signs of nervous body language

10 Tell-Tale Signs of Nervous Body Language (And What You Can Do About It)

Let me tell you a quick story.

We had a surprise pick-and-speak session during our English class in 9th Grade.

I was super nervous as we just had a minute to prepare. Too bad I was called out first.

I stood up trembling, and by the time I reached the stage, my face was flushed and palms sweaty.

My heart was racing, and I was breathing heavily. I just kept swaying while presenting.

It was evident that I was nervous! But, I managed and got off the stage in an instant.

If you’re nervous, your face turns pink, and your body goes straight into fight or flight mode. The adrenaline rush makes you breathe heavily, making you show signs of nervousness – clearly indicating that you’re low on confidence.

How many times have YOU been in such a situation? Do you always feel anxious and find it hard to take control of your body?

Did you fight or flee?

Let’s take a quick peek into some obvious signs of nervous body language and ways to overcome them here.

How Does Your Body Communicate When You Are Afraid?

When you’re afraid or nervous, your adrenaline levels are at their peak, making you more alert and conscious.

Your body begins to find other means to run away from the situation by triggering a chain of emotions at that moment.

Though it’s natural to experience them while presenting, taking control of your body is essential.

While that’s how your body communicates when nervous, did you know a link between body language and communication? We have written how body language contributes to the process of communication. You might find it beneficial.

Now, let’s get to the signs of nervous body language!

Lower Body Signs of Nervousness

So, what is nervous body language? What does nervous body language look like?

When you’re nervous – apart from your obvious facial expression – your body throws in signs that make your audience uncomfortable.

Wait; what? You’re the one uncomfortable here, and your audience is feeling un-comfy?

 Let’s look at how your lower body responds when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Watch out for these subtle cues before presenting on stage next time.

1. Feet shuffling

It’s atypical, and the audience may find it annoying with the constant shifting of the feet.

What you can do: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. When you space your feet, you’ll be able to stand confidently and take control of your body.

You need not stay glued to one place; you can walk around the stage if you feel comfortable. If not, move your torso to address each side of the audience while staying in the same spot.

2. Rocking

Rocking is when you place your left foot back and your right foot front and sway your body back and forth.

What you can do: Try keeping your feet parallel to your shoulder and apply pressure on the balls of your feet while speaking.

You can also walk around on the stage and return to this position if you don’t like standing still.

clenching hand when nervous

Upper Body Signs of Nervousness

Let’s get to the next part of the body. An obvious sign of nervous body language is how you use your hand, back, and shoulders to communicate to your audience.

Too much or NO movement can show that you’re anxious.

3. Showing your back

Have you seen people with presentations who walk back to the slide to show something important? Walking back is fine, but not walking by showing your back!

That’s something you shouldn’t do on stage.

What you can do: Run a quick check of the room before you go to the stage so you can position yourself in such a way that you don’t have to turn your back to read from the slide.

You can also keep a cue card of the contents on your slide to avoid looking at the slide frequently.

Or do a quick crab-walk – moving backward with your body facing the audience – if you have to go back.

4. Hunched shoulders

Straight shoulders speak confidence. If you slouch, it doesn’t send a positive message to people around you.

What you can do: Take a deep breath every time you slouch. It helps keep your shoulder straight.

Chin up and keep your back upright.

5. Knuckle cracking

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve cracked my knuckles when on stage. I didn’t know what to do with my hands.

Habitually, I do better when I have something to hold on. But when I don’t, I end up cracking my knuckles on autopilot.

What you can do: Describe what you state using your hands.

Say for example, if you’re talking about an upward trend, move your hand in the upward direction as you state.

Use subtle hand gestures to convey better with your audience.

6. Crossing Arms

Folding your arms shows that you’re protecting yourself from the audience.

Your hand gestures need to be fluid and that’s a way to express what you’re saying.

What you can do: Practice different ways of hand gestures such as symbolic, emotional or descriptive gestures and see which fits the best for you.

Don’t be too mechanical or choppy.

Let it seem organic. If you’re listing something, show that with your hand.

Or if you’re speaking behind the podium, rest your hand or use hand gestures periodically that the audience can see.

Facial Signs of Nervousness

This is an essential part of body language. Your face speaks for itself – whether you’re stressed, angry, or anxious, it can be clearly seen on your face – no matter how much you hide it.

But hey, fake it till you make it.

If you’re wondering what does facial signs of nervousness look like, here are some pointers:

biting teeth when nervous

7. Keeping a Plain Face

Being expressive on stage is essential than keeping a freezed face. Keeping a poker face without expressions can put your audience to sleep.

What you can do: Smile in intervals. Be expressive with your emotions.

Show discontent, anger, frown, excited using all your facial muscles as and when required.

8. Zero Eye Contact

Not that you need to stare at people in the audience, but keeping eye contact helps you connect better with them and builds a sense of trust.

What you can do: Initially, looking straight into the eyes can be challenging. So, try focusing on the forehead or the eyebrows of the person instead.

It makes the person get the impression that you’re maintaining eye contact even though you’re not. Give a break by gesturing and repeat the same.

To know more about how eye contact affects your speech, check out our article on why eye contact and facial expressions will make or break your speech.

9. Rapid breathing

It’s natural to breathe heavily when you’re anxious. You need to relax and stay calm.

What you can do: Drink a glass of water or have a bottle next to you. Having a sip can calm your nerves and normalize your breathing.

10. Flushed Face

What are the body language signs of attraction? Have you felt that sudden tingle and butterflies in your stomach when you’re attracted to someone?

Do you blush away or find it hard to look into their eyes while talking to them?

Blushing or having a flushed face is a sign of attraction. Turning pink is due to the sudden rush of adrenaline in your body.

What you can do: Smiling or breathing deeply before you head to the stage can help you relax.

Every time you go on stage, pause for a minute and drink a glass of water to relax. It helps.

Wrapping Up

These are the common nervous body language signs you see. If you could relate to any one of the above, you need to work on it.

While it’s not easy to overcome, just don’t shy away from situations that make you nervous.

The more you get yourself to do it, the more you improve. There’s no magic trick to this; you need to believe in yourself above all.

You’re nervous when you’re put in a situation you’ve never been before.

When you know you’re not comfortable, do just that and see how you change over time. Trust me; you’ll get there!

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.