By Emily Suess

Much of what we have to say isn’t conveyed through speech. It shows up in our body language—those subtle and not so subtle actions we make while conducting business. Body language clues us in to how others feel and think, even when they’re not saying it out loud. If you learn the basics of body language, you’ll be more aware of the nonverbal cues you’re giving when you talk to customers, present to investors, or interact with your employees.

Be Natural

At first, it might seem counterintuitive to tell you to act natural. However, stiff, rehearsed body language can be interpreted as awkward or insincere. The goal is to be in the habit of projecting body language that signals to others that you feel relaxed and confident.

Be mindful of your natural posture and make corrections a habit, not just something you try out when you’re giving a speech. Keep your chest open and your neck and shoulders relaxed in order to breathe more deeply. Practice taking deep breaths before your meeting or presentation and you’ll shift the focus away from your anxiety, exhibiting fewer signs of nervousness to the audience.

Don’t Fidget

If you’re not accustomed to speaking to crowds or taking a position of authority as a manager, fidgeting is a dead giveaway. Resist tapping your pencil, repeatedly touching your neck, constantly shifting your weight from foot to foot, or tucking your hair behind your ears. Many of these actions are common and will go unnoticed in small doses. However, the more frequently your audience sees them, the more distracting they become.

Remember Eyes, Face, Chin

You can actually put yourself and others at ease with facial expressions. There’s no need to be cold and stiff. It’s perfectly acceptable, and actually preferred, that you make eye contact with your audience and soften your facial expressions. Smile when appropriate, especially when you are listening. Finally, remember to keep your chin level. When you look down at the floor you are exhibiting uneasiness and lowered self-confidence.

Keep the Body Open

When we’re nervous, it’s pretty common to position our bodies with arms or legs crossed. This signals to others that you are closed off and would prefer to be detached from what’s going on. Maintain an open posture so that others know you are listening and actively engaged in the conversation.

Put Your Smartphone Away

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone placed their phone or tablet on the table between them and you? This action actually conveys a very negative message to the person across the table. It says, “I want this between us because it’s more important to me.” In the business world, that can be a deal breaker for customers and investors, as well as signal to your employees that they aren’t valued.

Be aware of the message you’re sending with body language and make sure your body is in agreement with what you are actually trying to say.