How important is body language?

body language Nov 08, 2021
Understanding body language

You’ve got an important presentation coming up. You’re pitching an idea, and a lot is riding on the outcome. So which of the following do you focus on most in your preparation:

  • Your words?
  • Your slides?

How would you feel if I said there’s something more important than either your words or your slides?

There is. The entire success of your project may well hinge on something we don’t always think about… body language. Let me explain, with help from Dr Nick Morgan, one of North America’s top communications coaches.

Nick is always coming up with great ways of helping us improve our presentations. The big idea he wants us to think about now is this: audiences don’t need to hear the words to decide which presentations are winners and which are not.

That’s right. You can get a really good idea of which ideas are likely to get the thumbs-up, just by watching a video of the presentation with the sound off.

Nick’s been analyzing the results of tests on a series of pitches made by venture capitalists to determine what was the make or break factor in these high-level presentations. 

And the surprising conclusion? The most accurate predictions of whether the pitches would succeed didn’t involve listening to the pitch at all. 

Nick Morgan writes: "Test subjects who were invited to watch silent videos of the pitches could predict the outcome most accurately.  What do you get from watching silent videos of a talk?  The extent to which the speakers project confidence and passion.  It really is all about the body language.

“Even people who knew nothing about the pitch, the company, or indeed venture capital, can predict the winners as readily as the venture capitalists themselves could choose where to put their money.”

Now this is not to say that the words or the slides don’t matter.  Of course the pitch has to be good enough, says Nick Morgan. “And of course the slides that those startup people spend enormous amounts of time developing matter.”

But neither words not slides have the impact on an audience of a speaker’s confident and passionate body language.

“Every communication is two conversations, the content and the body language.  When the two are aligned, and the content is beautifully supported by the body language, then the message the speaker intends gets through to the listener,” says Nick. 

“When the two are not aligned, the body language always trumps the content.  To put it very simply, if we see someone walk on stage and say, ‘I’m really happy to be here,’ but he/she looks tired, or timid, or nervous, then we are inclined to think they are not really happy to be there.  

“We decode the ‘real’ intent of the speaker from his or her body language.  We do that instantly and powerfully by reading the body language of the speaker with our unconscious minds.  We don’t always get it right, but much of the time we do.

“We humans spend our lives trying to figure out each other’s intent, because we care about that more than anything else.  So we get a lot of practice, watching specific individuals, and humanity in general.  Of course, sometimes the exact words matter, but more often we care about the intent behind the words.  When my co-workers spoke those words of praise or criticism, did they roll their eyes, or did they smile warmly?”

So unleash your enthusiasm. Demonstrate your passion for your subject. Pay attention to your body language. Because your body is speaking more loudly than your words.


Dr Nick Morgan is Founder and CEO of Public Words, an organization he founded in 1997 to coach the world’s elite speakers and business leaders.