Speaking and Listening

Body Language, Positioning and Movement

Body Language, Positioning and Movement

CaptureBody language is another way we communicate with each other. Shaking our heads, pointing, eye contact, nodding, glancing away, crossing our arms and leaning forwards or backwards are all examples of the many different forms of body language we use every day. A lot of our body language is subconscious, meaning we do it instinctively rather than with planning. However, during a Speaking and Listening assessment for GCSE English Language, making a conscious effort to control your body language can help you support your arguments and appear more passionate about your subject and confident in your knowledge of the subject.

Remember, the purpose of any face-to-face communication is to engage your audience so that they listen to what you have to say. If your body language shows confidence, it will suggest that you know what you are talking about and are worth listening to. Three of the main types of body language are:

  • body positioning
  • eye contact
  • general movement


Body Positioning and Movement

Think about how you are standing when you give a presentation. Body positioning can reveal exactly how the speaker is feeling as they deliver their speech. Often it is possible to tell when a person is excited, bored or relaxed by their positioning. If they are sitting on the edge of their chair, that is an indication of them being excited. If they are slumped back in the chair and slouching, they are likely to be bored, unless they are smiling which could suggest that they are happy and relaxed. Sitting forward in your chair with your back completely rigid implies that you are nervous and uncomfortable.

When delivering presentations, you are likely to be standing but your body position is still part of your performance. You should be facing the audience directly, stepping forward occasionally when trying to emphasise something and you should stand up straight but in a comfortable way. Hands in pockets are a definite ‘no’. Movement round a room can engage the audience more because, not only does it force them to concentrate in follow you with their eyes, it also brings you closer to them during your presentation.

When doing role-play, it is important to think about how your character would stand or sit. If they are unlikely to be formal, and would rarely face people to talk to them, you should emphasise these traits. To make sure the teacher knows your body positioning is on purpose, be really dramatic.


Eye Contact

When a person is telling the truth or believes wholeheartedly in what they are saying, they will maintain eye contact with their audience and draw them into what they are saying. Public speakers, such as world leaders, heads of charitable organisations, advertising people (even celebrities) use eye contact to assess how the audience is reacting to them as well as to engage them. For job interviews, you will be expected to look at the person interviewing you.

So, eye contact is important. However, it is not necessary to stare at people constantly. In fact, it would be inadvisable to hold eye contact with one person for longer than about 3-5 seconds. When addressing an audience, you can shift your gaze to have eye contact with each person in the room. If you were talking to one person, you should look away from time to time.



Politicians tend to express themselves through gestures and movement. They have been trained as public speakers to do this so would be excellent examples to watch

Everyone uses gestures when they talk. It makes conversations more lively, as well as easier to understand. Some gestures can be made and picked up on unconsciously while others are made to purposefully enhance what the person is saying. Examples of gestures are:

Conscious Gestures

Gesture Meaning
Hand up Shows you want to answer a question or make a point
Handshake Sign of respect
Nod Suggests agreement and understanding (UH)
Shrug Expresses a lack of knowledge and concern (UH)
High five Sign of shared celebration
Facepalm Indicates embarrassment or frustration
Poking, tapping or jabbing Use to get the attention of the person poked or to tease them (UH)
Pointing Draws the audience’s attention to something (UH)
Eye-rolling Expresses negative emotions, such as boredom, contempt and exasperation (UH)

(UH) – gestures which can be unconscious and overused out of habit.

The general rule to follow with gestures is that any gesture that enhances or clarifies what you are saying is good. Ones which do not add anything to your speaking, but are not obsessive or distracting, are neutral. Finally, gestures which distract and annoy your audience are bad.