Nonverbal communication in business
By Lee Hopkins
There are five key elements that can make or break your attempt
at successful nonverbal communication in business:
Let's examine each nonverbal element in turn to see how we can
maximise your potential to communicate effectively...
Good eye contact helps your audience develop trust in you,
thereby helping you and your message appear credible. Poor eye
contact does exactly the opposite.
So what IS 'good' eye contact?
People rely on visual clues to help them decide on whether to
attend to a message or not. If they find that someone isn't
'looking' at them when they are being spoken to, they feel
So it is a wise business communicator that makes a point of
attempting to engage every member of the audience by looking at
Now, this is of course easy if the audience is just a handful of
people, but in an auditorium it can be a much harder task. So
balance your time between these three areas:
slowly scanning the entire audience,
focusing on particular areas of your audience (perhaps
looking at the wall between two heads if you are still
intimidated by public speaking), and
looking at individual members of the audience for about five
seconds per person.
Looking at individual members of a large group can be 'tricky'
to get right at first.
Equally, it can be a fine balancing act if your audience
comprises of just one or two members -- spend too much time
looking them in the eyes and they will feel intimidated, stared
at, 'hunted down'.
So here's a useful tip: break your eye-to-eye contact down to
four or five second chunks.
That is, look at the other person in blocks that last four to
five seconds, then look away. That way they won't feel
Practice this timing yourself, away from others. Just look at a
spot on the wall, count to five, then look away. With practice
you will be able to develop a 'feel' for how long you have been
looking into your audience member's eyes and intuitively know
when to look away and focus on another person or object.
Most of us, when talking with our friends, use our hands and
face to help us describe an event or object - powerful nonverbal
We wave our arms about, turn our hands this way and that, roll
our eyes, raise our eyebrows, and smile or frown.
Yet many of us also, when presenting to others in a more formal
setting, 'clam up'.
Our audience of friends is no different from our business
audience - they all rely on our face and hands (and sometimes
legs, feet and other parts of us!) to 'see' the bigger, fuller
It is totally understandable that our nervousness can cause us
to 'freeze up', but is is in our and our communication's best
interests if we manage that nervousness, manage our fear of
public speaking, and use our body to help emphasise our point.
I found that by joining a local Toastmasters International club
I was rapidly able to learn how to 'free up my body' when
presenting to others.
Ever watch great presenters in action - men and women who are
alone on the stage yet make us laugh, cry and be swept along by
their words and enthusiasm?
Watch them carefully and you'll note that they don't stand
rigidly in one spot. No, they bounce and run and stroll and
glide all around the stage.
Why do they do that?
Because they know that we human beings, men in particular, are
drawn to movement.
As part of man's genetic heritage we are programmed to pay
attention to movement. We instantly notice it, whether we want
to or not, assessing the movement for any hint of a threat to us.
This, of course, helps explain why many men are drawn to the TV
and seem transfixed by it. It also helps explain why men in
particular are almost 'glued' to the TV when there is any sport
on. All that movement!
But to get back to the stage and you on it... ensure that any
movement you make is meaningful and not just nervous fidgetting,
like rocking back and forth on your heels or moving two steps
forward and back, or side to side.
This is 'nervous movement' and your nervousness will transmit
itself to your audience, significantly diluting the potency of
your communication and message.
So move about the stage when you can - not just to keep the men
in the audience happy, but to help emphasise your message!
There are two kinds of 'posture' and it is the wise communicator
that manages and utilizes both.
** Posture 1
The first type of 'posture' is the one we think of
intuitively-the straight back versues the slumped shoulders; the
feet-apart confident stance verses the feet together, hand-
wringing of the nervous; the head up and smiling versus the head
down and frowing.
And every one of the positions we place the various elements of
our body in tells a story"a powerful, nonverbal story.
For example, stand upright, shoulders straight, head up and eyes
facing the front. Wear a big smile. Notice how you 'feel'
Now, slump your shoulders, look at the floor and slightly
shuffle your feet. Again, take a note of your emotional state.
Notice the difference?
Your audience surely will, and react to you and your message
A strong, upright, positive body posture not only helps you
breath easier (good for helping to calm nerves!) but also
transmits a message of authority, confidence, trust and power.
If you find yourself challenged to maintain such a posture,
practice in front of a mirror, or better yet join a speaking
club like Toastmasters International.
** Posture 2
The second type of 'posture' comes from your internal mental and
You can have great body posture but without internal mental and
emotional posture your words will sound hollow to your audience.
For example, a sleezy used car salesman at 'Dodgy Brothers
Motors' might have great body posture and greet you with a firm
handshake, a steady gaze and a friendly smile.
His body will start betraying his real, underlying intentions
and you'll start to feel uncomfortable around him, even if you
can't figure out why.
But, if a different used car salesman with a genuine desire to
help you find the right car for you puts your needs before his
own, then his words and actions will remain congruent (in
harmony) with his underlying intentions and you will trust him,
even though you might not be able to identify why.
I have met salesmen and women who don't actually make the money
they claim to make in their 'fabulous business opportunity', and
while their words are practiced and polished, and their body
posture is 'perfect', their words ooze like honeyed poison from
their lips and I remain unconvinced.
This second type of 'posture' is fundamentally tied to truth and
honesty. It is about 'walking the talk' and being who you say
It's all about making sure that your words and your intentions
are underpinned by truth and honesty. Because all of us, no
matter how polished a presenter we might be, are at the mercy of
our body and its ability to 'tell the truth' in spite of what
our lips might utter. Nonverbal clues rule!
I could spend a lifetime writing about the art of written
There is an art (and also a science) that can be learnt with
diligence and practice. To write too formally; to write too
informally; to write too briefly; to write too lengthily...
My first suggestion would be to avail yourself of one of the
following three books, each of which is absolutely brilliant at
giving you the skills and insights into effective business
The Business Style Handbook: An A-to-Z Guide for Writing on the
Job with Tips from Communications Experts at the Fortune 500 by
Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene
The Elements of Business Writing: A Guide to Writing Clear,
Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, Proposals, and Other Business
Documents by Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly
Effective Business Writing: Strategies, Suggestions and Examples
by Maryann V. Piotrowski
From persuasive memos to complaint letters, sales letters to
executive summaries -- these exceedingly useful guides help you
to write clearly and in an appropriate format, style and tone.
Each book has numerous examples that show how to overcome
writer's block, organize messages for maximum impact, achieve an
easy-to-read style, find an efficient writing system and much
But, if you want my personal recommendation...
...if you want to want to get hold and devour my personal best
recommendation, then it's this book by Ken Evoy: Make Your Words
Sell. "Stunning" is the only way to describe it! To grab your
own copy go to http://www.sbi2004.com/myws
There are five key elements that can make or break your attempt
at successful nonverbal business communication:
Nonverbal communication in a business setting requires not only
recognition of these elements, but confidence in meeting their
About the Author
When you match consumer psychology with effective communication
styles you get a powerful combination. At Hopkins-Business-
Communication-Training.com you can find the secrets to
communication success. At Hopkins we show you how to communicate
better for better business results.