How to Improve Body Language: 20 Tips to Use at Work, at Parties, and When Giving Presentations
It’s said that 55% of communication is nonverbal, while 38% is vocal, and 7% comes from words alone. And while those exact numbers are debated among experts, there is some truth to them.
So much of what we say comes from our body language. Our facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture have the power to convey messages of their own. So, you want to make sure your body language is saying what you want it to say.
Here are 20 tips to improve your body language, whether that’s to appear more confident when giving presentations, more persuasive in meetings, or more open when meeting strangers.
What is Body Language?
Body language is everything your body conveys. This could be how crossing your arms makes you look angry and closed off, or how a tall open posture makes you radiate confidence.
Body language includes:
- Facial expressions
- Hand gestures
- What you do with your hands, arms, legs, etc.
- Eye contact
How to Improve Body Language
1. Use the 50/70 Rule When Making Eye Contact
Eye contact can be a tricky one. If you don’t make enough of it, you won’t look interested. If you make too much, you’ll come across as intense and creepy.
Stick to the 50/70 rule, where you spend 50% of the time making eye contact while speaking, and 70% of the time making eye contact when listening.
By making a conscious effort to make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to, you’ll show them you’re listening and interested in the conversation, and build a stronger bond, too.
2. Move Your Eye Contact Around the Room
If you’re speaking with multiple people or giving a presentation, spread your eye contact around evenly.
Make an effort to connect with a few people in the audience, and, when in a group, look at the person who’s speaking when they, hopefully, cast their eyes around.
3. Nod Every Now and Again
Nodding is an easy way to show you’re listening and interested. It’ll make the person you’re talking to feel heard and appreciated, and they’ll be more likely to like you and open up to you.
When you agree with a point the other person makes, throw them a small nod or two.
This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s all too easy to forget to smile when you’re deep in conversation. Even a relatively neutral facial expression can come across as cold.
Relax the muscles in your face, turn up the corners of your mouth slightly, and throw in a smile every now and again throughout the conversation.
If you’re kicking off a speech or meeting someone for the first time, start it off with a big smile. It’ll make you come across as much friendlier, and trick your brain into feeling more open and confident, too.
5. Straighten Your Posture
Remember when your mom told you off for slouching? Keep that advice in mind for your body language.
Having a tall, open, and straight posture will make you look more confident, inviting, and interested in the conversation.
You should feel these benefits for yourself, too. When we slouch, we naturally become more closed off and quiet.
6. Mirror the Other Person’s Body Language
If you want to make a connection with someone, read their body language and copy it. This technique is called mirroring.
It’s something that often happens subconsciously when we agree or get on with someone. By doing it consciously, you can encourage bonding and connection.
So, if your conversation partner crosses their legs, do the same. If they tilt their head to the side, tilt yours, too.
Just be sure to be subtle with this. Consciously mirror a few gestures, and don’t get obsessive about perfectly matching each one. You should still be focusing on the conversation after all.
7. Point Your Body Towards Your Conversation Partner
If you’re standing with your body angled away from the person you’re talking to, it can look like you’re uninterested and you’re trying to leave the conversation.
Angle your feet and shoulders towards the person to appear more engaged.
You don’t need to be perfectly opposite them, though. This can come across as a little confrontational, especially if you’re having a difficult conversation.
Tilt your body so you’re at a 45-degree angle from your conversation partner, no more.
8. Boost Your Confidence with a Power Pose
Power poses look cheesy, but they work.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, chin up, and put your hands on your hips. Take a few deep breaths in this position and you should feel your energy and confidence levels soar.
Do this before presentations or tricky meetings — just be sure to do it in the bathroom or in a private space to avoid any awkward looks.
You can also tweak your power pose to suit you. If you find yourself shrinking away on stage, for example, stretch your arms up out above you to take up more space before you head out there.
9. Take Up Space
While you might not want to strike a power pose in front of a client or boss, you should consider taking up a little more space in front of them.
When we’re nervous, we tend to shrink ourselves down, slouching in on ourselves, and keeping our arms and legs close to our bodies. But that makes us look nervous and submissive.
Next time you want to appear more open and confident, try actively taking up more space. Widen your stance a little, lift your chin a little, and place a hand on your hip.
Making hand gestures and moving around while presenting will also help to take up more space and boost how confident you feel and look.
10. Make Hand Gestures
Hand gestures are powerful. Research shows speakers who make more gestures are perceived as more persuasive and attractive. You’ll also look more confident when speaking.
But, just like with eye contact, you’ve got to get the balance right. Too many hand gestures will come across as nervous and frantic. But you don’t want to stand there with your arms straight and never moving from your side, either.
Move your hands slowly, and make a gesture especially when you’re making a point you want people to agree with or remember.
11. Avoid Fidgeting
Your hands should be making confident gestures or resting self-assured in your lap or by your side, not tapping on the table or fiddling with your sweater.
Fidgeting makes you look bored or nervous, and it can make you feel ill at ease yourself, too.
Avoid moving your arms and hands around too much, touching your face or neck, or fiddling with anything you can find.
For your feet, keep them planted — not tapping impatiently.
12. Think About Your Arms
It’s easy to slip into a cross-armed position, but this sends out the message that you’re angry, closed off, or confrontational.
Move between keeping your hands either cupped gently together, in your lap, or have your arms at your sides.
Rest a hand on your hip to take up space and boost confidence, and don’t forget to throw a few hand gestures in there, too.
13. Try the Palms Down, Feet Together Stance
The way you stand can say a lot about you, and what you do with your hands (when you’re not making gestures) portrays a message, too.
One study asked participants to rate videos of speakers who had different positions for their hands and feet. The participants voted the palms down and feet together position as the one appearing the most knowledgeable, compelling, influential, bold, persuasive, confident, and the best at leadership.
14. Lean in Slightly
Show you’re interested and engaged in a conversation by leaning slightly towards the person you’re talking to.
This one is another one where balance — literally — is key, however. You don’t want to invade someone’s personal space, and you don’t want to lean away like you’re trying to escape the conversation, either.
Stand in a neutral stance, then tip slightly forward every now and again.
15. Move Around
This advice only applies if you’re delivering a speech or presentation. You shouldn’t walk off when having a conversation or get up during a meeting, of course.
But by adding a bit of movement to your presentation, you’ll instantly look more confident and at ease.
Moving around will also help you make eye contact with different people in the audience.
Watch some TED Talks for inspiration and study how the most confident speakers naturally take a few steps around the stage during their speech.
16. Be Aware of Your Face
Beyond a smile, think about what the rest of your face is doing, and what this body language is saying.
You don’t want to be frowning in concentration, and therefore making a direct report feel like you hate their pitch idea. Or squinting at the presenter because you forgot your glasses, but looking like you’re suspicious of what they’re saying.
Aim for a neutral-to-positive facial expression, and relax your jaw and eyes.
You don’t want a completely blank face though — is there anything worse than seeing a sea of blank faces when giving a presentation?
Instead, work on naturally including facial movements, like a slight eyebrow raise in agreement or smile. Research shows speakers appear more competent and composed when they have more “facial pleasantness and expressiveness.”
17. Perfect Your Handshake
There’s nothing more awkward than a half-hearted handshake, or one that’s either too loose or leaves you feeling like you’ve broken a bone.
- Keep a steady grip
- Keep it two to four seconds long
- Make eye contact
Practice with a friend or colleague to get the perfect handshake down.
18. Study the Pros
One of the difficult things about body language is you want to be conscious about what your non-verbal communication is saying, but you also want everything you do to appear natural.
Study the pros to see how it’s done.
Watch top-rated TED Talks, successful politicians, and confident speakers in your workplace. Take note of how they stand, and what they do with their hands, feet, and face. And then implement some of these things into your own body language.
19. Film Yourself
Really want to step up your body language game? Film yourself giving a presentation or speaking. Then watch it back and take notes on your body language. How does it compare to the most confident and engaging speakers you know? Are you slouching? Fidgeting? Grimacing? Are you moving your hands enough, or moving them too much?
You may be doing things you don’t even realize you’re doing.
20. Get Feedback
This one’s a scary one, but it could be the most helpful tip of all: ask for feedback.
It’s hard to evaluate your own body language. We’re often either too critical or can’t pick up on the parts we need to improve upon.
Ask a trusted friend or colleague to watch a presentation of yours, either in person or a recording. Then ask for specific feedback. What do they think about your stance, gestures, and facial expressions? They may come up with pointers you would have never considered otherwise.
Now you know how to control your own body language, you can learn how to read body language at work.