Body Language

Understanding body language is essential when you’re a salesperson.

Here we investigate how you can understand the thinking behind body language, what you can do to understand your clients’ messages within their body language and what you can do to ensure your body language is giving off the right message, as a confident professional worth listening to.

Body language is key, so you come across as a confident professional worth listening to – the first step for any successful sales call.

Let’s first debunk a myth.  You may have heard the ‘rule’:

  • Words account for 7%,
  • Tone of voice accounts for 38%
  • Facial expression accounts for 55%

Did you know this ‘rule’ is actually misquoted? Albert Mehrabian has been explaining this ever since it was published.

In the 1960s, Professor Albert Mehrabian and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA), conducted studies into human communication patterns. When their results were published in professional journals in 1967, they were widely circulated across mass media in abbreviated form. Because the figures were so easy to remember, most people forgot what they really meant. So the myth that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal was born. And we have been using it and suffering from it ever since.

The fact is Professor Mehrabian’s research had nothing to do with giving presentations, speeches or general communication, because it was based on the information that could be conveyed in a single word.

Subjects were asked to listen to a recording of a woman’s voice, saying the word “maybe” three different ways to convey liking, neutrality, and disliking. They were also shown photos of the woman’s face conveying the same three emotions. They were then asked to guess the emotions heard in the recorded voice, seen in the photos, and both together. The result? The subjects correctly identified the emotions 50 percent more often from the photos than from the voice.

In the second study, subjects were asked to listen to nine recorded words:

  • Three meant to convey liking (honey, dear, thanks),
  • Three to convey neutrality (maybe, really, oh),
  • Three to convey disliking (don’t, brute, terrible).

Each word was pronounced three different ways. When asked to guess the emotions being conveyed, it turned out that the subjects were more influenced by the tone of voice than the words themselves.

The study has several limitations when applied in real life, which are largely ignored when the study is now cited outside a scientific context and contribute to the misinterpretation above.

  1. It is based on the judgment of the meaning of single tape of recorded words, i.e., a very artificial context.
  2. The figures are obtained by combining results from two different studies which are inappropriately combined.
  3. It relates only to the communication of positive versus negative emotions.
  4. It relates only to women, as men did not participate in the study.
  5. Other types of nonverbal communication, e.g., body posture, were not included in the studies.


So, what can we learn in a sales context?

Words – It’s important to take the words you use seriously. We discuss a lot about language and how important it is. For example, in your presentations, saying ‘We don’t let you down’ verses ‘You can rely on us, we deliver on our word’ will land differently. One is an emphasis on ‘letting you down’ and one emphases ‘reliability’.

Voice. The main thing with voice is practice. Asking someone to increase their volume or clarity is all well and good, but if they are reading from a script and nervous then it’s a pointless request.

Gestures. I move my hands around. You may not. If you start to do that in a presentation there’s every chance it will be forced, awkward and detract from what you are saying.


So, what am I saying? It’s important to show up and be yourself or you force gestures and voice and lack integrity. Luckily there is another, easier choice and that is understanding the fundamental key to body language falls in two areas.

  1. Intent
  2. Practice


What is your intent for your interaction with a client? If it is to really understand them, to want to know everything about their situation so you can provide the best possible solution, then it will show in all your actions. Conversely, if your intent is to ‘sell AT them’, that will also show up.

Embrace that your solution can help people, anchor yourself in client success stories to give yourself a boost and reset why you are doing the job. Know that if you are investigative and you have done all your homework and connected in the right way you are likely to be able to help them. When you care about the client and genuinely want the best outcome for them, that shows in all your behaviours, actions and body language.

You do not need to fake it, you are living and breathing it.

If you happen to have your arms crossed, it will mean it’s comfortable.

If you happen to frown it’s because you needed to frown.

You will be you and your care factor will outshine everything.



When you know 100 ways to deliver your message and you have practiced every variable, you no longer have to think about it. You can relax and focus on the client. Now we are cooking with gas. (You are living and breathing point 1)

Break your spiel into smaller obvious chunks, then set about saying them out loud (not in your head) over and over and over again. You shouldn’t write out what you will say as we don’t write conversationally, and it will sound (and be) scripted. Instead, you need to know what you are talking about. So much so that at any point someone can ask questions and you can ‘step out’ of your section and be 100% present with them on that question, answer it and loop it back into where you are.

The sections will end up being interchangeable so that you can go with the flow. When I say practice, I use the 20:1 ratio. New content of 1 hour needs a minimum of 20 full practice runs. Say it out loud in the shower, with the kettle on, in the car (ideally without the music on). If you practice under duress, then the actual time you do deliver it you will know it intimately and subconsciously.

What practice gives you is two essential ingredients to positive body language – one is your ability to be fully present, in a bubble with the client and totally into what the client is saying, truly investigating how you can help and what their needs, values and beliefs are.

The other thing practice gives you is confidence

What is your body language ideally portraying? That you are a confident professional with the ability and aptitude to help.

The person is buying you – so are you sold yourself? Are you convinced of your solution? Are you present and listening? Are you acting like the authority? Confident people have an air, they are calm, in control and ooze certainty. This is what a client is buying into. (Afterall, if you are not confident, we can’t expect them to be).

Reading your client

I often hear; “ah you shouldn’t cross your arms” and then someone else happily pipes in “yes that’s a no go – it means a barrier.” So let’s put this straight.

It may be a barrier or it may mean your client is extremely comfortable with you and totally engrossed in what you are saying. They may be in a bubble with you, and you have 100% buy-in. They are transfixed. In that case one person’s ‘barrier’ is another person’s ‘buy-in’. There is no one size fits all.

So how do you know?

You need to understand the base line – i.e., how is your client normally? You also need to be totally present so you can tell if there is any shift at all of energy, you can pinpoint if they are comfortable, happy, at the same pace, excited, intrigued etc. This is a detective’s strategy: get the person comfortably talking about something normal and then move onto the crime, at which point did they act differently. Bam, handcuffs on.


What to do

Help your team by coaching them on all the objections that come up, start a easily accessible document so that the team can be armed and confident

Contact us to understand this and other programs (coaching currently conducted virtually), including how to handle objections. >>>

Piece written by Charmaine Keegan,  author of over 20 eBooks, is a sought-after guest speaker, panellist, and keynote. She is a Certified Trainer Extended Disc System, of Situational Leadership, of NLP (how we operate), Hypnotherapy (unconscious communication) and Timeline Therapy (recognising your beliefs about sales and money – and recognising that of your customer). She has studied the psychology of human behaviour and is considered an absolute authority and true expert on sales techniques. She has ‘walked the walk‘ so her content, programs and key notes are highly practical and focused on results.

Smarter Selling is sales and mindset coaching for high performing leaders and teams