In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy Jr. appeared in the first televised presidential debate in American history. Nixon appeared nervous and uncertain, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident.

An estimated 70 million viewers tuned in to watch the debate. The television audience prodigiously
believed Kennedy was victorious and radio listeners strongly felt Nixon had won. The debate marked
the first time in history that there was a huge discrepancy between the audience’s assumptions.
However, it was Kennedy who emerged as the winner.

What was the reason behind Kennedy’s success? His body language.

Body language can make or break a candidate. Although people may have agreed more with Nixon’s
words; it was Kennedy’s way of presenting himself that made him the ultimate winner to those who
watched the debate. In fact, Nixon’s body language blunders cost him the election within the first 20 seconds of the debate. He instantly triggered distrust with the audience because he did not even make eye contact. Instead, he turned his head to look towards Kennedy, which automatically signalled submission and positioned Kennedy as the alpha candidate. Nixon tightly gripped the arm of his chair revealing nervousness and his clenched fist displayed aggression. The non-verbal cues in this debate were so powerful that Nixon himself went on to admit, “I should have remembered that a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Scientific research and theory into nonverbal communication first became popular when it was
introduced to the public by Charles Darwin with the 1872 publication, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Since then, the way we speak without speaking has been analyzed extensively and research reveals there are eight types of nonverbal communication. These eight types are facial expression, gestures, tone, posture, proxemics (personal space), eye contact, haptics (body contact) and appearance. In fact, a common belief known as the Mehrabian’s rule of communication suggests that communication relies only 7% on words, 38% on tone of voice and a massive 55% on body language.

As body language has a profound influence on all aspects of our life, the role it plays therefore, is really critical when presenting. Changing your body position can affect the chemicals in your body and make you feel more confident. A good presentation can easily crumble when a presenter says one thing with their lips and sends an entirely different message with their bodies. Unsuccessful body language can make you lose. However, successful body language can make you win.

Below are 5 common body language mistakes you may not realize you are making and how to fix them:

1) Rubbing hands. Clasping your hands, rubbing them together or fidgeting with them indicates
nervousness. These may give your audience the impression that you are uncomfortable and do not
believe what you are saying.

Instead: Experts suggest keeping your arms to your side in an open manner. Use your hands to deliver calculated, concise gestures in conveying your words.

2) Crossing your arms. This gives others the sense that you are unimpressed or something is amiss. It is a defensive position that can easily put a distance between you and your audience.

Instead: Be conscious of keeping your arms open and away from your body. This open gesture is
inviting, trusting and gives the audience a sense of peace and confidence.

3) Avoiding eye contact. Constantly looking at the clock, at your feet, at the screen, or anywhere but your audience will all make you appear unconfident and deceitful.

Instead: Briefly establish eye contact to a comfortable degree with everyone when you make a point. Keep it short and sincere, but not too quick.

4) Poor posture. Among the many attributes of body language, posture is one that speaks the loudest. Slouched back, drooped shoulders or keeping your head on one side will all send a weak message that can easily have your audience question your professionalism.

Instead: Assume a confident posture by standing straight and keeping your shoulders firm but not rigid or tight. Keep your head high and legs strong. These will not only make you look confident on the outside but will also make you feel more confident on the inside.

5) Annoying movements. Pacing back and forth and moving your arms and legs quickly are common
distractions that will not fare well when you try to inspire and persuade your audience in a presentation.

Instead: Navigate the room with slow confidence. Send a more positive message by slowly moving
across the front of the entire crowd, and standing in one place as much as possible.

Mastering your body language will demand increasing self-awareness and practice. Expressing an open and positive attitude, non-verbally, during presentations will encourage a supportive and collaborative atmosphere between you and your audience.