Body language

Trainers' tips: understanding these four body language signals will make you a better trainer

25th Mar 2019
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The difference between an engaged learner and one whose mind is elsewhere can be clearly seen in their body language. Here, we look at the signs to watch for and explain how to get everyone in the room back on track. 

As a trainer, you will find that no two delegates are the same. You could have two people sitting in on the same training session, where one person is captivated by what you have to say, while the other quickly switches off and becomes bored.

Understanding these four body language signals will help you keep your delegates interested, and make you a better trainer.


A delegate who is sitting still is likely to be paying attention. Somebody who keeps fidgeting or looking around may be finding themselves distracted by their own internal dialogue.

Once you have lost somebody’s attention, you are unlikely to get it back until something changes.

If your training session has been going on for some time, it might be a good time to take a break.

Once you have lost somebody’s attention, you are unlikely to get it back until something changes.

If it is not a good moment for this, try either asking or answering a few questions.

A short break from listening to the same person speak can often be enough to get people interested again.

Looking in your direction

People tend to look at what they are thinking about.

Delegates who are not only looking at you, but have moved their body so that their shoulders are parallel to your shoulders are likely to be engaged, and interested in what you are saying.

People tend to look at what they are thinking about.

A delegate who is sitting still, but looking in another direction is likely to be thinking about either what they are looking at, or something else that is on their mind.

If you find that people are not looking in your direction, try moving around the room in order to re-capture their attention.


While stillness is a good sign that your delegates aren’t getting distracted by a wandering mind, if you find them looking towards you and nodding, you can also take this as a sign they are paying attention.

Frequent nodding at a fast pace could be a sign of impatience.

Nodding is a sign for agreement, and in a training situation, is good indicator that the delegates are not only absorbing what you have to say, but understanding why it is important.

Watch out for fast nodding though – while both slow and fast nodding show that your delegates are paying attention, if you find them frequently nodding at a fast pace, it could be a sign of impatience.

It may be that they feel they already have an understanding of the subject, and are ready for you to move on to either more complicated ideas, or the next subject.

Folded arms

Folded arms are a typical defensive gesture.

It could be a sign that your delegates are feeling uncomfortable with their surroundings, so if you find several of your delegates assuming this posture, it might be a good time for a short icebreaker. 

Folded arms are a typical defensive gesture.

If you notice people adopting this posture before you even begin delivering your training, you may want to consider starting by having your delegates introduce themselves to the people sitting nearby.

Group tasks are another good way of breaking the ice, and also give your delegates a break from sitting still, and a chance to think.

Our bodies are one of the most effective communication tools we have, so learning to read what people's bodies are telling you is a key skill every trainer should aim to master. 

Interested in this topic? Read Soft skills: Why playing it safe with non-verbal communication is a bad idea in business.

Replies (6)

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David Cotton
By David Cotton
14th Nov 2016 10:58

I have to take issue with some of this. Folded arms are not necessarily indicative of defensive behaviour. For some, it is simply a comfortable way to sit; for some, it's a sign that they are cold; highly kinaesthetic people tend to make maximum physical contact with themselves, and folded arms may be one sign of this.

People are pretty consistent in their own body language, but trying to derive universal meaning from a single gesture leads to dangerous assumptions about people.

Roving eyes may be a sign that the person is relating what is being said to their own experience.

I would warn against making any assumptions based on the signs listed above - people are more complex than this.



Thanks (1)
Jasmine Gartner
By Jasmine Gartner
14th Nov 2016 13:00

I have to agree with David - it's much more complex than this. I fold my arms when I don't have pockets - what else are you supposed to do with your arms? Or if I'm cold. Also, I'm a kinaesthetic learner, and actually having something to do with my twitchy fingers is useful - but fidgeting isn't a sign that I'm disengaged.

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Randy Sabourin
By Randy Sabourin
14th Nov 2016 14:58

I also agree with David and Jasmine. Reading body language and status is so much more complicated than this incredibly simplified and potentially dangerous post. Should we discuss how picking your favourite animal or colour determines your behavioural preferences?

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Paul Cogan
By PaulCogan
14th Nov 2016 15:26

Massive over simplification of body language and how it applies to people within a training environment.

Folded arms - as stated they could imply the heating needs turned on, someone could just be comfortable crossing their arms. Im as comfortbale as I could ever be in my role yet i find myself more often than not, sitting arms folded. I am in no way less engaged or defensive.

nodding is a good sign, yet then later on its potentially bad?

Potentially damaging post around body language that people could read and take as gospel, leading to difficult situations in rooms. Body language is a such a more complex subject than to boil it down to 4 main types. Eye patterns, breathing, language, angle of the body....Id be very wary of sticking to 4 "types" and in particular THESE 4.

Thanks (1)
By [email protected]
30th Nov 2016 10:34

I think what will make you a better trainer is to check out with individuals where they are at, rather than make assumptions based on faulty over-generalisations!!

Thanks (1)
By reginzramb
14th Jun 2017 07:25

Nick Williams! I would warn against making any assumptions based on the signs listed above - people are more complex than this.

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