Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Donna Van Natten shows an example of a posture that indicates confidence through a 'thumbs-up' signal.

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'Body language doctor'

You could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous when you meet Donna Van Natten. After all, she is 'the body language doctor,' and she can read the signals you're inadvertently sending through your stance, your gestures, even your eye movements.

"Can I turn it off? Well, I do with my friends," she says, but then reconsiders. "I do find myself saying to them sometimes, 'That would be great subject matter.'"

Van Natten moved to Chattanooga 26 years ago from California, and she travels all over the country speaking to corporate groups and clients about the power of body language to help people present themselves professionally and read others accurately.

"It's a topic a lot of people have some knowledge of, but I use a lot of data and research and studies," says Van Natten, who is the author of two books on the topic, including one that launches in January. Her second book, "The Body Language of Politics: Decide Who is Lying, Who is Sincere, and How You'll Vote," aims to help voters "take the reins and control what you see, feel, and know so you can make informed political choices in our hot political environment."

When she stands in front of a corporate group, she typically tells them to brace themselves. A meaningful conversation about body language means discussing a lot of the rules that tend to go unspoken — including some sensitive subjects like how much skin women expose and why a weak handshake makes a lousy first impression.

"There are all these hidden rules, all these unspoken expectations we're just supposed to know," she says. "My intent is always to help. No one else has talked to them about this."

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Some of what she discusses, you might expect. Crossed arms may suggest a defensive mood, and nibbling at fingers may betray anxiety, for example. But other clues are hiding in plain sight. Accessories — Van Natten calls them artifacts — are also clues. Do you keep your reading glasses on top of your head when they're not perched on your face? You are sending a couple of signals: You feel relaxed, and you're worried about losing them.

"In a formal meeting, they should be on your face, on the table, or put away," she says. "Think about the signal it sends if you're in banking; if you can't keep up with your glasses, how are you going to keep up with my investments?"

The angles of hips and feet are also clues to the mood of the person in front of you. Hips that are tilted away or turned protectively indicate the person is closed off. "Shakira said it: Hips don't lie," Van Natten says.

Book signing

* When: Jan. 18 from 2-4 p.m.

* Where: Barnes and Noble at Hamilton Place mall

* What: Donna Van Natten will sign copies of her new book, “The Body Language of Politics: Decide Who is Lying, Who is Sincere, and How You’ll Vote.”