Learning Nonverbal Communication

Spot Light on Strategy by Ruth DeSantis


Students learn to pick and choose what works in a speech through trial and error. By the same token, students need confidence in order to be open to new ideas and challenges. Students are unique and what works for one student in a speech may not work for another. Students make emotional connections with the learning, and the brain recognizes a relationship between new and prior knowledge so it can hold on to that new knowledge (Willis, 2012). As students are learning about public speaking, the students are designing a speech style. One way to help students develop a style is for students to learn about nonverbal communication. According to Mehrabian (1981) 55% of any message is conveyed through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, gestures and posture while 38% is conveyed by vocal elements. Meaning, 93% of a message is delivered through nonverbal communication. A video of a speech will help link the theory of nonverbal communication with the practical application. Students retain more information, understand concepts more rapidly, and are more enthusiastic about what they are learning when videos are used in the classroom (Thirteen ed online, 2011).


To begin the lesson on nonverbal communication, ask the class what elements are used in a good speech. Follow up the question by asking what constitutes an unsuccessful speech. Show the class pictures of facial expressions and body language to see what message is conveyed.

After the discussion on nonverbal communication, play the video from Discovery Education on the importance of nonverbal communication in a speech. Click on the link below.

Following the video, ask students how they use nonverbal communication in a speech. After the short discussion the class is ready to view a speech by a student. The video will be critiqued by the class focusing on body language and vocal variety.

The video will be played twice. The first time the video is viewed, students watch the speech without interruption or comment. Students experience the speech as a body of work. During the second viewing of the speech, the teacher will stop and start the speech to ask for feedback on Hillary’s use of eye contact, body language and vocal delivery. (Hillary’s presentation is everything that a teacher would recommend a student to do in a speech but Hillary's delivery is mechanical and lacks personality.) Ask students to reflect on their own delivery style and how it compares to Hillary’s. Ultimately, the students should see some of themselves in Hillary’s delivery.

Click on the link below for the video from School Tube.


Educators are challenged to use this strategy on nonverbal communication when preparing students for an upcoming speech or classroom presentation. Viewing a video helps to link the theory involved in nonverbal communication with the practical application of delivering the speech or presentation. By learning the effects of nonverbal communication, a student improve the overall delivery of his or her speech or presentation. This strategy will not only help improve a student's delivery in your classroom but in every classroom throughout the student's educational career.

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Discovery Education, (2012) Public Speaking: Principles of Public Speaking: Delivery.

[FullVideo]. Available from http://www.discoveryeducation.com/

Gardner, Howard. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Mehrabian, A. (1981). Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (currently distributed by Albert Mehrabian, am@kaaj.com).

Pink, D (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, New York: Penguin Group.

Schooltube, (2009) Hillary’s 2nd Place Informative Speech. [FullVideo]. Available from http://www.schooltube.com/embed/2e2d05ef831b470ca79a/

Thirteen Ed Online. Video strategies. Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/ntti/resources/video1.html

[Untitled graph on communication impact]. Retrieved on July 20, 2014 from http://goo.gl/Zeovp1

[Untitled illustration of body language]. Retrieved July 19, 2014 from http://goo.gl/wdMV5L

[Untitled illustration of facial expressions]. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from http://goo.gl/KBWixg

[Untitled illustration of positive body language]. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from http://mlmnetworkingwomen.com/tag/positive-body-language/

[Untitled illustration on body language]. Retrieved July 20, 2014 from http://goo.gl/0zseVc

Willis, J (2012, January 18). Boost your children’s test success with “neuro-logical” strategies. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/em/85464