When learning new or improved communication skills, we're often told that the way we say something is as important as what we're saying.

That's all well and good, but you need to know and recognise the common pitfalls in non-verbal communication so you can avoid them, and then realise what the positive ones are in order to incorporate them more.

Here are a few examples of how your non-verbal cues and body language can help or hinder your communication.

Tone of voice (intonation)

The best way to remember this is to think of how you speak to animals and children. That's not to say that you should treat people like either(!) but to become more aware of how much tone of voice affects the actual words you're saying. If you tell a dog off in a harsh tone of voice, it's the tone the dog will understand, not the words.

This awareness can be adapted for the workplace - using a positive, upbeat tone to deliver bad news and put a favourable spin on it is far better than acting like it's the end of the world - with your voice reflecting your feelings. Speaking loudly and clearly with frequent (but not too heavy) pausing also projects and image of confidence and authority. This can also be a self-fulfilling prophecy - even if you don't feel confident, speak as if you are and your audience will be carried along by it - as will you!

Body Language

Reams and reams of advice and recommendations have been made in the field of using body language to communicate better but it's worth repeating some of the advice here. Eye contact is paramount, both in one on one situations and when speaking to a group.

That's not to say that you should stare someone down, but practise brief moments of eye contact (and you don't just have to stare into their eyes either as this could make someone uncomfortable -you can also focus on the bridge of their nose or another focal point that isn't distracting).

What to do with your arms is another piece of good advice about body language. Not folding them and using them to 'talk with' is always a good idea, as well as keeping your palms and wrists outward - not in a jazz hands kind of way, but to appear open and expressive. If you want to appear more casual, use your clothing - rolled up shirtsleeves and loosening of a tie can do wonders (politicians use this a lot) and can make you appear professional but casual - however, use it sparingly or it can look sloppy.

Finally, the movement of your body (or lack of) can be another key component of non-verbal communication. Pacing back and forth due to nerves can be distracting to an audience, but "working the room" and moving between them has the opposite effect and keeps their attention. Try not to stand, rigid at the front - remember that looking confident is the key, rather than being confident, as most of us aren't when we're in an interview or speaking in public.

If you can pay more attention to your non-verbal communication, you'll be surprised how quickly you can improve your overall communication skills.