I’m often amazed at the nonverbal messages people send unintentionally, that have a big impact on how they are accepted and the impact they have. We all know how important these are and we regularly hear about various body language gestures that have a significant impact on our success. Well I’m not talking about nonverbal communication such as body language, pitch, tone or how often you pause, I’m talking about the nonverbal communication of a winning training session – environmental nonverbal communication.

What’s environmental nonverbal communication? I’m glad you asked! I’m talking about how you set up the tables, where you first greet a student, what is on the tables and how you use flip charts and the whiteboard. These all communicate something! Yes, they either make people comfortable or uncomfortable, they add to the ambience or they detract.

Greetings are important

Of all the nonverbal messages, the one that gets most attention is how you greet the student when you first meet them. How you greet someone is important. Your handshake, eye contact and distance are, of course, critical. But so should where you greet them. Waiting at the front of the room to greet a student should be avoided. Rather walk slowly and confidently toward them as they enter the room. There are two very good reasons you should do this.

  1. Moving forward is a display of comfort and we move away or remain at a distance when we are uncomfortable or uncertain about a person and their intentions. By moving forward, you are saying “I’m comfortable with you and I’m happy you are here”.
  2. It gives status and importance to the person we are moving towards. Waiting for people to approach us gives us status and sends a message that we have higher status than another. While this might be appropriate in situations where you need to command importance and status, it doesn’t belong in adult learning environments. When a student enters the room, they should feel important.

Provide snacks and fruit

This is a low cost action that has high impact nonverbally. Not only does it make sense to have fresh fruit and snacks available from a learning perspective but having these types of foods available communicates a number of strong nonverbal messages such as “we care about you” and “your health is important to us”.

Position the food and snacks in a prominent place and advise students of their presence when they arrive. Add this simple, low cost nonverbal to your training sessions and watch how many students make positive comments and eat the refreshments!

Maximise use of flip charts and whiteboards

Maximise use of flip charts and whiteboardsHow a facilitator uses a flip chart or whiteboard says a lot about their facilitation style and skills. The way you convey and record your ideas demonstrates how you think about that idea or the person delivering it.

Messy and disorganised recording does not convey “this idea has value”, it conveys “I can’t be bothered”.

Here’s a few hints for creating great flip charts and powerful whiteboard images so effective that people will want to take photos.

Here’s a few hints for creating great flip charts and powerful whiteboard images so effective that people will want to take photos.

Mr Sketch Markers
My favorite pens to use are ‘Mr Sketch’. They are bold colorful and smell great too!

Use the right pens

This is important. A fresh colourful set of pens is essential for a great flip chart. On my flip charts I use Mr Sketch Scented Markers, the ones that smell like a bag of fruit flavoured lollies.

As well as smelling great, they have a great variety of colours and have nice bright, bold colour that stands out. Same goes for the whiteboard, except I use an extra-large bold tip and a fresh one to start every training session.

Draw a border

I’m forever amazed how experienced facilitators overlook this. This is what gives your flip chart character and makes it stand out and helps to focus the viewer’s eye. Be creative and use colour to create contrast and impact.

Start with a central theme

This means start in the middle and work your way out. Don’t list items from top to bottom. Starting in the middle allows you to create a Mind Map-like effect with a number of branches coming from the centre image. Tony Buzan’s research found that Mind Mapping or exploring ideas from a central theme using colour and images, enhanced creativity and retention.

Use capital letters

Capital letters have more straight lines than their lower case friends. This means the text is more likely to be clearer as there is less margin for error. Take your time when you write each word and work on keeping your lines straight.

Key takeaway

Recognise your own environmental nonverbal communication and try some of these tips in your next training session. I guarantee you’ll experience great feedback from your students!


Tony Kirton is the founder of Engage Learning and Development an organisation committed to developing and delivering engaging learning programs that inspire behavioural change.

Contact Tony directly on 0497 686 242 or fill out the form below and we will get in touch.

About the Author Tony Kirton

Tony Kirton is the founder of learning and assessment resource design company Engage Learning and Development (previously DES Learning). Tony is committed to improving the standard of tertiary education through the design of high quality educational resources.

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