Who's That Gal: Rachel Cossar, Nonverbal Communication Coach and Founder of Choreography for Business
Name: Rachel Cossar
Occupation: Nonverbal Communication Coach and Fundraiser
Current ‘hood: Fort Point
Currently reading: People Watching by Desmond Morris
I never leave home without: snacks!
Let’s start with the basics. What is Choreography for Business?
Choreography for Business is a consulting firm focused on embodying communication. Basically, my program coaches clients into elevating their awareness of the nonverbal cues they are giving off while training them to identify nonverbal cues being expressed around them all. the. time.
My program is inspired by my background as a professional ballet dancer (I danced with the Boston Ballet for a decade and prior to that, was on the Canadian National Rhythmic Gymnastics team). There is a big focus on posture and first impressions to begin the program and from there, we build in nonverbal cues, tells and efficiencies which can make a huge difference in the workplace, and in people’s personal lives.
How does what you learned as a ballerina play a role in the corporate world?
I love this question - there are so many intersections between what I needed to succeed as a professional ballet dancer and what you need to succeed in the corporate world. The ability to focus on one thing and fully explore every nook until you achieve mastery is one quality that I have found to be very important in both of my careers to date.
Teamwork - there is nothing like having to breathe and move as one when you have a stage full of 30 individual female dancers. This is something you see especially with female dancers and corps de ballet dancers in particular. Every move, every breath you take on stage has to be fine-tuned to the dancers around you. This cannot be achieved if even one person decides their version is better. Consensus is the only way forwards.
One of the other things I notice with myself and with many of my former colleagues from the ballet world is this innate entrepreneurial spirit. As an artist (and this doesn’t just go for dancers), you are your own brand; you are your own business. Once I transitioned away from my performing career, I found that I wasn’t satisfied with just one day job, or just one role. I have a tendency to get my hands into all kinds of jars. When I approach something, I immediately start to think about all of the other things that might be done to elevate whatever it is that I am working on. For example, I founded Choreography for Business while I was working a full-time job at Harvard. I simply wasn’t stimulated and would go home and start ideating, building websites and programs. This entrepreneurial creativity is a huge asset in the corporate world, so long as the infrastructure and leadership promotes it - which of course is a completely different subject!
What inspired you to start the business?
While I was dancing professionally, I started up a food blog which became renowned in the Boston area. My food writing gave me a unique glimpse into the restaurant industry and I always felt that many parallels ran between the two professions.
Once I transitioned from my career with the ballet, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Josh Lewin, owner of Juliet restaurant in Somerville. We were talking about the performance aspects of the restaurant industry and we decided to try out a pilot version of a program designed to alleviate physical strain and introduce a certain physical elegance. This pilot program then became the bones of Choreography for Business.
I grew to more and more restaurant clients and from there, expanded into other industries like management consulting, sales, fundraising and more. After all, everyone has a body and no job is non-physical!
What does an average day look like for you?
I split my time between fundraising for New England Conservatory four days a week, and the rest of my time on my business. I felt it was important to maintain a foot in the traditional workforce - I wanted a playground to test out my own theories and build stories of my own to use in my programs.
When I am working on CFB, my time is split between business development, meeting with potential clients and of course, leading workshops. My sessions run anywhere from 45 minutes to a full day.
What is the top tip you’d give to someone who works remotely and takes most meetings by phone or video?
SO many important things you can do!
The top tip I would say is to set yourself up for a clean look once you are on the camera. Don’t have clutter in the background, try not to have pajama pants on and a nice top - the way you dress affects the way you feel. If you are having a professional call, dress professionally to get yourself into the proper mindset. Nonverbal communication is essentially anything that doesn’t involve words. So your clothing and the environment you are calling from count as well.
The important thing to remember about visual listening is that most of what you or your audience perceives is on a subconscious level. We have a lot of power to play with the impression we are leaving with people if we are intentional about the way we walk into a room, sit at our desk and in this case, show up on a screen to someone miles and miles away.
How about something to practice when preparing for a job interview?
Many people, I am sure, have heard about Amy Cuddy’s “power poses”. In case you haven’t, you basically hold an upright and spacious posture for 2 minutes prior to any big or stressful situation. This can be very helpful in encouraging yourself to feel confident. However, I like to build on this idea and teach clients how to reinforce this feeling of confidence in less obvious, but equally effective ways.
This is why I spend so much time teaching people how to stand properly. I go through an analogy based postural foundation program that helps you connect with the floor as a key reminder of how to make yourself feel as tall, upright and at ease as possible. You don’t need to walk into a room and show off an overly aggressive portrayal of confidence, but you most likely do want to walk into a room with an impression of self-assuredness.
If you own your posture, you own your first impression and in an interview, that is often one of the most important moments.
What are some common posture communication mistakes that people make in the workplace (or elsewhere)?
Some of the most common posture communication mistakes come from an incorrect understanding of what good posture means for your own body. Of course, I see a lot of bad posture which is made worse by what I call the ‘i-Hump’. Our constant connection to our phones is a huge drag on our system. I also see quite a bit of ‘overextension’ where people are overcorrecting and opening their shoulders too far back and not doing themselves any favors.
Another common misconception that I see is too much eye contact – which can actually make people exceptionally uncomfortable.
Finally, lots of closed off postures. Crossing your arms may well be comfortable, but it gives off the impression of being closed to ideas or to people around you. You want to be mindful of how you stand – empower yourself to stand with your arms at ease. It might feel weird to begin with, but soon you will get used to it and it leaves a much better impression than having your arms crossed.
What’s next for Choreography for Business and you personally?
So many things!
I am still trying to grow my network of clients – ranging from appearances at conferences to longer periods of programing for any given client.
One of the things I am most excited about is getting some more video content up and embedded within a subscription-based app. I would like to make my work more accessible to individuals and more sustained in its impact. I think this is a great solution to be rolling out in the next year or so.