Nonverbal Communication Tips For Public Speakers

Nonverbal communication is one of the most challenging aspects of public speaking, as well as one of the most impactful. Every nonverbal gesture, no matter how seemingly insignificant, sends a signal to your audience. However nonverbal communication is virtually impossible to monitor during a presentation because your mind is busy remembering your talking points and watching audience reactions. These are a few reasons why you need to practice and refine your nonverbal communication in the weeks and months before a big presentation.

To help you develop an awareness of your current nonverbal communication style as well as enhance your body language for future presentations, here are a few nonverbal communication tips for you to consider:

1. Come on strong.

body language

Within 200 milliseconds the human brain can read a facial expression and determine a person’s emotional state, according to a study at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. 

Since your audience will scan and analyze your facial expression within the first instant they see you, you need to send the appropriate nonverbal cues even in the moments before your presentation officially begins. Don’t wait until you walk onto the stage, or get rolling with your presentation material to leverage your body language skills. If you wait, you’ve probably already missed the golden opportunity to send the desired nonverbal message to the audience as attendees have likely already assessed your facial expressions and formed a snap judgement about you.

From the moment you drive onto the property where you will be giving your presentation you should be flashing a natural, genuine smiling, or at least conveying confidence with an open, straight posture. Once you leave your car and walk into the building, your body language becomes increasingly important. You never know who you are going to meet in the hallway on your way to the presentation. In addition, once you enter the room where you will be speaking, you should be using body language to display warmth and confidence.

2. Make contact.

People are two times more likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. In addition, you are more likely to be perceived as open and friendly if you shake hands with the person to whom you are speaking, according to a study on handshakes by the Income Center for Trade Shows.

What does this mean for you? 

If you have the opportunity to shake hands with all or some of the attendees before your presentation starts, seize the moment. If the opportunity doesn’t present itself, try to find a way to create the opportunity for yourself. Also, remember to address people by name when shaking hands. Making appropriate physical contact while saying the person’s name is a powerful combination that will help you quickly build a lasting connection with people in your audience.

3. Shake things up.

Throughout your presentation, take note of the body language being displayed by audience members. If you notice people are crossing their arms and/or legs, you know they are tuning you out or are turned off by your message for some reason. This is not a good thing, and is a valid reason for a change of course.  

To turn the situation from bad to good, pause your presentation at a point that will not disrupt your flow too much. Try to play it off as if you had planned this pause all along. Encourage audience members to stand up, shake off any tension or tiredness, and maybe even walk around, get a drink of water, and basically do anything that needs to be done to reset the mood.

Crossed arms and legs are not only a sign that the attendees are shutting you out, but this body posture can also negatively impact how easily the audience can understand and retain the material you are presenting. One study discovered folded arms can reduce retention and comprehension by 38 percent

4. Connect carefully.

body language tips

Make eye contact with audience members long enough to notice eye color is a common piece of nonverbal communication advice. I have even given this type of advice in the past. However a recent study suggests this might not always be the best way to persuade your audience, especially if audience members do not agree with your statements.

Eye contact can help you deepen a connection with attendees who are nodding along with you, and agreeing with your message. However eye contact can cause doubtful attendees to become more entrenched in their opposing position.

“There is a lot of cultural lore about the power of eye contact as an influence tool,” says lead researcher Frances Chen, who conducted the studies at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and is now an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “But our findings show that direct eye contact makes skeptical listeners less likely to change their minds, not more, as previously believed,” says Chen. (source)


Present the best version of yourself from the moment you step onto the property where you will be giving your presentation. In addition, shake hands and address people by name as much as possible. If audience members are crossing their arms and/or legs, pause your presentation to shake things up and change the vibe in the room. Lastly, be careful how you use eye contact as it can backfire and drive a wedge between you and doubtful attendees.

Additional Resources:

The 3 Best Body Language Tips For Presentations

33 Nonverbal Communication Tips, in 140 characters or less

The Ace Up Your Sleeve: 6 Proven Methods of Persuasion

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