Dale Carnegie said, “there are always three speeches, for each one you actually give. The one you practiced, the one you give, and the one you wish you gave.” How true, because we are often battling our own demons in our heads. But, no matter how you feel on the inside, you can always show up as a confident and poised speaker by using the hand gestures that the Center for Body Language has identified as indicators of persuasive communication.
Why the hands? Research shows that more nerve connections exist between the hands and the brain, than any other part of the body. The gestures we make hold the power to demonstrate and even shift our emotional states and attitudes. And that is important for public speaking. Infact, an analysis of the most successful TED talks shows that those speakers use an average of 500 gestures more than speakers whose talks didn’t go viral. You want similar success, right? Here’s what you can do:
Holding a ball. You don’t have to hold one, but this refers to placing your hands in front of your stomach such that you are holding a football. Such gesturing indicates that you have confidence and control, as if you have the facts at your fingertips. Steve Jobs frequently used this position in his speeches.
Pyramid hands. This is when you hold your hands up such that the fingertips are touching each other, to form a pyramid or a triangle. It is also called steepled gestures and has two main versions. The raised steeple pointing upright near the chest is used when someone is sharing their opinion or doing the talking. If overused, the raised steeple can come across as arrogant. The lowered steeple pointing to the front and placed near the stomach shows listening and reception. This is a more responsive gesture. Use the lower pyramid generously if you are trying to win over people. But, if you are asserting, raise it.
Palms open and up. Gesturing with one or both of your palms up to the sky, is a sign of openness and even surrender. It feels expansive and suggests that even though you are talking, you are open and welcoming of other perspectives or feedback. This very hand gesture was former US President Ronald Reagan’s hallmark. A news reporter wrote, “A reason for Ronald Reagan’s remarkable popularity in the United States today may well be his very liberal use of palm displays. How could anyone distrust a guy who is so genial, so disarming, so warm, and so comforting?”
If some of these gestures don’t come naturally to you, using them may feel awkward at first. But as neuroscientist Spencer Kelley says, gestures make people listen to you. They draw attention to the acoustics of the speech. Reason enough for you to try them, isn’t it?