Nonverbal communication & types

Updated April 17, 2017

Nonverbal communication is unspoken communication between a speaker and an audience. It's nonverbal stimuli created by the speaker, audience and the environment. Though nonverbal communication includes numerous aspects, such as touch, smell, eye contact, volume, proximity, dress, posture and word choice, there are only six main types of nonverbal communication.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions are usually the most noticeable of all nonverbal communication. As a speaker talks, her facial expressions can send a message of comfort or nervousness, which affects the way the message is heard by the audience. For example, a smiling speaker can put an audience at ease and even help create a feeling of happiness. A lack of facial expression communicates as well, in that it sends a message of possible boredom or that a message has not been received as intended.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is the gaze shared between speaker and audience. Maintaining appropriate eye contact can convey a message of respect between speaker and audience, as well as making a speaker feel important and heard. As will any nonverbal communication type, eye contact should be used appropriately. Intense eye contact can be uncomfortable and considered staring.


Gestures are a type of nonverbal communication that influences a conversation. Gestures can include hand movements as well as other body movements used while speaking or listening. Though gestures can add personality and warmth to a conversation, overuse can result in a conversation interruption or distraction. For example, excessive hand movement can convey a message of nervousness and a slight nod of the head can let a speaker know that you understand his message.

Posture and Body Orientation

Posture and body orientation are important in many cultures. Standing tall, walking tall and having good posture conveys a message of confidence and respect. Having straight shoulders, a relaxed body and fluid gestures can help engage and put your audience at ease.


Proximity is the physical distance between speaker and audience. An intimate proximity is reserved for extremely close relationships. A personal proximity, commonly referred to as personal space, is between 1.5 and 4 feet, according to, and shared between family and close friends. Social proximity is between 4 and 12 feet, and should be used when speaking with acquaintances and coworkers. Public proximity is usually for public speaking and is an appropriate distance of over 12 feet. Not all situations allow for suggested distances, and a speaker should observe the nonverbal communication of the audience or listener to gauge her comfort level with proximity.


Paralinguistics includes many difference aspects of the spoken voice, including tone, pitch, rhythm, volume and inflection. Tone is the overall quality of the voice. For example, a conversation may begin with a casual tone and turn into a heated debate that gives the voice an emotional tone. Pitch is the frequency or highness and lowness of the spoken voice. Rhythm is the timing of the spoken voice. Volume is considered the loudness or softness of the spoken voice. Finally, inflection is the altering of the pitch or tone of certain words to stress that word.

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About the Author

Sarah Trevino has been a freelance writer since 2005 and specializes in food and wine, television, home and garden, and weddings. She has written for numerous websites and publications, including OMG!, Procter & Gamble and various blogs. Trevino holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Central Florida and a graduate certificate in health and wellness.