Does Your Body Language Project Leadership Presence?

Does Your Body Language Project Leadership Presence?

Does Your Body Language Project Leadership Presence?

The concern I hear expressed most often when I give a speech or seminar is that using body language to project leadership presence is inauthentic.

And it often comes from the vary participants (managers, leaders, executives) who understand the value of spending hours creating and rehearsing what they are going to say make a positive impression in an important meeting or negotiation.

So, I ask them to consider this: In any business interaction you are communicating over two channels – verbal and nonverbal – resulting in two distinct conversations going on at the same time. While a well-written speech or well-designed bargaining strategy is obviously important, it’s not the only influential message you send. In a thirty-minute business discussion, two people can send over eight hundred different nonverbal signals. And it is no more (or less) inauthentic to prepare for this second conversation than it is to prepare for the first.

In fact, it’s essential. Research shows that when your verbal and nonverbal signals are out of alignment, people are forced to choose between what they hear and what they see. And subconsciously, they’ll believe your body language.

My best-selling video course for LinkedIn Learning, “Body Language for Leaders,” has had over 2 million views - and I get wonderful notes from participants all over the world about how helpful its been for their careers. If you are interested in this subject, it’s a good place to start (or to reinforce what you already know).

Meanwhile, let me show you what I mean. Try this: Raise your shoulders toward your ears. Now roll them back. Now drop them down. Keeping this erect posture with your shoulders back and your head straight makes you look very sure of yourself. In fact, when you assume posture while speaking, it emphasizes your leadership presence.

Another thing to remember is that power and authority are nonverbally expressed by expanding into height and space. When you want to project confidence in person or virtually, sit tall and claim your territory. Uncross your legs and place your feet firmly on the floor. Bring your elbows away from your body and widen your arm position. Your expanded body language will not only change the way people perceive you – it will influence the way you feel about yourself.

When you stand, be aware that if your feet are close together, you can look hesitant or unsure. But when you widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body, you look more “solid” and credible. 

But power and authority aren’t the only set of nonverbal cues your audience (of one or 1000) needs to see. They also want to be assured that you are friendly, warm, and inclusive. Here, again, body language can help. Smiles say “welcome,” head tilts signal curiosity, head nods show you understand or agree, and mirroring (where you assume a similar body position as the person you’re talking with) is a nonverbal way of connecting.

Gestures, too, are a key part of how people perceive you. Using a variety of gestures helps you connect with your audience. Leadership presence is most enhanced by using smooth, controlled gestures between your waist and your shoulders.

Authority is shown by rotating your hands palms-down, a nonverbal way of saying, “Hold that thought.” The steeple gesture (where the tips of your fingers touch, but your palms are separated) is a sign that you’re sure of what you’re saying. As such, it can be very effective when you want to emphasize a certain point.

Warmth and openness are demonstrated by rotating hands with palms up at about a 45-degree angle, a way of indicating that you have nothing to hide. Moving your hands and arms away from the front of your torso is another way of indicating sincerity and security.

Gestures to avoid include the “fig leaf.” Most people unconsciously clasp their hands in front of their lower body, creating a protective fig leaf effect. Whenever you use this gesture, especially during a formal presentation, it indicates that you're insecure or uncomfortable. A better choice would be to clasp your hands at waist level.

Our brains have evolved through the centuries to be social – constantly assessing what others may think or feel, how much power they have, how they are responding to us, if we feel safe with them, and if they feel safe with us. Nonverbal communication conveys this vital information through a rich and emotionally expressive language that supports or sabotages everything we say. Using body language wisely can greatly enhance your leadership presence.

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Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Leadership Expert

Carol is an international keynote speaker at conferences, business organizations, government agencies, and universities. She addresses a variety of leadership issues, but specializes in helping leaders build their impact and influence skills for fostering collaboration, building trust, and projecting that illusive quality called "leadership presence." She is the author of "STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence." and the creator of LinkedIn Learning's video course, "Body Language for Leaders." Carol completed her doctorate in the United States. She can be reached at

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