Body Language. What Are Your Signs Saying?

Have you ever attended a presentation where you could not focus on what was being said because of way that the presenter behaved during the presentation? Who can forget when future republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, took a swig mid-speech from a small water bottle during his GOP State of the Union rebuttal? Such a small gesture made him appear nervous, caused his audience to lose faith in what he was saying, and encouraged people to wonder if the senator had just botched his chances of one day becoming President of the United States.

"My water is more important than my voters!"
“My water is more important than my voters!”

Whether you present to a room of 500 or to a consultation of one, your body language is the most impactful factor on your audience. Body language is 55% of the speaker’s total influence, with voice at 38%, and words at only 7%.

Renowned social psychologist, Amy Cuddy[1], performed an experiment on how nonverbal expressions of power (i.e., expansive, open, space-occupying postures) affect people’s feelings, behaviors, and hormone levels. According to Cuddy, just as animals open up and make themselves appear larger to show power and dominance, people do the same when they enjoy power chronically or feel powerful. Further, regardless of whether people are born with or without sight, when they feel pride, they make similar motions of reaching their arms up in a “V” and lifting their chins.

By contrast, when we feel powerless, both animals and humans close up to make themselves look smaller.

When a high power person meets with a low power individual, rather than mirror one another, they do exactly the opposite. So if you view someone as more powerful than you are, you make yourself smaller. Generally, women feel less powerful than men, so they tend to shrink.

This is why the phrase “fake it till you make it” is so effective. If you act in ways to look more powerful, you will feel more powerful. Powerful people take more risks, are more optimistic, are more confident, think more abstractly, have more of the dominance hormone (testosterone), and have less of the stress hormone (cortisol).

Cuddy and her colleagues performed an experiment in which they first obtained samples of the test subjects’ saliva. Afterward, they arranged each subject in either a high power or a low power pose for two minutes. Next, they offered the test subjects the opportunity to gamble. Finally, Cuddy took second saliva samples.

Of those who performed high power poses, 86% gambled; on the other hand, only 60% of the low power posers chose to gamble.

Those who performed high power poses increased their testosterone by 20% and decreased their cortisol by 25%. In contrast, low power posers exhibited a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol.

Clearly, our non-verbal actions govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Why should collaborative professionals care about this, aside from the obvious if we choose to market our practices by presenting outside the conference room?

  • Our bodies change our minds.
  • Our minds change our behavior.
  • Our behavior changes our outcome.


Collaborative professionals should increase their likelihood of successfully negotiating peace by sharing this information with their clients. Clients who adopt body postures associated with power and control for as little as two minutes before a meeting will increase testosterone, decrease cortisol, increase appetite for risk, and cause better performance in both job interviews and divorce negotiations. And you will, as well.


“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.”

So what body language do you want to employ when you present to a room of folks who know nothing about collaborative divorce? Granville N. Toogood[2] stresses the importance of appearing natural. “The key to looking and sounding natural – in other words, conversational – is to try to be natural. People have to move in a way that is true to themselves.” When presenting, he advises:

  • Don’t sway.
  • Turn your feet slightly to face different parts of your audience.
  • Keep your head in the same place – which will happen automatically if you don’t sway and if you rotate slowly on the same spot under your feet.
  • Use your hands to help animate your talk.

While giving your presentation, mimic your power stance. Use good posture. Open your chest and arms to maximize air flow and also because, as explained above, power stances make us feel and look more powerful. This attitude will make you appear approachable and confident.

Smile. It will make you more likeable, inviting, and relatable. Your audience will be more willing to listen.

Look your audience in the eyes. Not only will you appear more trustworthy, but people will pay more attention to what you are saying. They will feel engaged and part of the conversation. Avoid staring at a single spot in the audience as it will make you seem unsure of yourself.

Your audience will pay more attention to you if you vary your gestures. Make use of your entire anatomy, using your hands, your arms, your head, and your body. Use both small gestures and large gestures. Use positive gestures like nodding your head and mirroring your audience’s movements. Your gestures should always emphasize your point.

What should you not do? Avoid flailing to the point of distraction. Avoid fidgeting; you will seem nervous, and your audience will pay attention to your twitching and not to the point that you are trying to make. You may not even know that you fidget, so record yourself presenting and review that recording to eliminate any negative behaviors. Avoid crossing your arms; you will appear defensive. Avoid crossing your legs; you will look nervous and unprofessional.

Use your space and walk around and toward people to increase their participation. Never turn your back to the audience as you will appear rude, and you will lose their attention. If you want to draw attention to something behind you, turn to the side and point with your finger or use a laser pointer.

Keep in mind that your audience needs movement to keep their brains’ alert. If you are nervous that you will trip and fall, wear comfortable flat shoes with rubber soles.

When it comes to body language, just act as naturally as possible. If you try to use body language that doesn’t feel natural, without sufficient practice, you will look stiff and uncomfortable, which will make you look untrustworthy and uninformed about your subject.

So next time you present, remember to do your best, most confident power pose for two minutes and drink your water before you go out; then act as naturally as possible once you do.

[1] Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, TED Talks, 2012.

[2] Granville N. Toogood, The Articulate Executive (New York, 1996).


Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author:  Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law while also serving as a full-time professor in law at Stetson University.  She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement.  For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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