5 truths about what your body is saying

Apr 12, 2016 by Brendan Jack

Your body often speaks on your behalf, sometimes without you knowing what it’s saying. Studies show that your words account for only 7% of the messages you convey, the remaining 93% is non-verbal - based on what people see and hear through the tone of your voice. So in business meetings, people can see what you’re not saying. It’s important to make sure your body language matches your words if you want them to ring true.

The Basics

Avoid slouching. A straight back with relaxed shoulders is a good look to go for. Appropriate eye contact is key.

Keep it subtle, you don’t want to look like you’re about to propose marriage with maximum eye intensity.

Making solid eye contact with your phone during discussions is obviously a no-no.

Too much blinking can also suggest that you’re feeling unsettled (or that you’ve had too much caffeine).

Same goes for jiggling knees and feet, and endlessly rotating in your swivel chair.

Align your body and movement with the person you’re taking to; it shows that you’re engaged and on the same page.

You can also mirror facial movement: smile when they smile, etc. without coming across as a weird mime.

Pay attention. Don’t let your mind wander and fake listening by nodding and smiling, only to discover that the person is telling you that your division is being closed down. Keep this in mind for home as well. We all get distracted by too many thoughts and social media messages, but nodding and mm-huh-ing to your spouse when they’ve just asked you a question won’t end well.

And remember, your teeth are an asset. Use a smile to your advantage. If the time is right, consider creating a smile with this icebreaker.

Hand-to-Hand Combat

How do you shake hands when meeting and greeting? Handshakes should be firm, but don’t overdo it. Just because you do CrossFit at the gym, doesn’t mean you need to shake someone into submission.

Wipe sweaty palms if it’s a nervy, important meeting. Practice on a door handle if you have to.

Pro Tip: An aggressive voice tone is the same as aggressive hand pressure. Be aware.

Try to keep your palms faced upward, or at least open, as if you have nothing to hide. This goes back to caveman days when we were a lot more suspicious of strangers and other people’s proximity.

Using hands when speaking emphasises points you’re making.

Folded arms or open arms? Perhaps leave arm folding for tough negotiations where you’re unwilling to budge.

Moving and Shaking

Humans (and cats) are drawn to movement. If you move when you speak, you’ll get people’s attention. It can be especially effective to move toward the audience and then pause before making a key point. Speak clearly and avoid mumbling.

Good body language can convey trustworthiness. There’s a reason unsavoury people are called snakes, with their slithery body movements. (With respect to actual snakes, who’ve gotten a bad rap since biblical times.)

Don’t only focus on the most important person in room - give everyone some acknowledgement.

Don’t become invisible, voice your opinions early. Unless you’re a dramatic person wanting to make some impression like it’s the crescendo of a movie.

Start early and get involved for your feedback to be better received. Also know when to keep your mouth shut - have a good ratio of listening to talking.

Be Aware

Comforting or acknowledging someone with a pat on the back or touch on the forearm is usually acceptable, but touching people in the workplace can be a ‘touchy’ subject.

As we explored previously in 4 principles on the right physical contact in the workplace: Personal space can even be invaded from a distance. Guys (and some ladies): leaning backwards and extending your legs sideways for maximum crotch shot isn’t the best look in a boardroom. Yes, it shows that you’re confident (or possibly the office sex pest) but avoid it unless you’re auditioning for the lead role in a porn video.

Remember to show people Some Respect.

Watch for people looking like they’re ready to leave. Actions like hands on chair arms or standing up at a desk are signs that they’re moving on and may not have your full attention. Also to be aware that you may be giving the ‘I’m outta here’ signal when you shouldn’t be showing it.

Taking notes shows that you’re engaged.


Language is a more recent technology. Your body language, your eyes, your energy will come through to your audience before you even start speaking. - Peter Guber

Listening to people is a key part of good body language, as this TED talk demonstrates. This TED presentation also makes for a good talking point.

"Big Bang Theory on Body Language" is a fun detour that explores body language with a colourful take.

Body language is about engaging – this paper "The Swedish secret to happiness at work" offers some interesting insights, and it makes for a good discussion piece.

Laughter is always the best medicine and this funny story about the language of the body is a good icebreaker. It will get people smiling and loosened up. Laughter generally leads to people unfolding their arms and being more at ease

Combining virtual reality tech in a real world setting is what The Void is about. This is taking body language to another dimension. VR is a big conversation piece around the world.

The Flying Cappuccino and The Finger are two good icebreakers from our arsenal that you can try – they work for us – use them to get people involved.

Summing Up

Being aware of your body language works best if you add sincerity - avoid faking it.

Infect with passion. Exude enthusiasm and offer a welcoming face to the people you’re addressing.

What you say is not as important as how you say it. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Try an icebreaker such as Stretching the Truth or Fly Bye – these always leave people with a smile.

End meetings with solid punctuation: eye contact and firm handshake is the equivalent of a full stop.

Body language is a subtle but important form of communication.

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