Keeping Connected: Leveraging Body Language as your Virtual Superpower

ELL Blog Post - Keeping Connected: Leveraging Body Language as your Virtual Superpower

August 10, 2021

Keeping Connected: Leveraging Body Language as your Virtual Superpower


Did you know that, in a 30-minute conversation, two people can send over 800 nonverbal signals? As a language teacher, so much of your energy is spent on verbal communication – but nonverbal communication can be just as important. It can help you express your ideas more clearly, build trust with your audience, and communicate intent better than with words alone. By some estimates, nonverbal signals can be 12-13x more powerful than accompanying words!

There are three components of nonverbal communication: body language, tone of voice, and ornaments (or how we choose to present ourselves to the world). Body language refers to things like your facial expressions, posture, stance, and the way you walk. You can use body language to add strength to your verbal messages, enabling you to really get your point across. Your tone of voice – that is, your cadence, pitch, volume, and inflection – is another essential part of nonverbal communication. Many people say that you can hear a smile through the phone, and that is due to your tone of voice. Ornaments are things you add to your appearance. For instance, do you wear makeup? How are you dressed? All these are cues that send out nonverbal signals to the person with whom you’re communicating.


Why Body Language Matters in a Virtual Context

Engaging virtual participants during meetings or lessons can be a challenge. You can’t control the listener’s environment, and it can be difficult to tell when others are paying attention or responding to your material because you can’t always see their expressions. Fortunately, you can use your body language to elevate your communication and increase productivity, kind of like your own personal superpower. Learning to effectively use your tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions will keep your audience interested in what you’re saying.

One way to communicate better is to use your hands. Studies suggest that most people notice another person’s hands first – hands are our trust indicators. When you’re giving a virtual lesson, make sure your hands are visible to your camera. Using your hands while you speak also lessens your cognitive load, making it easier for you to express yourself. When you use your hands, you give the other person visuals, sort of like underlining and bolding the things you’re saying. Placing your hands higher shows more energy and can be used for emphasis while keeping your hands very low can make you seem bland and uninteresting. It’s important to be aware of your hand gestures and use them to help with general communication.


Be Aware of Your Gaze

Another aspect of body language to consider is your gaze. While we all know that making eye contact is necessary in real life, many don’t realize how helpful it is in the virtual context, too. There are two main types of gazing: professional gazing and social gazing. Professional gazing refers to looking at someone’s eyes first and raising your glance up to their forehead. Social gazing is when you look at someone’s eyes and drop your gaze down to the center of their face and lips. People who seem unapproachable or intimidating should try and use social gazing more often. Likewise, people who want to be taken seriously in a business context should minimize their use of social gazing.

    Fronting – or facing your top, torso, and toes toward someone – is the ultimate way to show nonverbal respect. When we view someone straight on, we view them as more trustworthy, open-minded, and sympathetic. If you’re using a second monitor, ensure that you’re looking at your camera rather than at another screen to avoid looking like you’re multitasking. It’s also best to stand while presenting if possible, and don’t get too close to the camera because personal space matters, even virtually.


    Ten Tips to Help You Be a Better Virtual Presenter

    1. Prepare yourself. Before your lesson or meeting begins, make sure you’re adequately prepared. Just as in real life, go to the bathroom, have a bottle of water ready, and get the necessary supplies so you have everything you need within reach.
    2. Make eye contact. Gaze is an important aspect of nonverbal communication. If you have trouble making eye contact, keep a sticky note above your camera, raise your camera to eye level, or tape a picture of someone near your camera and pretend to talk to them. Whatever you do, make sure your audience has your full attention.
    3. Show your hands. Remember that hands are our trust indicators. If you’re sitting, raise armrests in your chair to make your hands visible and keep them above your desk or table.
    4. Turn on your camera. Would you show up to a meeting with a bag over your head? Don’t speak with your camera off, either. Before you turn on your camera, check to see what’s in the frame so there are no surprises.
    5. Minimize distractions – for yourself and others. Find a quiet space, wear headphones to help you focus, and tell people in your home that you’ll be on a call. You should also close digital distractions like email and text notifications. To help your audience focus, fix your hair and check your teeth or clothes before getting on camera because adjusting those things on camera can be distracting. You’ll also want to avoid patterns on your clothing as they can affect your camera and be aware of jewelry that may make noise so your microphone doesn’t pick up extra sounds.
    6. Get the right gear. Vocal power is important, so consider investing in a microphone. You should be spending approximately 80% of your budget on a microphone. If you don’t have any natural light, consider looking into lighting to ensure your space is well-lit. If you present often, use a standing desk for best results.
    7. Be aware of your background. Busy backgrounds can be distracting. Set your space up for success by using a plain shower curtain, corner of a room, or anything clean as your background. If you’re in an open area, you can put a changing screen behind you.
    8. Pay attention to your audience. Learning to recognize microexpressions can make you a better communicator. Watch for body language cues like nodding and tilted heads for engagement or leaning back and crossing arms for discomfort.
    9. Avoid RAF. Be careful about “Resting Angry Face” and try to smile even when you’re taking notes or concentrating. Looking engaged will make others feel more comfortable.
    10. The final tip: Smile and wave the moment you turn your camera on and again when you say goodbye – it’s your first and last impression, so make it a good one.


    ELL Webinar Series

    Would you like to watch a class about inspiring students? This blog post is a summary of the webinar held in May 2021 for ELL’s Professional Development Learning Series. Every month, we bring renowned instructors to present on a topic relevant to language teachers worldwide. You can watch the full recording here.

    And, if you would like to join us for our next webinar, register here. Participants who join the webinar live receive a Certificate of Attendance!


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