It’s Not What You Say That Counts; It’s What You Don’t Say

Today’s entry is an excerpt from my updated position paper, “How Important Are Nonverbal Signals?” Stay tuned in weeks to come for more insights into how your body language affects your organization’s goals and your own career prospects.


Your audience is keeping an eagle eye on you as you speak. Yes, they are listening to your words. But they are also soaking up every gesture and vocal change you display. How important are these nonverbal cues?

Man statue

To better answer that question, let’s examine the story from a different angle. Imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as an audience member.

Picture in your mind the times you have attended presentations and couldn’t wait to escape the room. The speaker may have been a world renowned expert in his topic with top notch content. But he stood still in the dark while using slides as a crutch. Or spoke in a monotone. Or avoided all eye contact with the audience. Neglecting to utilize critical nonverbal communication methods, he soon lulled everyone to sleep.

Now, consider a brighter scene, one in which you witnessed a mesmerizing speaker. She shared not only fascinating insights, but did so in an engaging manner by utilizing her nonverbal skills masterfully. If you looked around the room, you likely saw your fellow audience members on the edges of their seats, paying rapt attention.

Your Video tools (the way you look) and Audio tools (the way you sound) help transmit your message in a more persuasive fashion. But don’t think for one moment that, because you can summon a raise of the eyebrow or modulate your rate of speech, you have mastered the ability to communicate in public or persuade reporters.

Your nonverbal tools pave the way for smoother acceptance of your message, yet they will not, in and of themselves, deliver it for you.

It is my job as a communications consultant to business and association executives, scientists, artists, and other thought leaders to translate the research from academic jargon into everyday language.

Most of my clients don’t care about the research methods surrounding nonverbal communications, nor should they. They care about results. They are intently focused on providing more persuasive presentations, garnering more positive news clips, or delivering a more powerful message to Capitol Hill.

Why? These outcomes lead to benefits such as:

  • A healthier bottom line
  • An enhanced reputation
  • More confidence in public settings
  • Brighter career options
  • Attainment of business and public policy goals

A consultant must be alert to the research, without getting so bogged down in the minutiae that he becomes a college lecturer instead of a hands-on provider of useful business information. As a university professor of mine was fond of saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

How have you witnessed nonverbal tools bolster someone’s—perhaps your own—cause or career?



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