Let Your Hands Do The Talking

Something caught my attention the other day while I was delivering an online webinar. It was a movement in the bottom of the screen, where my video was mirroring back to me what the viewers were seeing.

Specifically it was the movement of my hands as I used them to emphasise what I was talking about…again…and again…and again. It illustrated to me just how much my hand gestures have increased over the last two years, as webinars have become my primary form of training.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t use them before, when I was delivering my workshops face-to-face. (I’ve always been pretty animated when I speak.) But with my audience the other side of a computer screen, not a table, I’ve definitely ramped up my digit dexterity to make up for it – and it’s something you might want to consider doing too, because the benefits are huge.

Here’s the science bit

A study by Judith Holler and Geoffrey Beattie called Gesture Use In Social Interaction: How Speakers’ Gestures Can Reflect Listeners’ Thinking found that the use of hand signals increases the value of the spoken message by 60%.

Yes, you read that right. 60%! That’s a huge increase for a little bit of extra effort.

Added to that, on her site Science of People, Vanessa Van Edwards shares her findings from analysing the 10 most-watched and 10 least-watched TED talks. She found that the best TED speakers indicate charisma, credibility and intelligence incredibly quickly, which she directly attributed to the fact they used 70% more hand gestures than the less popular speakers.

Yes, you read that right. 70%! That’s a huge amount of hand gestures.

So it seems pretty obvious that if you want to indicate your charisma, credibility and intelligence incredibly quickly, making sure your hands do the talking is the way to go.

Some starters for 10

If you’re wondering where to begin when it comes to upping your gestures, here’s a list of the ones I find myself using most in my webinars:

1. Visual numbers

Every time I talk about a number between one and 10, I hold up the same number of fingers for the audience to see. (Taking care not to flip anyone the middle finger or flick a V sign.) It helps to cement the amount in their brains.

2. Size ratios

If I’m talking about how big or small something is, I’ll always move my hands apart or together to replicate the size. (Think of a fisherman talking about the one that got away.) And if it’s really small, I’ll do the same using just my finger and thumb.

3. Combining and separating

When I talk about two disparate things, I hold my hands shoulder width apart, as if holding those things, one in each palm.) Alternatively, if I talk about two things being intrinsically linked, I clasp my hands in front of me with my fingers entwined. And if I talk about those two disparate things becoming linked, I make a gesture of moving my hands from the outside to the inside and then clasping them. Or reverse the gesture and unclasp my hands to show things separating.

4. Pointing out feelings

Whenever I talk about a physical feeling, I place my hand on the corresponding part of my body: pointing to my head when I’ve been thinking, putting my hand on my heart when I’m loving something, doing mini fist pumps when I’m excited. (Imagine a small child about to receive a huge ice cream cone for that one.)

5. Punctuating importance

If there’s a point I really want to hit home for my audience, I’ll speak in a more staccato voice (slowing down my speed and saying each word individually, with minuscule gaps between them, rather than in a flow) matched by the back of one hand hitting the palm of the other to mark out each word. It’s important both palms are facing upwards because an open palm signals trust, while a downward palm signals dominance.

A heads up

Having hopefully got you fired up about hand gestures, plus suggested a few you could easily incorporate into your visual communication, there’s something I need to alert you to: feeling like a complete tit doing them. That was definitely the case for me when I consciously tried to increase my hand gestures.

But after a very short time they became second nature and now I can’t imagine ever talking about a number or a feeling without accompanying my voice with my hands every time. And from the feedback I get from my audience, they certainly comprehend and engage with my message 100%.

Where are you on the hand gesture scale? Limited in their use? Or full-blown like me? And are there any particular gestures you find work well (keep it clean people)? There’s a comment box below where I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts.

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

4 responses to “Let Your Hands Do The Talking”

  1. Jeff says:

    I might in future keep my hands in my pockets to keep people guessing.

  2. Alistair says:

    Great blog post Jennifer which resonated with a Train the Trainer programme I was delivering and a delegate felt she was using too much gesturing. This nailed exactly what gesturing to use thanks!

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