If you want to speak and act like a leader, you must master the art of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal messages account for more than half of what we communicate to others. And that number could be as high as 90 percent, according to some research studies. It’s a fact that people spend more time sending and receiving nonverbal cues than communicating verbally.
On video calls the stakes are higher because we are in each other’s virtual spaces arranged in a mosaic on a small screen. If your video is turned on, your nonverbal messages play a critical role in the way you are perceived and the impression you leave behind.
You will recall my earlier blogs about the immersive nature of video conferencing. Zoom boosted demand for cosmetic surgery during the pandemic as people observed their image on the screen and fixated on their imperfections.
The elusive quality of charisma, integral to executive presence, relies greatly on nonverbal cues that strengthen relationships. Body language awareness is also a skill that helps in all areas of life: professionally, socially, and romantically.
It’s important to note that those skills go both ways—that is, in the doing and the receiving of those signals. Nonverbal acumen relies on your ability to enhance your words with the appropriate body language, plus your aptitude for reading the unspoken cues from others.
People with nonverbal proficiency are regarded as more socially and politically competent than their counterparts. Nonverbal communication is considered one of the top five social skills necessary for workplace success. In fact, one study goes as far as to state that people with strong nonverbal aptitude earn more money throughout their careers.
When you think about body language, posture and energetic movement come to mind: power poses, crossed arms, dramatic gesturing, and such. In physical spaces, the larger the room, the bigger the gestures need to be.
But what about the small expressions that serve as visual codes that convey feelings, emotions, and meaning in the small confines of the video frame? These are critical to building your credibility, and gaining trust and buy-in when you are only communicating in the dimensions of sight and sound.
My body language series on YouTube covers an array of nonverbal cues that work in both physical and virtual spaces: from explanatory hand gestures to eye gaze to nervous tics that can undermine your authority. But there are many more that you should know to become a more effective communicator.
Here are seven compact expressions to deepen the meaning of what you say and help people remember you. Let’s start with the head, face, and neck. We will work our way down to the arms, hands, legs, and feet in future companion blog posts and video lessons.
1. The head tilt
Tilting your head in one direction or the other is a sign of empathy and willingness to learn more. It signals you are listening, curious and engaged. Have you noticed how a dog tilts its head to encourage human contact?
2. The downward gaze
This means you are thinking, reflecting, or pondering what you are going to say next. A subtle sideways head turn can achieve the same effect.
3. The nod
It sends a message of comprehension, openness, and warmth. The nod prompts the other person to respond positively to you. In most cultures, it is used to signify “yes” or agreement.
4. The eyebrow raise
People raise their eyebrows to express surprise, doubt, disbelief, exasperation, or exaggeration, or unconsciously when giving orders, making a demand, or arguing important points. You can use it to invite someone to speak up or to draw attention to yourself.
5. A genuine smile
The Duchenne smile (named for the French anatomist who studied emotional expression) is considered the sincerest because it engages your eyes and most of your facial features. It’s the smile that comes with laughter—one of the best catalysts for human connection. Conversely, the Pan American smile is known as a fake smile because it doesn’t use the eyes. It’s named after Pan American World Airways flight attendants who wore a perpetually polite smile.
6. The shoulder shrug
Keep plenty of room between your shoulders and earlobes. When people get nervous, they tend to tense up and raise their shoulders to protect their chest like a boxer. The shrug also denotes lack of comprehension—“I don’t know,” and is not a positive mark of leadership.
7. The lean-in
Even a tiny movement toward the camera or the audience telegraphs importance and grabs attention. Lean forward when you want to share the most important points of your speech. But use this gesture sparingly, otherwise, your forward motion may become a distraction.
Before you put these techniques into practice, establish the proper distance from the camera when you start a Zoom call. For business video conferences, sit or stand two feet or an arm’s length away from the webcam. This creates a comfortable distance that does not distort your face and allows you enough room to gesture with your arms and hands.
Develop body awareness and expand your nonverbal vocabulary to work in concert with your words and ideas. You can start by watching my videos below.
Stay tuned for part more episodes of my body language video series.