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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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