7 Hand Gestures Guaranteed to Get People to Listen to You

No matter what they’re talking about, the best speakers have one thing in common: they use hand gestures. And they do it in a controlled, yet natural way.

Psychologists say that hand gestures are a critical part of human communication. In fact, behavioral researcher Vanessa Van Edwards discovered that speakers whose TED Talks went viral used an average of 465 hand gestures, versus the 272 used by speakers whose talks weren’t as popular.

So the next time you want to make sure that your audience is engaged in what you’re saying, throw in a few of the tried-and-true gestures we’ve animated below.


I’m certain 

Anthropologist David Givens found that palms down gestures convey assertiveness – not just in humans, but throughout the animal kingdom. Whether it’s lizards with their claws or humans with their hands, this pronated hand gesture shows dominance of a subject or subject matter. Try it out when you know what you’re talking about and have a directive to give; it’s far more pleasant than finger pointing!

hand gestures


I’m being open 

Barbara and Allan Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, explain that open palms are associated with truth and honesty. By holding them out at a 45-degree angle, you’re both literally and figuratively showing your audience that you have nothing to hide. This gesture is best used when you want to be fully transparent. By putting it all out there, you welcome people in.

hand gestures


I’m confident in myself

Steepling, as it’s referred to in psychology, is a strong display of power and reflects higher-order thought processes like planning and problem-solving. It’s been widely observed in CEOs, lawyers, professors and other people who exhibit self-assuredness. You, too, can use it when you want to share your wisdom on a certain matter.

hand gestures


I have a big idea

According to body language expert Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, holding your hands out wider than your body visually conveys something grand and communicates your enthusiasm to those in your audience. It’s a bold, effective gesture to use when you’re introducing a new concept or thought that you feel might be a breakthrough.

hand gestures


This is the way it is

This vertical hand gesture embodies the abstract idea of rigid, unwavering precision. As the quick slicing motion comes to an abrupt stop, it physically grounds the message for the audience. There are two good times to use it: when you want to make a strong, precise point or when you want to indicate a precise measurement.

hand gestures


[I mean it] From the bottom of my heart 

A study by researchers Parzuchowski and Wojciszke found that when speakers place their hand over their heart they increase their audience’s perception of honesty. What’s more, the gesture also increases the honesty shown in speakers’ own behavior. So when you truly believe in what you’re saying and want it to sink with others, it’s an effective gesture to use.

hand gestures


Finger counting 

When listing things, it helps to say each number and hold up the corresponding number of fingers. The movement of your hand makes your points easier for listeners to remember and serves as a visual anchor for your list. It’s useful when you have up to five key items to highlight and you want to ensure people follow along.

hand gestures


When it comes to hand gestures, remember that less is more. Wildly gesturing with your hands all over the place is sure to engage your audience – but for all the wrong reasons. Instead, use them to accentuate your message in order to be a better communicator.




Van Edwards, V. (2018) 20 Hand Gestures You Should Be Using. scienceofpeople.com

Givens, D. (2016) Nonverbal Communication. center-for-nonverbal-studies.org

Weinschenk, S. (2012) Your Hand Gestures Are Speaking For You. psychologytoday.com

Givens, D. (2015) Palm-up and Palm-down Gestures: Precursors to the Origin of Language. center-for-nonverbal-studies.org

Baer, D. (2014) 17 Tactics for Reading People’s Body Language. businessinsider.com

Tierney, J. (2007) A World of Eloquence in an Upturned Palm. nytimes.com

Goman, C. (2010) Great Leaders Talk With Their Hands. forbes.com

Parvez, H. (2015) Body Language: The Steeple Gesture of the Hands. psychmechanics.com

Givens, D. (2016) Steeple. center-for-nonverbal-studies.org

Gregoire, C. (2016) The Fascinating Science Behind ‘Talking’ With Your Hands. huffingtonpost.ca

Cartmill, E. Bellock, S. Goldin-Meadow, S. (2012) A World in the Hand: Action, Gesture and Mental Representation in Humans and Non-Human Primates. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Yamada-Hosley, H. (2016) Five Hand Gestures to Make You a Better Public Speaker. lifehacker.com

Parzuchowski, M. and Wojciszke, B. (2014) Hand Over Heart Primes Moral Judgments and Behavior. springer.com

Nuwer, R. (2014) Putting Your Hand Over Your Heart Makes You Both Appear and Behave More Honestly. smithsonianmag.com


Babs is a content writer at Enova International, Inc. with a Bachelors in Cinema Studies and English from the University of Illinois (ILL-INI!). She loves binge watching musicals, reading in the (sporadic) Chicago sunshine and discovering great new places to eat. Accio, tacos! Find out more about her on Google+.


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