First impressions happen in under four minutes, that’s when people decide up to 90 per cent of their opinion about you.” Putin had not long resigned from the KGB and orchestrated the seminar for 300 of the nation’s new leaders, having been appointed the role of Deputy Mayor under Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s leadership. Allan has watched Putin’s rise to Russian presidency with keen interest, eyeballing his every move to see how much he adopted of his teachings. “Russians have what I call the Soviet face, which means the whole time they look really serious, and that’s okay within Russia,” he says. “When you look at Putin, he wears this face, and one of the most important things I teach Russians is if you’re going to impress foreign leaders you can’t look like that when you have other world leaders like Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama smiling and Putin showing no emotion.” Allan’s infatuation with body language began in the 1950s, when he would shadow his father, an insurance salesman, around his hometown of Lorne, Victoria. “Back in those days, insurance salesmen would go out and collect the premiums and, as a form of canvassing for new business, would try to sell more insurance and try and meet the neighbours,” he says.
When I was selling pots and pans, they’d get me to stand up in front of the sales group every week and teach them how to sell, I started my career as a teenager talking about handling objections, observing people, what customers were likely to do by the way they behaved.”“My father would take me with him two or three nights a week, the strategy was, there would always be women at home and a man on his own had trouble getting inside, but with a five-year-old they always invited him in for a cup of tea. “Rather than studying my homework I’d sit around watching my dad negotiating and presenting. He’d tell me if the price is too high, they’ll move back and put their hand on their face or on their head; if they’re interested they’ll lean forward and ask a question. I thought everybody knew this.” By the time Allan was 10, he got his first job knocking on doors selling rubber sponges and then as a teenager, spent five years selling pots and pans on weekends and after school. “At 19, I joined the life insurance industry, which was big time selling,” he says. “I wanted to give it a go because I was a crack salesman, the best pots and pans salesman you ever saw.” After 12 years in the insurance business, Allan went into business with Kerry Packer and Tony Greg, founding Lion Insurance Brokers. “When I was selling pots and pans, they’d get me to stand up in front of the sales group every week and teach them how to sell, I started my career as a teenager talking about handling objections, observing people, what customers were likely to do by the way they behaved,” he says. “That was extremely popular so I put it into a 20-page handbook that I’d sell for $10 and they would knock me over in the rush to get one.” In 1976, Allan, then aged 26, released his first book Body Language, not long before he was picked up by Mike Walsh, who started The Midday Show. Three weeks later Body Language was number one in Australia. “I remember thinking if I can sell 10,000 of these it’ll be a smash hit,” he says.
Some body language gestures are universal, the most universal one is flashing (raising) your eyebrows, monkeys and chimps do it too.”Not one to rest on his laurels, once the book hit 30,000 copies, Allan scoured foreign phone books for big publishers in America and the United Kingdom, sending letters and a copy of his book to 57 of them. Unfortunately Allan was turned down by everyone, so bought a cheap plane ticket to New York and walked up and down Wall Street, knocking on doors. After further rejections, a tenacious Allan signed with an agent who sold the book to Bantam Books. Body Language soon went number one worldwide and was translated into 54 languages – last year it was still number one in six countries, almost 40 years on. “I knew it was going to be successful but I hadn’t thought about it being a global thing because I was only in my early 20s,” he says. In the 1980s, Allan had his own TV series airing across the Southern Hemisphere, and was a regular guest with TV personalities including Don Lane, Daryl Somers, Ray Martin and Kerri-Anne Kennerley. “It all expanded from a practical thing of going out with my father and watching how he would present,” he says. Allan has reinvented his material every 10 years. The sequel, Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps, co-authored with wife Barbara, sold 13 million copies, eclipsing Body Language’s six million copies, his third book sold three million copies and his fourth sold another two million copies. Allan and Barbara became a worldwide smash hit and for the next 15 years, travelled around 70 countries on book and seminar tours. Today they still travel three months of the year, spending the most time in eastern Europe, especially Russia and Siberia. Over the years, Allan has met and appeared alongside a bevy of big names. Most recently, he was in Moscow with Richard Branson, he’s sat in green rooms with Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe; Lindy Chamberlain; Princess Anne of England; and met British football player Will Carling on the night the story broke he was having an affair with Princess Diana. Allan also has a state-of-the-art recording studio at his home in Buderim, which sees him often rubbing shoulders with the stars – Curtis Stone recently dropped by to record a voice-over for his television series California Dreaming; and his studio engineered the title track to the movie Home, with Rihanna. But while Allan enjoys dabbling in such industries, his passion is human behavioral studies, his bibles are Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals from 1888 and Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape written in the late 1960s. “Some body language gestures are universal, the most universal one is flashing (raising) your eyebrows, monkeys and chimps do it too,” he says. “It’s an eye-widening signal used by primates to communicate, ‘I see you’ and it has a powerful effect on others when you meet them. “We started putting this biology into business training, for example, if you go to a coffee shop there’s a line of six people and you’re debating whether to stay or go, we’ve found if the person serving gets your eye contact, you’ll stay seven minutes longer before you leave, because you’ve been recognised with an eyebrow flash.” Another observation from within large corporations is as people, mostly men, are promoted, they show less gestures and keep a straight face when meeting people and shaking hands, whereas people in lower ranks tend to eyebrow flash, nod, and smile with their teeth. “Showing your teeth when you smile is the second most common gesture and primates do this too; we’re the only land animal that reveals their teeth and doesn’t bite next,” he says. “By showing you my teeth and giving you an eyebrow flash, you instantly feel comfortable and not threatened, whereas when someone who meets you and shows no expression are intimidating. “These are only little signals but they’re enormously powerful in making first impressions because first impressions happen in under four minutes, that’s when people decide up to 90 per cent of their opinion about you.” Not long before our interview, Allan penned the last sentence of his new book, within its pages are the letters he wrote spruiking his first book, and all of the replies. The book titled The Answer is about how to get what you want out of life and if the tales Allan has just spun are anything to go by, it’ll be another best seller. Five body language strategies that give you the edge:
- Keep your palms up Keep your palms visible when you talk. The response to this ancient signal is hard-wired into the brain. Others will read you as non-threatening and will respond positively to you.
- Keep your fingers together People who keep their fingers closed and hands below their chin when they talk command the most attention. Using open fingers or holding your hands above the chin is less authoritative.
- Keep your elbows out Sitting with your elbows on the armrest is perceived as powerful and conveys a strong image. Humble, defeated individuals let their arms drop inside the arms of the chair and keep their elbows close to their bodies to protect themselves. They are seen as negative.
- Keep your distance Respect personal space, which will be greatest in the opening minutes of a new meeting. If you move in too close, they may respond by leaning away or using gestures that reveal their irritation, such as drumming their fingers or clicking a pen.
- Mirror their body language Mirroring body language and speech patterns builds rapport quickly. In a new meeting with someone, mirror their sitting position, posture, body angle, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. They’ll feel there’s something about you they like. When presenting to couples, watch for who mirrors whom to uncover the decision-maker.