During the recent town hall meeting between President Barack Obama and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, there was a simple action – a piece non-verbal communication – when the President rolled up his sleeves that caught my eye.

Despite the subtle nature of the action, it impacted the conversation. With a dominant Gen-Y audience, the topics and the location, the simple action of rolling up the sleeves communicated two key messages, without Obama having to say them:

  1. Let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work and improve the nation.
  2. I am at Facebook, whose CEO is known for his casual attire, I can take it down a notch – or as my colleague Heather Arft calls it, the mullet look – business up front, party in the back.

As I learned the other night at a Churchill Club event, there are far more minute non-verbal communication skills that can dramatically impact how people receive you and your content/messages. Featuring body language expert, Carol Goman, and Kym McNicholas of Forbes, the conversation provided some eye-opening insight into how the smallest actions can impact a presentation or speech.

That said, I present some basic non-verbal communications – from head to toe – that can improve how you communicate:

-          The Eyes: Often believed to be the “tell” of many things (i.e. lies), they should be focused on the person, but avoid “stalker eyes.” Don’t be afraid to glance away. Also, over-blinking or blinking in excess of your baseline can show stress.

-          The Smile: Then genuineness of a smile can be determined by the muscles around your eyes, also known as crow’s feet.

-          The Hands: Always keep your hands visible. Hiding your hands can translate to mystery or deception.

-          The Shoulders:  Pointed at the person you are speaking to, shows you are engaged. Pointed away, also known as the cold shoulder, can communicate you are bored or disinterested.

-          The Feet: According to Carol, the feet are the most honest part of the body. Pointed at the person, like the shoulder, shows you are fully engaged.

A few other non-verbal queues worth noting:

-          Americans are a touch-phobic society, but the handshake is an exception to the rule. The handshake can create a lasting impression, both positive and negative.

-          Thanks to technology, virtual workforces are becoming more common. If you manage a virtual team, convening everyone, even once, can lead to increased productivity.

-          Silence is golden. Again, Americans often feel they must fill the silence. By pausing before responding, you can lend additional importance to your response and showcase your thoughtfulness. Just don’t pause too long.

So how can we, public relations professionals, exude confidence in our daily work? Simple: Practice. Even when reaching out to media via phone, you can practice. Sit up straight; imagine them in the room with you. If necessary, pull up their picture via Twitter, LinkedIn or Cision. This will prepare you for other situations, including new business pitches and client meetings.

Next time you give a speech, whether in public or at a company meeting, deploy some of these non-verbal communication tactics and watch the impact they have on your audience. And, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves.

Matt Wolpin is an account executive at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.