WSJ: Getting Attention and Respect, from a Chair

After seeing the Wall Street Journal article, How ‘Power Poses’ Can Help Your Career, one reader wrote in asking how to use a powerful posture while in a wheelchair. The following is the author’s response, including analytics and advice from Quantified Communications.

Getting Attention and Respect, from a Chair

Sue Shellenbarger answers readers’ questions

Q: I’ve been handicapped for years, but just started using a wheelchair. Your article on how striking a power pose can help one feel and perform better struck a chord. Being seated feels submissive to me, especially if others are standing at a social event. Any suggestions?

—J.L., Brighton, Mich.

A: Separating a handicap from self-image can be a challenge for many people with disabilities. But many tools for conveying an image of confidence and authority are still within your reach, says Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Communications, an Austin, Texas, communications-analytics company.

Nonverbal signals, including eye contact and posture, account for 55% of listeners’ ratings of a speaker’s effectiveness, Mr. Zandan says. Make a conscious effort to make direct eye contact with listeners, ideally for 60% to 70% of the time, he says. Roll your shoulders back, open your chest area and straighten your spine. These techniques will help you “maintain control, authority and a positive presence,” Mr. Zandan says.

Conveying a high level of energy also can help engage others, says Kelly Decker, president of Decker Communications, a San Francisco training and consulting firm. Keep your arms open in front of you, rather than clamped together or crossed, and “go big” with gestures as you speak, she says.

Project your voice more than others, to have as much impact as if you were standing face-to-face. And smile at every natural opportunity, Ms. Decker suggests, since “lightness draws people in.” Also, engage others by asking questions and showing interest. Your disability will quickly be forgotten as others begin to focus on “what you say, and how you act,” Ms. Decker says.