All too often, in preparation for a speech or presentation, we focus on words and content, believing very sincerely in their importance. And I must confess, I am quite possibly more guilty of this than most.

So, in an effort to self-correct – and provide readers with valuable, necessary insights – I want to share some interesting facts about the importance of non-verbal communication:

  • Human communication is approximately 20% verbal and 80% non-verbal. This means if you’re saying something but your body language says the opposite, you’re not likely to get your message across. The focus on words and content is therefore lost.

  • According to researchers, our bodies express emotion better than our faces. Body language matters. It speaks volumes about us to others.

  • The average person actually only speaks words for a total of 10-11 minutes a day. And the average sentence takes 2.5 seconds to say. This, of course, is not the case for someone delivering a speech or presentation but is interesting to note in terms of other everyday communications.

  • We make and recognize about 25,000 facial expressions a day. Wow, that’s a lot of subtle, subconscious two-way communication.

  • Pointing is one of the most offensive gestures – and this is true pretty much around the globe.

  • Hand-steepling is one of the most high-confidence hand gestures. In general, hand and body gestures that move in an upward or out (toward your audience) direction register as positive.

  • Power poses – e.g. standing up, sitting with arms spread out on the on the chairs around you, “Wonder Woman” stance (feet planted; hands on hips) – make speakers feel more powerful as they actually change testosterone and cortisol levels in the body.

These are important insights to keep in mind, but you still need to be authentically you when you’re speaking in front of a group. We all have our own personal styles and preferences. Mine include moving around the room (as long as I don’t have a fixed podium mic), lots of eye contact, and gesturing out toward the audience. I smile a lot in one-on-one personal conversation, but I find that I have to make an effort to remember to smile when I speak publicly (go figure!).

Think about what your style and preferences are, and then identify one or two body language elements you might need or want to add. Try them, and good luck out there!

Beth Levine