Did you know that communication is 93% non-verbal behavior and only 7% verbal? That means that the way you say something matters just as much as, or possibly more than, the words you say!

Plus, experts say it takes just three seconds for someone to determine if they like you and want to continue the interaction. It’s scary to think that such a tiny window of time could affect future experiences or opportunities.

While adjusting non-verbal behavior to provide others with the “right” impression might seem intimidating, anyone can master non-verbal communication with self-awareness and practice.

People ask themselves two important questions when they first meet you:

Can I respect this person?

Can I trust this person?

Psychologists describe the characteristics needed to elicit a “yes” to these questions as competence and warmth. In a professional context, most believe competence is more important, but research shows that warmth, or trustworthiness, has a greater impact on how people evaluate you.

Whether you’re a student searching for the perfect job after college, a professional seeking a graduate degree, or traveling internationally for the first time, these five tips will help you take your interpersonal skills to the next level.

    1. Smile!

A smile transcends cultural barriers and is considered a universal sign of happiness. It’s almost impossible to be smiled at and to not smile back. Try it — it works. Smiling genuinely has the dual advantage of both improving your mood and helping you project warmth.

    2. Make Eye Contact

In Western culture, sustained eye contact portrays confidence. This varies in other cultures, however, so consider the context of your interactions if you’re moving to the U.S. from another country. If strong eye contact feels uncomfortable, try looking at your conversation partner’s eyebrows. This might seem odd at first, but you will still be looking in the right direction, and the connection will initially seem less intense to you.

    3. Never “Cross” Yourself Out

Crossing your arms in a conversation puts up a barrier between you and the person you are speaking with. It breaks rapport and makes you seem standoffish and disengaged. Keep your hands comfortably at your sides, or, better yet, read tip #4.

    4. Talk With Your Hands, but Not Too Much

Use hand gestures while talking to keep your audience’s attention. Science shows that the most engaging, “viral” speakers use their hands when they speak, and doing so increases the impact of their message by 60%. Using gestures also keeps you from engaging in pacifying gestures — small hand motions like touching one’s neck or hair — that distract from what you are saying.

    5. Speak Slowly and Clearly, and Avoid Using Filler Words

Talking too fast makes you sound nervous and makes it difficult for others to follow what you are saying. Speak slowly and clearly, and avoid filler words such as “um,” “er,” or “so.” It is always better to pause and gather your thoughts than to fill empty spaces with empty words.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and it might take some time for these strategies to become natural. But with these winning tips, you’re well on your way to portraying yourself as competent, trustworthy, and a future business leader.