How body language affects your impact on others

Reading time 6 minutes
How body language affects your impact on others

Imagine you are shaking hands with someone at a business meeting. Can you imagine what your hand position looks like? Is the back of your hand facing up or down? The position of your hand says a lot about your effect: If the back of your hand is facing up, you are the dominant part. If, on the other hand, it is pointing downwards, your counterpart is very likely to take the dominant role. Your body language and your ability to make an impact are strongly connected.

The good news is that both can be trained. Every negative trait that you have acquired over time and that reduces your ability to be effective can be discarded. Monika Matschnig: "Some body language experts tell you what you shouldn't do. But then people put their focus only on their posture, gestures and facial expressions. That doesn't work. The point is to tell people what to do instead - and to do it in a way that fits their personality type."

Definition of body language

In this paragraph, we would like to take a closer look at what actually belongs to body language: namely facial expressions, gestures, posture, but also touch. From handshakes to sitting position and posture, posture of arms, legs and feet, playing with the hands, fingers and objects, head posture and the various forms of eye contact as well as distance behavior are also part of body language.


Not only when flirting does the look of the eyes leave an intense impression. When we are looked at, we feel noticed. Eye contact can mean attention, affection or friendliness. Avoiding eye contact, on the other hand, often signals disinterest, indifference, or even shame. And you've probably experienced this too: when someone stares at you for too long, you usually feel it's intrusive and aggressive.

The eye movement is an important part of the so-called facial expression, the term for the expressive movements of the face. Did you know that you can read the mental processes in a person on the basis of facial expressions? It's funny: poker players try to prevent their face from revealing how good or bad their cards are by means of rigid facial expressions.


Conscious gestures such as hand signals make up only a part of gestures, which refers to the totality of our hand movements. More often and in more varied ways, our hands move while we speak. These gestures are mostly unconscious. They reinforce and accompany verbal speech.

You may have observed yourself and noticed that you even gesture on the phone. Researchers have found that in the brain the centers for speech and hand movements are located in the same area and therefore suspect the almost inevitable connection between words and hands.


Posture is said to give information about the characteristics of a person - a straight posture shows an upright character, so they say. You may have noticed a connection between your mental and physical posture: When we are grieving, we are slumped, our shoulders droop, and we appear powerless and closed.

An open posture in the chest and neck area, on the other hand, signals fearlessness and self-confidence. The same applies to movements. Leaning forward in conversation shows attentiveness. Anyone who fiddles with their clothing in a cramped manner and only sits on the edge of a chair is considered insecure.

The way people walk also reflects their emotional state. Experiments have shown that we can recognize whether the person walking in front of us is male or female. And also whether they come across as happy or sad.


The presence and closeness of another person up to physical contact have a direct and strong effect. A slap or a kiss are physical messages that everyone understands. Due to imprints from childhood, we also have different attitudes towards closeness. Those who received little physical closeness from their parents will probably behave more reservedly as adults, whether in a relationship or with friends.

We have a fine sense for the right distance to other people and instinctively we take the place in a room that is comfortable for us. If we are forced into proximity, such as in an elevator, we try to ignore the others and avoid all eye contact.

Body language

Body language explained with examples

We all certainly remember one or the other situation where we could already guess how the other person was feeling by looking at their posture.

Work: Most superiors are likely to have mastered the game of power gestures and power poses by heart. Quite a few even owe their rise (in part) to this talent. Still, interpreting a boss's body language can sometimes be a guessing game. Often it starts with a premonition, an uneasy feeling that something is wrong: His body language just doesn't harmonize with his words. These may only be nuances that you perceive unconsciously at first. But you do notice them - and that's a good start. This feeling has usually never deceived you.

Friendship: You may have been in the situation where someone important to you suddenly gets in touch less and less. If you approach him courageously, he may suddenly find it difficult to look you in the eye. He may tug uncertainly at his sweater or bury his hands in his pants pocket. With these signs, you can be sure that he is hiding something - the real reasons.

Nose itch as an indication: If someone touches their nose while telling a story, it can be a telltale signal that they are lying. But it doesn't have to be. Your counterpart might just be itching there. The individual gesture reveals nothing. Only when similar body language signals accumulate do they become a clue. So never look at body language in isolation.

Success with body language: heed these 3 tips

We would like to give you three tips on how you can achieve success on various levels with the right body language - be it professionally, in a relationship or with friends.

1. consciously adapt body language

And not only that: You can also adapt body language so that it radiates exactly which business type you embody. Are you the easy-going boss within a flat hierarchy, who is on first-name terms with his employees and likes to invite them for a beer after work? Or do you work in a rather conservative company that prescribes clear hierarchies? Your company, your position and many other factors determine which body language and which effect you should adopt.

But some points almost always overlap. Or to put it another way: there are aspects of external impact that every manager, every entrepreneur and every self-employed person should master. Monika Matschnig gives an example: "It doesn't necessarily matter what you say, but above all how you say something. The how is much more decisive than the what. Because the best products, services or competencies won't be noticed if you don't manage to come across as good."

2. act effectively

This is mainly because your customers, business partners or employees trust your body more than your words. Monika Matschnig: "Effectiveness is stronger than expertise. It is a misconception that the matter is in the foreground. Numbers, data and facts are important, but it's more about how you communicate that content effectively."

And how does that happen? For example, the use of images and stories works particularly well. Personal anecdotes, elements of storytelling and vivid examples usually arouse great interest among listeners. The expert reveals: "Underline what you are saying with your body and put emotion into your words and gestures. Practice this over and over again. Impact competence is the quality criterion of the future!"

3. transport energy

Of course, we also have a few concrete tips for your body language and your effectiveness in everyday business. Monika Matschnig: "The important thing is to stand correctly. It sounds banal, but ask yourself the objective question of what your optimal starting position looks like. A little tip: Stand with both feet firmly on the ground. And now build up energy in your body and transport it."

You can also influence the position of your hands with a little practice. Monika Matschnig: "How do you normally hold them when you talk to someone? The first step is to become aware of your current behavior." And now put your focus on your gestures and observe how your counterpart reacts to them. For example, open palms symbolize openness and trust. Try it out and within a short time you will notice that your customers, partners or employees react much more positively to you. We wish you a lot of fun and good luck!


Correctly assessing and interpreting the body language of another person remains a challenge. A single movement can have different meanings. Only in the combination of facial expression, gestures and posture does a coherent overall picture emerge.

All these aspects will serve you just as well if you want to present your perfect keynote as a speeker. Only in this way will you succeed not only in attracting the attention of your audience with a gripping introduction, but also in holding it constantly. 

If you have no previous experience as a keynote speaker, we would like to help you get started. And that's why you can now download our free workbook "Keynote Development" here.



Learn with professional speaker Frank Asmus captivate your audience from the very first second, cause goose bumps and earn thunderous applause!
Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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