How to Leverage Non-Verbal Communication to Connect with Your Group


Whether you’re someone who feels comfortable expressing themselves verbally or not, we are consciously or unconsciously expressing ourselves through non-verbal communication (gestures, facial expressions, body language, eye contact, etc.) all the time!

Think about the last time that a colleague or family member told you with their words, “I’m fine” only to see clearly in their closed body language, crossed arms, and pout on their face that they were definitely not. As the adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words”.

You might have heard that when it comes to effective communication:

🗣️ Only 7% depends on words

🎶 38% depends on tone of voice

👋 55% depends on body language and facial expressions

These statistics come from psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s studies in the 1950s and many believe it still rings true today. Still, it should be taken with a grain of salt because the research was developed with only one specific context in mind – when the nonverbal and verbal communication doesn’t match.

Regardless, we know that communication without words IS extremely important, especially in the new remote and digital workplace.

Seeing a person’s facial expressions is so important, that a 2022 survey of 200 U.S. executives found that 92% of managers believed employees who turned off their videos during meetings were less likely to have a long future at the organization! 🤯

Here are just a few examples of the importance of nonverbal communication for trust building and connection:

👀 Eye contact releases oxytocin in our brain, enabling feelings of closer connection with others. It also activates the limbic mirror system and fires the same neurons as others in your brain. Sharing emotional states can increase empathy and bonding within a group.

👀 Research found that during a video call, participants retained more of the information when there was more eye contact involved. 

😀 Face to face communication increases trust, and encourages engagement and participation in meetings.

💻 When it comes to video calls, factors like camera angles, desk height, and distance from the camera, all impact impact how likable you may be perceived to be by others!


🏠 Setting up your home office:

Spend time to make sure your at-home office set up is helping you foster connection and greater communication instead of harming it. Especially when you have lots of monitors, or different cameras, be sure to create your layout so you can look at the group face-on and they can do the same (instead of just seeing one side of your face!). If you are traveling, use books to be sure your DIY office keeps your video camera at the same height as your eyes, so you’re not looking up or down at your meeting participants.

✅ Share expectations ahead of time:

Prepare your audience ahead of time on what they can expect and how you plan to engage them. If you plan to be facilitating activities with body movement, share in the preparation email that they should be ready and able to move “outside the Zoom box”, and wearing appropriate clothing on the bottom. 😉 More than just telling people to show up to the meeting with their cameras on, help them understand the why. You might send a link to share some of the research above and help them see that everyone benefits when the group has their camera on and is interacting in breakout rooms and group learning experiences. 

Further help your audience buy into why it’s so important to have videos on during the event by facilitating a warm up / connection activity from the start that necessitates videos on in order to do the task. For example, you might kick off the event with “Blind Portraits” which we learned from our friends at LATE NITE ART, and you can also find a video tutorial for in the Play on Purpose library:

Blind Portraits:

  • Put people in pairs and invite everyone to take out their pen & paper, explaining that we are about to draw portraits of our partner.
  • Share this very important rule: They cannot look down at their paper while they are drawing the portrait!
  • Each person should pin their partner’s video so they see that person large on their screen (in the three dots over their video box select “Pin Video”).
  • Play some nice background music while you give up to 1 minute for everyone to draw their partner.
  • After the 1 minute of drawing, invite each person to look down at their drawing and write their partner’s name at the top, sign the drawing at the bottom, and write 3 positive qualities that they observed in their partner.
  • Then send each pair into their own breakout room for a few minutes to do a little show-and-tell of their drawing, and share the 3 qualities they saw in their partner along with what they noticed about this exercise.
  • Be sure at the end to ask everyone to hold up their photo to the screen and take a group photo!


As facilitators in the virtual space, putting more intentional emphasis on your posture, hand movements, smiles, facial expressions, etc. can make all the difference for the participants on the receiving end of your communication. Be particularly aware of facial expressions because these can be more challenging to decipher online. A frown due to a tech issue can be misinterpreted by a participant as a frown about their recent comment. 

Also, don’t forget to maintain eye contact! While you might be inclined to look more at the grid of videos looking back at you, be deliberate about looking directly into the camera so your audience feels you are looking into their eyes. 👀If you struggle with this, a fun reminder like a picture of someone you care about on the wall behind your computer, or a little note on the top of your laptop that reads “Look at me to foster more connection!” can help.


Non-verbal communication is not as readily available and obvious in the online space as it is in face-to-face workshops. Specifically ask participants for gestures to be sure to know when to move on, or gauge the feeling in the room. You can use creative prompts such as:

  • “Thumbs up / Thumbs down if…”
  • “Can I get a finger wiggle if…”
  • “Give me a big smile when you are ready…”
  • “Come closer to the camera (or move as far away as possible) if you agree or disagree…”

Such non-verbal responses can be more accessible for introverts and quiet groups to start engaging and opening up. Also we can’t forget that in the virtual space we have access to a range of digital reaction buttons, and emojis in the chat, which are big ways people can acknowledge and celebrate each other non-verbally while online!

As facilitators it is normal to be laser-focused on our choice of words and the way we deliver our directions and experiences, however we cannot forget how much nonverbal communication can drive our impact! 

While we know we “can’t judge a book by its cover”, the reality is that we are each and every day when it comes to nonverbal cues. What might you do differently to connect and communicate without words?

Do you want to dive more deeply into learning experiences that drive communication and connection nonverbally?

⚡Then be sure to join our upcoming Virtual Connection Lab on the topic of Communication on December 7 at 11am PST | 2pm EST with with Adam Rosendahl, Senior Facilitator, experience designer, and the Founder of LATE NITE ART®.⚡ 

In this interactive session, Adam will guide you through 2 virtual experiences that emphasize the power of communication without words

Use coupon code “COMMUNICATIONBLOG” to register for FREE if it’s your first time joining a Virtual Connection Lab. Sign up here or click below.👇

Sign up here!