20 Body Language Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making

20 Body Language Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making
Nayomi Chibana

Written by:
Nayomi Chibana

Jan 25, 2016

Want to crush your next presentation? The key is to make sure that you’re sending the right messages using all the communication mediums available to you: body language, tone of voice and words, combined.

Just think how many times you’ve seen presenters say one thing with their words but send a completely different message with their body language. They may express that it’s a pleasure to be spending the next hour with you, but their lack of eye contact and warmth sends a completely different message.


The Power of Body Language

Most presenters focus their preparation time on the words they will say, but research shows that body language accounts for as much as 55 percent of a message’s total impact. Meanwhile, your tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of the impact and your actual words for 7 percent.

This means that most of us are missing a big piece of the communication puzzle.

In her life-changing TED talk below, Amy Cuddy shows just how powerful body language can be. Not only does it change the way people perceive us, it also changes the way we perceive ourselves.

In her research, she found that simply practicing expansive, high-power poses for just two minutes prior to a speaking engagement can significantly change your attitude toward yourself and your audience, boosting testosterone levels and reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Some high-power poses include:

  • Taking up a large amount of desktop territory. This is perceived as a demonstration of confidence and power.
  • Covering a large surface with your hands. This indicates a sense of control and dominance.
  • Spreading out your limbs expansively. This also communicates confidence and power.

Although you might consider yourself a competent presenter, there are probably a handful of body language mistakes you’re making that could be sending the wrong message to your audience.


20 Body Language Mistakes You Never Want to Commit

Sometimes you don’t know what messages your body is sending until someone else watches you and points them out.

For example, many of us have nervous tics that reveal themselves in a variety of ways, such as touching our hair, constantly adjusting our glasses or jewelry, wringing our hands or shifting our weight from side to side.

All of these bodily movements are simply manifestations of what we’re secretly feeling or thinking. While some may believe that these are just cases of our body betraying us, the truth is that our physical movements reveal things we don’t even know about ourselves.

This is why one of the most important body language principles you can learn is to make a conscious decision to change your attitude toward your audience and subject matter before you give your presentation. This way, you ensure that your body movements will reveal genuine passion, enthusiasm, warmth and credibility.


1 Crossing Arms


One of the most common questions people have when it comes to body language is “what do I do with my hands?” And one of the most common things people do is cross their arms in front of them.

This not only sends a message of defensiveness and unapproachability, it also betrays nervousness and a lack of confidence. To send the opposite message, open your chest and arms, keep your back straight and your head held high.


2 Crossing Legs


Another big no-no is crossing your legs while standing in front of your audience. This communicates a lack of professionalism and suggests nervousness.


3 Touching Your Face or Neck


Touching any part of your face or neck is a low-power position (as opposed to the high-power poses mentioned above) and can indicate anxiety, nervousness or a lack of control.


4 Touching Your Hands

A nervous woman wringing her hands

Wringing your hands as if you’re washing them is also a sign of discomfort or a lack of preparation.


5 Putting Hands in Pockets


Another defensive gesture is placing your hands in your pockets. It indicates powerlessness and shyness.


6 Turning Your Back

Woman admiring stillness of the lake

One surefire way to lose your audience’s attention is to turn your back on them. Not only does it seem to send the message that you don’t care about what they think, it is also just plain rude.


7 Avoiding Eye Contact


People tend to naturally pay more attention to those who look them in the eye. On the other hand, avoiding eye contact communicates a lack of confidence, openness and trust.


8 Looking at a Single Spot


Some presenters resort to the trick of fixing their stare on a single person or spot, but an audience can quickly tell when someone is avoiding eye contact with them.

Instead, try to look at different people and different spots in your audience so you make people feel important, sending a message of self-assuredness and confidence.


9 Standing in the Same Position


Another way to communicate a lack of confidence or security is to stand in the same spot during the entire presentation, as if there were invisible walls restricting you from walking around and using your allotted space.

One of the rules of high-power body language is to take up as much space or territory as needed--not make yourself smaller by limiting your movements.

Moving around during appropriate moments in your presentation will not only make your audience more attentive, it will also keep your mind more alert and help you channel any nervous energy.

Just make sure to avoid wearing stilettos or any other shoes that might increase your chances of tripping and falling.


10 Walking Too Fast or Too Long


Obviously, walking too much can also hurt your presentation. You want to move around when it makes sense to do so.

For example, if you’re transitioning to a different topic or making a new point, you might want to move to a different spot on the stage. Or if you’re addressing a specific person, you could also move closer to them.


11 Repeating the Same Gestures


Any gesture used during your presentation should be used to either emphasize a point, describe something, convey an emotion, express a mood or prompt the audience to take a specific action.

Most presenters, however, use the same gesture over and over again, without any clear communicative purpose. This only distracts your audience instead of helping to convey your message.

So try to plan varied gestures beforehand that help highlight main points. Even if you consciously think about them before your presentation, use them in a controlled and smooth manner so that they appear natural and not forced.


12 Splitting Your Focus

Lecture at Convention

Dividing your attention between your notes, your slides and the audience is another way to lose people’s attention quickly.

Many amateur presenters unconsciously avoid making eye contact with their audiences by staring at their notes or looking at the screen every time they mention a new point. This will only serve to lose your audience’s interest and communicate a lack of openness and trust toward them.


13 Having an Unbalanced Stance


Standing firm, with your feet hip-width apart, sends a clear message of stability and confidence. Shifting your weight from foot to foot or standing with your feet too close together, however, communicates uncertainty and nervousness.


14  Using the Fig Leaf Position

Canada Stephen Harper - 2

We’ve all seen the figurative fig leaf position before: Both hands are clasped in front of the body, forming the shape of a fig leaf covering the groin area.

This sends a message of discomfort and shyness, suggesting defensiveness and the need to protect the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the body.


15 Using Weak Gestures


If you do gesture, make sure to do so in a well-defined, controlled and calm manner. Gesturing wildly, meekly or using your hands above the height of your shoulders will make you look out of control or not credible.


16 Fidgeting


Fidgeting during your presentation can be extremely distracting to your audience. In order to stop these involuntary movements or tics, record yourself during a rehearsal of your presentation.

While many amateur presenters may cringe of the thought of seeing themselves on video, this is the only way to identify the movements we unconsciously make in front of an audience.


17 Forgetting to Smile


The best way to get an audience to like and trust you is to smile at them in a natural manner. Many times we forget this simple but powerful way of getting your audience’s attention.


18 Slouching


We’ve all heard this since we were young: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. Well, it’s some of the best advice you can put into practice, especially when you’re giving a presentation.


19 Gesturing Mechanically


If you don’t want your audience to think you’re a phony or just plain awkward, then avoid making mechanical, robotic gestures.

One of the keys to conveying the right signals with your body is to synchronize natural and smooth gestures with your verbal message. Speaking and then gesturing, as an afterthought, will distract your audience and make them doubt your credibility.


20 Using Negative Gestures

businessman holding up stop palm hand gesture

There are actually presenters out there who, instead of gaining their audience’s trust, antagonize them with negative gestures, such as rolling their eyes, nodding impatiently or pointing a stiff finger.

Avoid all of these, and become conscious of any inadvertent facial expressions that may belie even a hint of irritation or impatience.

What about your body language? What does it say about your attitude toward your audience and your message? We would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts. Don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section below.

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    About the Author

    Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

    10 responses to “20 Body Language Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making”

    1. […] 20 Body Language Mistakes You Never Want to Commit by Nayomi Chibana | Visme Blog […]

    2. ZenBen says:

      No offense, but not to many “okay” ways to stand left after reading your list!

      If you try to keep track of all these things you “shouldn’t” do, it will split your attention, make you self-conscious, and undermine the image your are trying to project in the first place.

      • No offense taken. Most people won’t have to change each and every one of these things, perhaps just a handful. This is a comprehensive list meant to cover the majority of problem areas among different types of presenters.

    3. […] Nayomi Chibana points out why it’s important to make eye contact–if you don’t, you convey a sense of dishonesty and an unwillingness to connect with your audience. […]

    4. Ravi says:

      Good tips ! Thanks. But it sounds like neither stay steady nor move.

      • Thanks, Ravi. Yes, it can seem that way, but I assure you most professional speakers steer clear of most of these gestures or postures. Also, most speakers will probably not have all of these tics, just a few, so it becomes much easier to make a conscious decision to root them out of your body language.

    5. Sirijan Thakur says:

      I can see how these postures can negatively affect the way we present ourselves but these are almost all the postures we have in the book haha. Well it would be great if you could include a list of postures which are considered right. An regular guy couldn’t possibly think of all these postures if he wants to make a natural conversation in my opinion. Thanks for your blog though

    6. Sapna says:

      Fantastic way of explaining with visuals!
      Some of the presenters may correct the mistake that might be happening…
      & be more effective in their presentations!

    7. Ar McCrosser says:

      Who comes up with this trash?! Why are people so gullible they will follow this line blindly? What if some of these are actually comfortable?
      I was always told off for putting my hands in my pockets. So what are you supposed to do with your hands/arms: stand there with them by your side looking gormless? Fold them, oh no, you’re being defensive? Fold our hands over each other around our midriff, nope, that’s another negative sign. Maybe we should stand there with our arms in the air? Hmm, I might give that a go in my next meeting
      Humans are very very complicated and a single action can’t for one second account for how we’re feeling!

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