The Importance of Nonverbal Communication



How do you work to grow your nonverbal communication skills?


Understanding Speech Delivery Using Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle


Simon Sinek believes he knows the secret to why some ideas flourish and other ideas die.  He says powerful leaders and communicators start with why.  Sinek’s “Golden Circle” explains his theory:


Why is concerned with the reason or purpose of something.  How is about the manner or means by which we do something.  What is detailed information really focused on specifying something.  In Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, he explains Apple’s why as their purpose: to think differently, to push and to challenge the status quo.  How Apple does this, the means and manner by which they share their purpose with the world, is through effective design and engineering.  Lastly, the what, are Apple’s specific products: the iPhone, the MacBook Pro, iTunes.

Starting with why, next focusing on how, and then getting specific with the what is an approach I take in the classroom when teaching students a new concept.  When it comes to public speaking and presentation, it’s important to have an overall delivery goal, a purpose for your delivery, the why.


When it comes to delivery, I am a proponent of Garr Reynolds’ “naked presenter” philosophy which says effective delivery should be natural, authentic, and real in order to connect with an audience.  Reynolds says:

Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message. The naked presenter approaches the presentation task embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. She presents with a certain freshness. The ideas may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new. But there is a “newness” and freshness to her approach and to her content.  (Source)

Understanding this “naked” philosophy of presenting gives us a clear idea on why to deliver a speech this way: because we can deeply connect with our audience if we are human beings and if we show that humanity to others.  This fundamental why purpose, or starting place, is essential when discussing, teaching, or learning more about effective presentation delivery.


It’s much easier to explain how to do something once you’ve established that why.  Take a look back at Sinek’s Golden Circle.  Starting from the middle, the core, and working out gives people a clear understanding of the bigger picture before tackling the specific details.  Most audience members will only connect with an idea once they know why that idea is important and why it matters to them.  Only after that purpose is established will they focus on gathering more information on how to live out that purpose and what to do to move in the right direction.

Reynolds breaks down how to deliver a speech using the naked presenter philosophy in “Make Your Next Presentation Naked.”  He says we can be present in the moment; avoid trying to impress others and embrace trying to help/inform/teach others; keep the lights on; ditch our script and speak naturally from an outline; come out from behind the podium; move around the stage; and simplify (Source).  He has many more how tips here.

Another great article explaining how to present naturally is “10 Powerful Body Language Tips.”  The article examines nonverbal communication, body language, and gives us the means and methods by which we can speak more naturally using effective body language.  We can power pose, remove barriers, smile, shake hands, and mirror the body language of our audience members, for example (Source).

Again, notice that some of these how tips are still a bit conceptual.  The authors let us know the means and manner by which to present “naked,” but they aren’t yet giving us definitions.  Definitions come at the what level.


Unfortunately, as Simon Sinek mentions in his landmark TED Talk, many people begin with the what.  Many businesses focus on what.  In my discipline, many teachers’ lessons only explain the what.  For example, before I learned about Garr Reynolds’ The Naked Presenter, I used to teach delivery by breaking it apart and defining each of its pieces: hand gestures, eye contact, vocal variety.  I was teaching my students the what, and it didn’t work very well for them.  If you’ve ever been in a public speaking classroom with a teacher lecturing on and on with the definitions of pronunciation versus articulation versus enunciation, you know the feelings my students experienced: boredom, apathy, annoyance.  The entire time I listed definitions, they were wondering, “What’s the point of this?  Why does this matter?”

So only after we define why and how should we get into those definitions – the what.  When it comes to speech delivery, we should understand the purpose first, the means and methods second, and the definitions last.

For more tips on effective delivery, please read the “Delivery” section of Creating Communication.  Notice that the first post in the section starts with why: “The Goal of Speech Delivery.”

How do you teach or learn about delivery?  Do you agree that Sinek’s Golden Circle model works as an effective tool for communicating ideas in a powerful way?

Getting Ahead With Body Language


Although this infographic puts a focus on getting ahead in business, these tips can certainly be used when speaking and presenting to an audience:



For more information on body language and how you can use it to your fullest advantage when presenting, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”

What body language tips would you give a novice presenter?

Amy Cuddy’s Game Changers: Helping People Become More Powerful


After seeing Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on nonverbal communication, I’ve been obsessed with her research and studies.  Today, I found a TIME video with Cuddy.  Check it out below:


This definitely gives great examples of high and low power poses and summarizes her TED Talk subject a bit.  Watch her TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” here.  It is definitely one of my favorites, and I shared a small clip of the Talk with my Professional Communication and Presentation class as a way to combat presentation anxiety.  Power posing is definitely a trick for fighting that nervousness, and I hope it helps my students not only with speeches but also in interviews in the future.

I’ve also been following Cuddy on Twitter.  She is truly inspiring.  It’s not often that a beautiful young woman becomes successful based solely on the power of her mind and of her ideas, and I think she is such a positive role model.

Have you fallen in love with a TED speaker lately?  Which TEDster inspires you most?

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are


In my public speaking and presentation class, we talk about how audiences perceive your body language when you are speaking.  “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” is a fascinating TED Talk, and social psychologist Amy Cuddy provides many engaging examples to explain nonverbal communication.  I loved her take on “power posing,” which she explains is confident nonverbal posture and communication even in those lizard brain moments, and I will definitely be able to apply this to my class in the future.


Cuddy’s TED Talk is particularly interesting with the dissection of nonverbal communication in the current presidential debates.  She says that when someone is being really powerful nonverbally that we don’t actually mirror them, we do the opposite of them (Source).  Do you think that was the case in the first presidential debate?

Now that I’ve seen this amazing TED Talk and understand how to teach powerful nonverbal communication, I’m going to add onto my “Lizard Brain” and public speaking anxiety lecture.  I can’t wait to share these messages with my students when I get back in the classroom in December!

What did you learn about body language and nonverbal communication from Cuddy’s TED Talk?

Delivery Lesson Eight: Dress Well


Some people might give you the advice to wear what you’re most comfortable in when presenting a speech.  For me, that would be a pair of sweatpants, a soft Chi Omega t-shirt from my college years, and a pair of worn, hole-y gray socks with my dad let me borrow in 10th grade.  I can only imagine what that comfortable outfit would be for you… No matter what you define as “comfortable,” don’t listen to the advice that you should look comfy and cozy when you present.  This is a presentation.  This isn’t your couch.

So why is it important to dress up?  And what in the world should you wear?

Well, first, you are not a famous celebrity.  You’re not Martin Luther King, Jr. or Oprah.  If your audience doesn’t come from all corners of the globe to worship at your feet while you present, please dress in a way that will impress them.  Why?  Because Aristotle tells us a persuasive speech is comprised of ethos, pathos, and logos.  If you’re going to convince an audience to listen to you (much less do what you say), you must pay attention to your ethos: your character and credibility as a presenter.  Part of that ethos is, as much as we hate to admit it, the way we look.


We must make a strong first impression on our audience within about 6 to 7 seconds.  Since a few seconds isn’t enough time to prove you are credible by presenting unbiased information, how does your audience determine your ethos?  They look at what you’re wearing.  You must look like you’re reliable and like you know what you’re talking about.

Some might argue that dressing too professionally makes you look uncomfortable because you feel uncomfortable.  I completely agree, and this is why I wouldn’t suggest one standard, universal professional outfit for all presenters.  Instead, consider what works best for you in your specific presentation venue.  Is this a pair of nice jeans and a blazer?  Is it a full suit?  Is it a dress?  Whatever you wear, a great rule of thumb is that you should appear a little more dressed up than your audience.

Looking the part goes a long way in persuading your audience that you are worthy of listening to.  Learn more by reading the “clothing” section in “First Impressions: Nonverbal Communication Tips.”

Delivery Lesson Two: Open Versus Closed Posture


When presenting in front of an audience, maintaining an open posture is essential.  While we may not realize it, our nonverbal communication speaks loudly.  If a presenter says one thing, but his body says the opposite, audiences always trust nonverbal communication signals over the words coming out of the speaker’s mouth.  You may say to an audience, “Hi, everyone! I’m really excited to be here with you today,” but if your body is closed off and slumped over, you are telling your audience you’re tired, disengaged, or nervous.

Audiences trust nonverbal communication above your words and your speech content, so ensure you are sending open, positive signals.  But how?

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Crossed arms are the most obvious example of closed posture.  Crossed arms can send negative signals to an audience.  You’re bored.  You’re annoyed.  You’re pouting.  You’re better than your audience.  But other less-obvious nonverbal communication signals speak just as loudly as crossed arms.

For example, consider a podium.  Most speakers naturally gravitate toward speaking behind a podium.  It’s the place to stand if you’re delivering a speech!

A podium is also closing the speaker off from the audience.  With a podium’s tall, wide shape, the speaker’s body is almost completely blocked from the audience’s view.  This creates a disconnect, and whether the speaker means to or not, the podium sends a powerful nonverbal signal.  In my class, the students who most frequently run and hide behind the podium are the students who are the most terrified to speak.

Other podium-loving presenters in my classes include people who want to lean.  You know the type.  They’re either too cool for upright posture or too lazy to be bothered to stand up straight.  Either way, the nonverbal signals are not good in an audience’s eyes.  Audiences want a speaker who cares about them, the poor audience who must sit through yet another presentation.  Audiences want to look to someone who is confident in his or her material so that the audience can, in turn, be confident in that material.

So how in the world should you stand?

The Presenters’ Blog advises that hands avoid three areas when speaking: your chest, your hips, and each other (Source).  Hands are important, but your shoulders are, too.  Stand up straight with your head held high.  Don’t look down and read your notes, as this makes you look hunched or slumped.  Your goal is to appear confident and comfortable, as if every movement is controlled (Source).

Consider Steve Jobs’ open posture in the image below.

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Jobs looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing.  He appears trustworthy.  His posture is confident yet easy, as if he were talking to an old friend.  His head is up, his shoulders are back, he stands tall, and his hands are open.  He invites the audience to listen to him with his body.

Who else can we look to for an example of positive, open posture?