Your body language can communicate a lot. Sometimes, it even speaks more than what you’re verbally saying!
Oftentimes, we can display non-verbal signs of nervousness even if we don’t actually feel nervous.
So, if you want to appear more confident and have a more commanding presence, you need to avoid gestures that make you seem anxious.
Here are 10 body language gestures that make you appear nervous (even if you’re not).
Fidgeting refers to any repetitive or unnecessary movement.
For some people, fidgeting as they speak can help distract them from the nervousness. Or it helps them gather their thoughts better.
While sometimes people don’t notice this, it can look unprofessional or even highly distracting to others, depending on how intensely you do it.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to minimize it or avoid it altogether.
Some common ways of fidgeting include:
- Playing with small objects with one’s fingers;
- Repetitively clicking the top of a pen;
- Spinning one’s phone;
- Jangling keys;
- Knocking on surfaces;
- Constantly tapping your foot.
2) Walking around
The same logic can be applied to bigger movements, like walking.
While moving across the stage, for example, can imbue your speech with energy and liveliness, it has to be deliberate and smooth. Or better yet, it has to be purposeful.
Pacing from one side to the other constantly, and especially too quickly, can signal nervousness.
This is even more distracting than fidgeting, as people can see your whole body move. Keep pacing, and people’s attention will quickly go from your words to your constant movement.
It’s often used to perform the next gesture, avoiding eye contact.
3) Eye contact aversion
Consistently maintaining eye contact is a fundamental way of sustaining people’s attention. It also shows that you’re not afraid to look them in the eye, signaling confidence.
Thus, avoiding eye contact can significantly decrease your presence. Not only will you look less sure of yourself, but others will also feel less engaged.
Often, people will have their faces and bodies pointed toward whoever they’re talking to, but their eyes are looking at something else. This is just awkward!
Or, even if they are able to make eye contact, they’re unable to sustain it for very long.
Worse: if you’re looking down. Now, that is the ultimate sign of nervousness.
However, it’s also important to note that looking directly at someone for too long can be uncomfortable too.
A good rule of thumb? Anywhere from 2-5 seconds at a time.
4) Facing elsewhere
Even worse, however, is turning your whole body in an entirely different direction when you talk to someone.
After all, turning your whole body away requires more effort than averting your eyes alone. It shows people that you really don’t want to pay attention to them.
Imagine someone who keeps talking to you while they’re facing away from you. It’s not only weird or seemingly nervous but can even come across as rude.
5) Staying too far
In the same vein, staying too far is another avoidance tactic. You may keep eye contact, but if you’re too far away, the effect is lost.
If you feel nervous, you’ll naturally want to stay as far away as possible from what’s making it uncomfortable.
That’s why shy or anxious people at a party, for example, will look for places where no one is. It allows them to avoid being involved or implicated in any kind of social interaction.
On a stage, this can manifest when the speaker is always at the very back. Effective speakers mostly linger at the very front.
Some people maintain their distance to ensure they’re not invading anyone’s personal space.
While that makes sense, effective communication requires a certain sense of intimacy. Without it, people will not feel engaged.
So, you need to find that comfortable middle ground.
6) Unclear voice
There are three main ways your voice can be hard to understand.
- Stuttering, stammering, or quivering. Perhaps the most common sign of nervousness is stuttery, stammering, or quivering speech.
- Pacing. Another way your voice makes you seem nervous is how quickly you speak. Speaking too quickly will make you seem like you want to get things over with. That or it’s how your body releases all the energy from bottling up all that anxiety. Speaking too quickly doesn’t allow you to breathe effectively, which might make you stutter too.
- Volume. Speaking too softly is another big way to seem unconfident. It makes you look shy, unsure, and like you don’t even want to be heard in the first place.
- Filler words. Repetitively using filler words like “Uhm,” “like,” and “you know” is like the verbal equivalent of fidgeting. They don’t add anything to the content of what you’re saying and are simply a way of buying you more time to think. This makes you seem unsure of what you want to say. They also detract from the naturally smooth rhythm of fluent and self-assured speech.
Blushing or having a flushed face results from a lot of blood rushing to your face.
And this sudden, intense blood flow often results from a lot of adrenaline in your body!
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do once you start blushing during your speech or presentation.
Your best bet is to do your best to relax even before it starts.
Personally, this was my problem. However, I’ve found that having a glass of water just before calms my blood down—even if I am still a bit nervous!
8) Standing asymmetrically
Most of us are stronger on one side than the other. For example, our right arm and leg have more strength and control than the left.
That’s why it’s common for people to stand on one leg or stand asymmetrically during casual occasions.
However, if you want to have a better presence, you need to look centered.
This body stance looks more solid, physically speaking—and therefore more confident and commanding.
Another benefit of a more centered stance is that it allows you to gather more air from your diaphragm and better project your voice. And, as I said above, a louder, more audible voice is also a sign of confidence.
Of course, don’t look too stiff either.
Allow yourself to lean on your right or left from time to time. After all, part of being confident is also looking relaxed.
9) Exaggerated liveliness
This isn’t as common as the other ones, but it is common enough for me to mention it here.
Sometimes, speaking too energetically can actually make you seem nervous. People might think that you’re trying too hard or that you’re overcompensating for being nervous.
It’s also a tactic I personally tried to do once, and it didn’t have good results.
On another occasion, when I was delivering a speech anxiously, I noticed that I was talking too softly. Then, remembering to add more energy to my voice, I tried to make up for it by swinging too far in the other direction.
Of course, it just looked silly.
The bottom line
Nervousness is a natural reaction to an intimidating situation. So don’t beat yourself up for feeling nervous! It happens to everyone.
However, it’s a different conversation if you come across as nervous, even if you aren’t!
And, of course, you don’t want that, do you?
This is why it’s so important to be self-aware of how we look on stage or in front of other people.
The more we can control how other people perceive us, the greater the effect we can have on them.