The Truth About Body Language

When people tell us about their fear of public speaking, we find that what they’re most worried about is giving a bad public speaking performance. They worry about messing up their words, about forgetting what they want to say, or making some other mistake. If you’re one of these people, you should know that a very small percentage of what an audience takes from a presentation has to do with the words being spoken.

Studies have shown that only about 10 percent of communication comes from words. The rest (40 percent) comes from the voice and body language (50 percent). Is it possible you’ve been putting too much thought into what your mouth is saying and not enough attention to what your body is saying?

The Body Language Mistakes You’re Making

Did you know that interlacing your fingers or pressing your fingertips together is a sign of thinking? Or that you blink more frequently when you’re nervous?

Body language—both positive and negative—is largely subconscious. And particularly when you’re nervous, you’re less apt to pay attention to what your body is doing; you can end up making movements and gestures that are awkward and send a message that contradicts your words. (Remember: 50 percent of what you “say” is with your body.)

It can be challenging to modify your body language since it’s something you do almost automatically based on how you’re feeling. But a strong presenter is always aware of what his body is doing as he speaks. In fact, he practices his gestures and body language so they match the words coming out of his mouth.

What does your body language say about you? Are you guilty of any of these classic body language mistakes?

Smiling with only your mouth. A sincere smile can be seen throughout your entire face and is noticeable in the eyes.

Lowering your head. You’re guaranteed to appear timid or lacking confidence when you angle your head down.

Pointing your finger. If you’ve ever had someone point at you, you know how it feels: aggressive and bossy.

Folding/crossing your arms. Anytime you place a barricade between you and your audience, you appear closed off and unapproachable. When you use open arms and speak with your palms up, you look approachable and willing to communicate.

Raising your eyebrows. Although it could be a show of surprise, most of the time it makes you look uncomfortable.

Putting your hands on your hips. Depending on how your hands are placed, this could be considered an aggressive position. It’s less likely to look aggressive if your palms are placed on your back (facing forward).

Body Language and Public Speaking

It doesn’t matter how many visual aids you bring to your presentation, the most important and influential visual will always be you. The way you move your body says a lot about you and how you feel about the topic of your presentation. Likewise, your audience’s body language reveals much about what they think of your presentation, so pay attention to what they’re “saying” and respond to it accordingly.

Effective gestures and body language is part of our live and virtual training workshops. If you’ll be in one of our training cities, we’d love to have you join us for two days of presentation skills training that will transform your career. Can’t do a two-day workshop? Our virtual training programs are a terrific alternative and offer the luxury of learning from home. Contact us to learn more.


  1. Excellent, me and other co-workers often cross arms or put them on the hips. This is bad even if you are not in a presentation.

  2. Great, I’ve learned so many things on this blog.
    I’ll surely apply them in my everyday life.
    Although, I’m not a public Speaker and not gonna be anytime soon.

  3. Good points here! Body Language says so much about us.I do give fake and nervous smiles sometimes. Have to work on that.

  4. Britanica says:

    I won’t sugar coat this but I have faked it for many years, being a confident public speaker. I knew I felt uneasy but I thought I had a good way of covering that up. It wasn’t until I moved to a new branch in another state that someone had noticed. My body language gave it away. I am trying to get out of these habits and reading this helped reassure me I can.

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