Does Your Body Language Lie?

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Align Your Types of Communication

Any time you engage with another person, there are two types of communication at play: your voice, which is sending a verbal message, and your body language, which is conveying the majority of information through your physical behavior.

In fact, some studies have shown that as much as 70 percent of all communication happens through body language. That means when you speak, your listeners are basing their judgment of you and your message on what they see, as well as what they hear.

Your life depends on these two messages being congruent.

You must use your body as an effective communication tool for adding emphasis and clarity to your words. It’s also an important tool for convincing an audience of your genuineness, sincerity, and enthusiasm.

Your Body Language Needs to Match Your Words

All good speakers use gestures. Gestures are deliberate, natural movements that you can use to make sure your body language matches the words coming out of your mouth.

Gestures are the most evocative form of nonverbal communication a speaker can use; no other kind of physical action can enhance (or negate) your message as dramatically as gestures.

Gestures can clarify and enhance the audience’s comprehension of your verbal message. Purposeful gestures can be also a great way to dissipate your nervous energy—and you can use prompting gestures to help you better engage the audience. For example, during a Q&A session, you can raise your hand as a way to invite others to raise their hand in response to a poll on the audience.

Gesturing is an effective communication method because it gives you an easy way to match your body language to your verbal message. Gestures can indicate excitement, confusion, fear, surprise, anger…pretty much any emotion.

Use Your Body Language to Your Advantage

On the other hand, if your body language is distracting or contradicts your verbal message, your body language can defeat your words.

Effective communication happens when there is a message sent and received. If your purpose is to inform, persuade, entertain, or motivate people, your nonverbal cues—your body language—must match what you’re saying.

To be an effective presenter, you need to understand that your body is always communicating a message. Your job is to understand how your body communicates.

Here are some types of communication happening through your body language that you may or may not be aware of:

Your facial expressions – When you furrow your brow, clench your jaw, or grimace, your body language is indicating displeasure or anger. When you smile broadly or raise your eyebrows, your body language is more positive. Your facial expressions are a pretty accurate communication tool; they make it easy to see how you’re feeling, even if you say nothing at all.

Your posture – Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was slouched in their chair or hunched forward? What message did their body language send? When you keep your posture open (sitting upright, facing your listener), you appear friendly and accessible.

Your hands – Much like your facial expressions, your hands easily show how your feeling, making it one of the more effective communication tools on your body. Clenched fists, for example, can indicate anger or anxiety. Finger pointing shows aggression. Positioning your fingers in a steeple displays confidence.

Your arms – When you see someone speaking with their arms crossed, how does that make you feel? Anytime you create a barrier between you and the audience, you’re giving the impression that you’re closed off. Crossing your arms makes you appear impatient, negative, and unfriendly.

Your legs – When you stand with your legs shoulder width apart, you look natural and relaxed—confident even. However, standing with one leg crossed behind the other or one knee bent makes you appear submissive. In a seated position, bouncing your knee shows restlessness and anxiety.

Your eyes – You can tell a lot by looking into someone’s eyes, which is why the eyes are an important and effective communication tool. As a speaker, making eye contact with members of your audience makes them feel involved in the conversation. Through eye contact, you also come across as trustworthy and friendly. The direction of a person’s gaze can be very telling as well. For example, someone looking up during a presentation may be trying to recall something; a person looking down can signal a lack of confidence. When you look at someone sideways, it can be taken as a sign of irritation.

Keep Your Body Language Honest

While much of your body language is unrehearsed and simply a natural response to what’s happening in your brain, it’s certainly within your power to take hold of your body language and use it to make your communication more effective. This can be done by:

  • Standing and sitting with good posture
  • Keeping your arms uncrossed to remove any subconscious barriers
  • Using positive facial expressions
  • Using eye contact to engage with your listeners

When you understand the role body language plays in effective communication and, more importantly, what your own body language is saying, you can start working on using the two types of communication—verbal and nonverbal—more strategically in your presentations.

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