Non-verbal communication: How mixed are your messages?

Non-verbal communication plays a vital role in the success of any presentation. It has the power to engage your audience with crystal clear messages or confuse your audience, leaving them doubting what you have said and distrustful of your message.

That might seem a little harsh, yet the impact of non-verbal communication on how your message is received and interpreted is immense.

Studies conducted by Albert Mehrabian in the late 60's are frequently quoted in communication skills training. He suggested the following levels of impact or importance:

                                                Visual    55%

                            Tone     38%

                            Words     7%

Now this model causes a lot of discussion, and it is fair to say the studies conducted had a limited relevance to everyday life. Having said that, later studies have also recognised the significant role played by nonverbal signals in communicating to others.

What does this actually mean?

Your words, the content of your presentation, are clearly very important. Try giving a silent presentation using only non-verbal communication (visual and tonal cues) and you'll find it very difficult to convey a clear message that everyone understands. Words convey meaning.

Non-verbal cues compliment or accent the words and provide information about emotion and attitude. Good storytellers understand the importance of this and bring their words to life in how they tell the story.

What is non-verbal communication?


What you do with your hands. Common gestures include waving, pointing, and using fingers to indicate numeric amounts

Facial Expression

Facial expressions are responsible for a big proportion of non-verbal communication. How many business presentations have you sat through where the presenter didn't smile once. Expressions can vary dramatically between cultures, yet facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger and fear are similar throughout the world.

Eye Contact

Levels of eye contact, staring and blink rates. Sometimes a nervous presenter will stare at a fixed point at the back of the room to avoid getting eye contact with their audience.

Posture & Movement

How you stand and move gives information to your audience about your confidence and levels of control among other things.


You may not have physical contact with your audience members, but you will be constantly touching yourself or other objects around you.

Personal Space

In a crowded space this might be quite small, but for a typical presentation situation it is likely to be around 10 to 12 feet (3 to 4 metres)


Our choice of colour, clothing, hairstyles and other factors affecting appearance are also considered a means of nonverbal communication.


How we sound. The loudness, pitch, modulation, speed, rhythm, intonation and emphasis of our voice.

Here's the challenge

Research consistently shows the significant influence of non-verbal communication. If your cues and signals are congruent (inline) with your words, it really helps people get the meaning of your message. On the other hand, if they are in-congruent, and you are sending mixed messages, your audience are far more likely to go with what they are seeing and how it is said, rather than what you are saying.

To find out how I can help get your key messages received and understood:

whether 1:1 coaching or group workshops

Call: +44 (0)1367 244020

Or  contact me for more details

Richard Lock: International trainer, speaker,and coach helping businesses and individuals learn the secrets of effective communication.

To find out more about workshops, self study options, 'live online' virtual classroom sessions , personal coaching or other blended learning approaches please get in touch.

See also:

Cause Related learning for employee engagement

RHL Associates for management development