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Emphasis in Body Language


Techniques > Using body language > Emphasis in Body Language

Basic rules | Big emphasis | Subtle emphasis | See also


You can amplify the words you emphasize with your body. In fact you probably do without noticing it. A slight nodding of the head. The beating of an outstretched finger. The thrust of an entire body. 

 TV presenters are interesting in how they create emphasis. They know that only their heads are in view, so they twist, turn and nod their heads far more than you or I.

When emphasizing in two places, with the voice and with the body, beware of mixed messages. This includes emphasis from one whilst the other remains flat or stationary. If I say 'That's really great!" whilst standing rigidly to attention, you may be forgiven for concluding that I was not that enthused.

Basic rules

The basic rules of using your body to emphasize are to synchronize and exaggerate:


To make emphasis count, it must all act together. Words and intonation, as well as all the bits of your body you are using to support the emphasis. Imagine it as playing in an orchestra - you need to get the whole lot playing in tune, otherwise all you have is a cacophony that communicates very little.


When you want to emphasize, do thing bigger. Move such as an arm further and faster. Move the whole body with the arm. Include facial expressions.

Big emphasis

Use big emphasis when you want to overtly show your energy and passion about a point. You are not trying to hide your light under a bushel here: the goal is to overpower the other person with the force of your point.

Your words should also synchronize with big emphasis, using power words, spoken more loudly with energy and passion. The other person should be under no illusion: this is a very important point.

Big emphasis is particularly useful if you are on a stage and need to communicate with those in the back.

Do remember also that it can be intimidating, which is more about coercion, where although you may gain short-term conformance, you may also get longer-term hatred.

Big movements

For big emphasis, make big movements.

  • Exaggerate arm movements, making wide sweeps.
  • Nod or shake your head.
  • Point with an outstretched arm.
  • Move about the stage.
  • Create contrast, sometimes not moving, then moving suddenly.

Simulated aggression

Big emphasis often (but not always) uses simulated aggression, such as:

  • Beating of an arm down in time with the points you are making.
  • Pounding of a fist on the table or into palm of the other hand.
  • Throwing the body forward (not actually, though - this is simulation, so use more of an 'exaggerated lean').
  • Stamping of a foot.
  • Exaggerated facial expressions.
  • Sudden movement.


In a less hazardous form than simulated aggression, you can use methods of connecting with the person to connect the idea more firmly to them.

  • Move towards them when making important points.
  • Reach out towards them, palms curved and up or towards one another, as if giving them something.
  • Touch them (if you are close and the social situation permits). Lightly touch their hand or arm. Hold both shoulders.
  • Use a simulated embrace, curving your arms with palms inwards as if hugging them.
  • Make unblinking eye contact, gazing directly at them (particularly transitioning from no eye contact).
  • Use 'doe eyes' or other romantic indicators to connect passion for the idea with passion for the person.


Repeated moves are like blows to the body. A boxer can win with a big knockout blow or, more likely, with repeated blows that wear the other person down. The same effect is created with big emphasis.

Rhythmic action also taps into primitive senses and can create an almost hypnotic effect.

Subtle emphasis

Big emphasis is not always appropriate and, done well, subtle emphasis can be a far more effective approach, especially in one-to-one situations. To do this well, it often helps if you are in a relaxed frame of mind and 'think small and delicate' as if big emphasis would hurt or damage the other person.

Small movements

For subtle emphasis with your body, do movement in the small, including:

  • Turns of the wrist.
  • Finger movement.
  • Slight inclines of the head.
  • Subtle facial expressions (the face is well-built for doing this).

Shaped movement

You can also do subtlety through the static shapes into which you put your body, for example:

  • Cupped palm, as if holding something delicate.
  • Rounded arms, as if embracing the other person.
  • Pointing feet, legs or arms in a particular direction.

Light contact

Connect with them gently, ensuring they are listening. For example:

  • Make brief eye contact, as if checking that they are paying attention.
  • Look in their direction, for example scanning a crowd.
  • Move or lean a little towards them.
  • Nod, to encourage agreement (and hence prior thought).
  • Move your hands a little towards them, as if wanting to give something or reach out to them.

See also

Emphasis, Emphasis and Attention, Harmony principle, Amplification principle, Intensifiers, Emphasis in writing


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