Prepping for a big presentation at work? Asking for a raise? Hoping to wow your boss with your next project proposal?
You’ve probably already thought through what you’re going to say. But have you envisioned how you’ll say it? What posture and gestures will you use to persuade your audience?
Body language is an essential part of any convincing argument. Used effectively, it makes your words seem more rational and trustworthy.¹ But used poorly, it can undermine your credibility.
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In fact, when your verbal and nonverbal communication don’t match up, people are more likely to believe nonverbal cues.² So if your body language seems disingenuous, your argument itself will seem disingenuos.³
The takeaway: no matter how persuasive your argument is, it won’t hold water without support from nonverbal cues.
Good body language makes the speaker appear relaxed, confident, and expressive.⁴ It’s also important for your body language to seem natural, rather than forced.⁵ With practice, body language becomes intuitive—you don’t even have to think about doing it.
Let’s examine 5 key types of body language and how to use each type.⁶
Good posture is all about conveying confidence.⁷ Keep your back straight, and relax your shoulders.⁸ Tilt your chin up slightly and plant your feet shoulder-width apart.⁹
Cohen & Dreyer-Lude (2020)
Experts advise that a warm, friendly smile is almost always the ideal facial expression—even when discussing serious topics.¹⁰ Why? It’s simple: a genuine smile creates an emotional connection with your audience.¹¹
For this to work, though, it’s essential that your smile isn’t forced. If you struggle to give a sincere smile, practice smiling at yourself in the mirror.¹²
Try thinking of something that makes you genuinely happy. Familiarize yourself with how your natural smile looks and feels.
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The key to effective gestures is letting them emerge spontaneously.¹³ Avoid the temptation to plan out exactly what gestures you’ll use in each part of your speech.¹⁴ They’ll only seem robotic and inauthentic.
That said, there are a few guiding principles you should use when gesturing.
Try to contain your arm movements within the “gesture box”: the space above your waist and below your shoulders.¹⁵ Use sharper, dramatic gestures like pointing to emphasize the most important points.¹⁶
And don’t overdo your gesturing!¹⁷ Using the same gesture repetitively can be distracting and make you seem fidgety.¹⁸
Headway / Unsplash
4. Eye contact
Experts recommend that you maintain eye contact with your audience at least 90% of the time.¹⁹ Proper eye contact conveys confidence and sincerity.
If you’re speaking to a crowd, avoid “scanning” or “sweeping” your gaze over the audience.²⁰ Instead, make eye contact with one audience member at a time.²¹ Then shift your gaze to a new person every few seconds.²²
If direct eye contact makes you anxious, try aiming your gaze at the forehead or nose.²³ At a distance, most people won’t notice the difference!
Jonatán Becerra / Unsplash
If you’re speaking on a stage or somewhere with lots of space, consider incorporating movement into your presentation. You can emphasize important points by crossing the stage as you describe them.²⁴ Whether you’re walking or standing still, always keep your face oriented towards the audience.²⁵
The “stage cross” is great for making sure key points hit home. But use it sparingly! Avoid pacing back and forth; this makes you seem nervous.²⁶
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You can remember these 5 body language types with the acronym PEGEM. By strategically using posture, expression, gestures, eye contact, and movement in your presentation, you’ll deliver a more effective, convincing, and engaging argument.
1. Cohen, I., & Dreyer-Lude, M. Using Your Body. In Finding Your Research Voice (pp. 69-84). Cham, 2019: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-31520-7_8
2-3. Kwiatkowski, C. (2019). Effective Team Leader and Interpersonal Communication Skills. In Sustainable Leadership for Entrepreneurs and Academics (pp. 121-130). Cham, 2019: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-15495-0_13
4-26. Cohen & Dreyer-Lude (2019)