Nonverbal communication is one of the most important aspects of the way that we deal with people. In fact, only part of our communication is verbal.
A large part of communication is nonverbal, associated with our actions and body language. But despite this, many people focus purely on improving the way that they talk, not realising that it’s not what they’re saying that people are focusing on.
This applies whether you’re a businessman delivering a keynote or whether you’re a teacher or a student in an academic setting.
When we talk about nonverbal communication, we’re talking about literally any form of communication that isn’t communicated by the way you speak and the words that you say.
If you move your hands while you’re talking or if you make eye contact with an audience member, that’s a type of nonverbal communication.
Different Types of Nonverbal Communication
Some of the different types of nonverbal communication include hand gestures, your posture, body movements, eye contact and facial expressions.
Many of these elements are outside of our conscious control, which means that the only way to perfect their usage is to practice until it becomes second nature.
Appropriately enough for a form of communication that’s about the absence of speech, you can also communicate via the absence of activity. Sometimes you’ll want to pause to allow a point to sink in or to use nonverbal communication as a rhetorical device.
Another example of nonverbal communication is air quotation marks, which people sometimes use to alter the meaning of what they’re actually saying.
How to Improve Nonverbal Communication
By now, you should be convinced of the importance of developing strong nonverbal communication skills. The next step is to start developing your skills so you can put them into practice. Here are just a few ways for you to do just that.
1. Establish Eye Contact
Making eye contact with people can help to encourage a sense of trust because it shows that you’re open and communicative. Just make sure that you’re not overdoing it because you don’t want to seem creepy.
It should feel natural and one-on-one eye contact should be interspersed with regular breaks so that it doesn’t get too intense. When you’re speaking to a group or presenting in front of an audience, consider making eye contact with different audience members as you look out into the crowd.
2. Face People
No matter whether you’re delivering a keynote or whether you’re in a meeting with an important client, you need to make sure you’re facing the people you’re communicating with.
Make sure that you’re not looking down at a screen or some notes and failing to look at your audience. If you’re meeting in person, then face them head-on instead of giving them silent glances.
Languages vary from country to country, but smiles are universal. By simply smiling at the people that you’re talking to, you’ll send out nonverbal signals that you’re approachable and open to a two-way dialogue.
It shows that you’re talking to your peers and not in a formal situation. Smiling can also win people over to your cause, especially if you’re saying something controversial or picking a side in a debate.
4. Match Other People
Keep an eye on what other people are doing when you’re talking to them and consider adapting your own body language to suit theirs. If they’re gesturing rapidly, then follow suit, and do the same if they lean towards you.
At the same time, though, it’s important not to copy any negative body language, such as frowning, fiddling or crossing your arms.
5. Concentrate On Your Tone of Voice
Technically, this one is verbal, but it’s also nonverbal in that it’s not about what you say but how you say it. The way that you speak can convey everything from awed respect to boredom and outright hostility.
That’s why you should use the way you speak to reflect the content of what you’re saying. If you’re excited about something, show it!
6. Shake Hands Firmly and Sit Up Straight
Doing this will show that you’re confident, serious and professional. First impressions count for a lot, and not just when it comes to your nonverbal communication.
Nevertheless, taking these two small actions will make you seem much more professional. Sitting up straight will also help you to pay more attention to the conversation you’re having.
7. Brush Up Your Appearance
Building on the last point, you’ll want to take the time to brush up and to make yourself look beautiful ahead of any big presentations or public speaking engagements.
This will signal that you take care of yourself and pay attention to detail. It will also give you a little self-confidence and make you feel more prepared for the task in hand.
8. Pay Attention
One of the major habits that successful people have in common is their tendency to make everyone they meet feel like the most important person in the world. You can borrow from this by paying as much attention as possible to everyone you speak to.
They’ll notice – and you won’t have to say a word to make them notice. As part of this, it’s a good idea to minimise distractions where possible so that you can focus solely on the conversation you’re having.
9. Respect Personal Space
Different people prefer different amounts of personal space, so take the lead from the people that you’re talking to. If they’re happy to get up close and personal, then be prepared to do the same.
But if they keep a wide berth and like to have a lot of space, then don’t get up in their face and push them outside of their comfort zone.
They say that practice makes perfect, which means you’ll never stop improving. If you want to be a strong nonverbal communicator, you need to keep practicing and getting better so that when you’re called upon, you’ll be ready.
One way to spot ways to improve is to film yourself and then to watch it back to look out for any potential pitfalls. You can even watch it on mute to get a fuller idea of what you’re expressing outside of the words you’re saying.
Nonverbal communication is more important than many people think. We’ve already seen that it communicates more than the things that we say. You will start to notice its effect when you put the tips we’ve shared into practice.
It will help you to engage your audience and to hold their interest. Also, it will help you to add an extra dimension when you deliver speeches and presentations.
And familiarising yourself with the effects of your body language and other nonverbal forms of communication will ultimately make you more confident in yourself and improve your delivery as a whole.
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