Have you, while conducting a staff meeting or talking to a customer, witnessed them ‘glaze over’ and momentarily ‘check out’? You can almost see that their brain is no longer engaged with anything you’re saying. You’ve lost them and need to act quickly and scramble to try to regain their attention.

You are not alone. Keeping the attention of those around us, whether engaging staff during a meeting, or directing a customer to a new product, is a skill that does not come naturally to most. The good news is that there are things you can practice that will help you greatly improve how you are communicating non-verbally.

What is Non-Verbal Communication?

Non-verbal communication consists of visual cues you give to your audience with your body language, posturing, and even dress, that send messages. They help, or inhibit, the message you’re trying to get across.

Our brains are hard-wired to look for these cues; we pick up on them all of the time, often unaware of their influence.

Think back to when you were in Middle School. In a split second you and your friends knew how much you were going to try to get away with when you walked into class and saw a substitute teacher.

Your own kids have determined within 15 seconds of you walking in the door what their chances are of ordering pizza for dinner, spend the night at a friend’s, or getting $20 from your wallet.

In the adult realm, non-verbal communication works much the same way. It creates snap judgements, influences buying habits, it shapes how much value or weight we give to the person speaking, and it can make us feel included or excluded.

It is so important to understand how we communicate these cues and to train our staff to be aware of, and effective using, these cues. Only then can we make the necessary changes to allow us to keep the attention at a staff meeting or improve our customer experience. Here are 5 Tips to Improve Your Body Language

Tip #1: Eye Contact

There is no quicker way to lose someone’s attention than to avoid eye contact. It communicates ‘disinterest’. When you avoid eye contact with your customer or staff, they feel that you’re:
  • not present and engaged with them
  • your attention is elsewhere
  • your mind is on to the next thing
  • you are not confident in what you are saying
  • there are more important things on your mind than the person
Simply through eye contact you’re acknowledging the other person’s existence, giving them importance.

Purposefully making eye contact during a staff meeting maintains their attention and communicates, non-verbally, an expectation of participation and engagement.

Purposefully making eye contact with a customer is the first step in making them feel welcomed (see Tip #2 – a MUST).

Quick Tip:

You do not want to maintain consistent eye contact with one person for too long, this can create an uneasy feeling as we interpret this as aggressive.

You don’t want people to feel you are challenging them, communicating disdain, or trying to pick up on them! A good rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact for 2 seconds.

Tip #2: Smile

Your smile is a universal language that crosses borders, beliefs, even language, that makes people feel welcomed. A smile conveys openness, friendliness, and confidence.

Smiling also has an effect on your speech tone and quality. It can be “felt” over the phone. Stop and let that sink in because it’s important. When you smile it naturally creates a pleasant and welcoming tone to your voice. If it can be felt over the phone, it most certainly can be felt in face to face!

Quick Tip:

I encourage managers to train employees to smile when they answer the phone. The tonal shift is noticeable.

Conversations come across as more welcoming, empathetic, inviting, and cooperative. Customers end up feeling listened to and understood. They also feel reassured that their concerns are being addressed and that you’re genuinely happy they called to order.

Try it. It really works!

Tip #3: What do do with Your Arms

Especially regarding customer service and hospitality, people don’t often know what to do with their arms or hands. A default is to place them in pockets or cross them in front. This communicates insecurity or being closed off and unwelcoming.

One doesn’t have to gesticulate wildly about waving their arms like a mad scientist to be effective.

Imagine, for example, Charles is behind the counter taking a lunch order. This is a mom and pop deli with specials that rotate daily. They’re really good specials.

Charles can recite the daily specials while maintaining eye contact with the customer or he can change a few things to give much better service.

If, while reciting the special, Charles uses his hand to point to the special then turns to read it himself, he’s going to be much more effective both with selling the special and making the customer feel pampered.

When he directs his eye contact away from his customer and to the special, his customer has no choice but to break away eye contact and follow his gaze to the special. It elevates the importance of the special and makes the customer feel important that he chose to point it out to them!

Quick Tip:

This may seem silly at first, especially if you’re not used to moving your hands about. It’s a fun thing to practice at a staff meeting. Practice eye contact, smiling, then directing someone’s attention to a ‘special’.

You can be extra animated at first, then practice using smaller gestures like motioning to the special while looking toward it. (Use this for anything you want to direct attention to – from the exit sign to a waiting area, to grab and go product.)

Highlight to staff how such a small change in behavior really can enhance a customer’s experience. (Combine with tip #5 for extra punch!)


Tip #4: Get Rid of Distracting Movements

Have you ever watched someone giving a speech and couldn’t focus on what they were saying because they kept clicking their pen? My dad used to jingle the change in his pocket during conversation. A friend of mine moves his knee with so much force that the table jiggles up and down. It is incredibly distracting. Most of the time they don’t even realize they are doing it.

The point of your meeting or presentation is not to draw attention to the distracting movements. People have to work harder to concentrate and hear what you have to say. When you make this process more challenging you are asking your audience to do more work than they are already doing in understanding what you are trying to communicate. This extra work is a guaranteed way to have your message get lost.

Quick Tip:

Oft times we might not even know that we have these distracting habits. It was not until I videotaped myself and uncomfortably watched that I realized I blinked. A lot. I had NO IDEA.

I was distracting to ME watching myself! How was I to expect my audience to pay attention?

Videotaping or practicing in front of the mirror can be super uncomfortable at first. As a matter of fact, it still makes me uncomfortable! However, if the goal is to become a better communicator. . .

You can also ask a trusted friend or colleague to watch for any distracting habits you might have.

Tip #5: Slow Down Your Speaking

I know this blog is about non-verbal communication and tip #5 is about speaking. Contradictory? Stick with me, this tip is about pace.

When we are nervous and/or excited the pace of our speech picks up and our voice gets higher. It’s natural but counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish.

The best work evaluation I’ve ever had was when I was fresh out of college and teaching middle school. Loved that crazy age of kids! As you can imagine, there are times that their energy ramps up into a frenzy.

Naturally, while trying to regain their attention or settle them down as they just came in for class, I would try to talk over them in order to be heard. My voice got louder, I started talking faster, and my voice became higher.

My boss pointed this out and said that nearly all people respond in the same way. The key to regaining their attention was to do the exact opposite of what I was doing; to behave in a way that was completely counterintuitive. I practiced three things:


  1. LOW – Lower the pitch of my voice
  2. SLOW – Slow down my speech
  3. SOFT – talk more quietly

I thought he was nuts. How was I supposed to calm the room of hormonal teens and gain their attention if I was basically whispering?! It was a genuine leap of faith the first time I attempted.

You know what? It WORKED. It worked like magic! It works with middle school kids just as well as it works with presentations and workshops. (Sometimes a visual cue is needed in addition but that’s for another post.)

I still use this technique today while coaching workshops and staff trainings. It’s a very effective way to regain the attention of a room. Slowing the rate of speaking and combining with the other two techniques results in people starting to lean in and listen.

  • Slower speech communicates calm.
  • It non-verbally communicates being let in on a secret. We whisper secrets, we don’t shout them.
  • Slower speech communicates non-verbally that something important is being said. People naturally pause to pay attention. Think Mr. Rogers.

Quick Tip:

Practice varying your pace of speech for an upcoming staff presentation (or even when presenting that daily special!). Purposefully pause for effect. (Combine that pause with two-second eye contact with a staff member and they’ll think that you’re giving them a personal message!).

Slowing speech purposefully makes people feel like they’re being let in on a secret. Customers love to be part of the ‘special group’!!

Final Thoughts

Incorporating these tips into your staff training and into your own development is well worth the time and effort. Your staff becomes more confident, customer relationships become stronger, and your staff meetings and trainings are more effective!

You’ll see positive results right away.

If you would like to learn how your business’s physical space might be communicating non-verbally to customers? Read my article Non-Verbal Communication and your Business

Please share your thoughts on this article and especially let me know if you have put any of these tips into practice and what the result has been. I look forward to hearing from you!

Samantha works with business owners helping to ‘tame the overwhelm’, assisting with customer acquisition & retention, employee training & retention, and honing your customer experience so it kicks butt.

She conducts workshops and training in hospitality, customer experience, and creating a culture in the workplace that inspires and motivates employees and customers.

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