Pulos. So anything that detracts from delivering your message should be avoided, and positive nonverbal cues should be stressed. Stand tall and take up space; keep your arms outstretched; make eye contact; and smile. Avoid a cocked head, which could indicate contempt or an empty Valley Girl. Sit with feet uncrossed, planted on the floor with hands on the desk, not behind your head, which could indicate boredom or superiority.

So how do you get the communications edge in meetings, negotiations, and every day interactions with the association's leadership, staff, and others? "Practice," says Pulos. "Deliver your message to yourself in front of a mirror. Put your hands on your hips and speak with authority. Watch your tone and nonverbal cues. Put a smile on your face."

Pulos, whose company provides speech, media and training consultancy (, has worked with such groups as Avon, Johnson & Johnson, UNICEF, Time Warner, American Women Insurance Professionals, Hispanic Society of America, National Court Reporter's Association, Nantucket Lightship Museum, Support Center For Nonprofit Management, The Tiger Woods Foundation, Trickle Up Foundation, United Jewish Appeal's Connect to Care, and The New York Times.

NYSAE's Executive Women in Nonprofits Shared Interest Group serves as a gathering place where women leaders from the metro NY association and not-for-profit communities convene and engage in high-level, interactive discussion with like-minded peers. There is no cost to participate because it is a benefit of NYSAE membership. Guests can attend the SIG twice and then you are invited to join NYSAE. The March 7 program was hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The next SIG meeting will be held on Friday, May 9, from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m., when the group will discuss Bedtime Stories: What Keeps You Awake at Night? For information, contact Holly Munter Koenig, SIG Chair, and Vice President, Kellen Company, 212-297-2123;

Nicole Millman-Falk is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, a public relations and editorial services firm, specializing in association publications. Millman-Falk is the Managing Editor for InView and is Chair of NYSAE's Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687 or