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The Body Language of Facilitation

international business team interacting at a presentation
May 4, 2022 12:15 pm

A Facilitator’s Body Language Can Say More in Meetings Than Words

The Body Language of Facilitation

As many of us begin to get back into ‘in person’ meetings, we thought it would be a great time to revisit the importance of body language in the art and science of effective meeting facilitation. It’s essential that facilitators know how to read participants’ body language and to project the right attitudes back to the group.

According to a Forbes article, our ability to read others based on expression, posture, and movements is built into our DNA: it’s how our early ancestors instinctively gauged situations and prepared to fly or fight.1 Nevertheless, not all of us have finely tuned gut instincts when it comes to social situations, so here are some research-based tips on how to positively captivate your crowd:

  • Smiling and Making eye contact: Carol Kinsey Goman argues that the use of “early engagement signals” such as smiling, nodding, mirroring, and open gestures increases the likelihood that the parties in a meeting will come to an agreement. While facilitators can’t control how participants greet each other, they can help set the tone by using such techniques themselves.2
  • Move around the room: Staying in a single spot will get boring for you and everyone else, especially if it’s a longer than usual meeting. Moving from left to right and all around will keep you in command and make you appear engaged and energetic; it can also help with transitioning from one topic to another.
  • Using your hands: What are participants doing with their hands? Fidgeting, or crossed arms give an impression of coldness, boredom, and an unwillingness to participate. Perhaps it is time to check-in and draw these participants into the conversation. As the facilitator, try relaxing your arms and moving them towards an open position to show folks you are welcoming and open.
  • Using Your Body with Resistant Participants: Body language can be crucial in diffusing conflict: facing in the same direction makes you seem more friendly, whereas moving in closer while facing the person in resistance is likely to make them more confrontational.

Becoming an expert at both reading and using body language allows facilitators to identify and influence the pulse of the group. While it’s unlikely that most of us can reach the level of expertise shown on TV, knowing more about how our bodies reveal and project attitudes and feelings might just help many of you light the way through a diversity of meeting challenges.

1 Nick Morgan, “How Speakers Can Use Body Language to Increase Their Success with Audiences,” Forbes, 8 May 2014.
2 “Body Language Tips for Meeting Facilitators,” Stormboard, 17 June 2019.


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