You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t teach it to order another round of beer from across a noisy bar.
Hand gestures are crucial to the way humans interact with each other and give our words context, even when we can be heard clearly – and they also convey nuances that not everyone is aware of while they’re gesturing.
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Learning to control and utilize these gestures can make you more effective in the workplace, and when negotiating with clients and investors. In short, you can grab their attention with a gesture that conveys just why they should listen to you. Not convinced? Well, one study showed that speakers using around 465 hand gestures saw their TED Talks go viral, while those who used around 270 gestures saw frankly mediocre results.
Which category do you wish to join?
Palms up, palms down
Those TED speakers relied upon a sense of authority to get people engaged in their story. A great way to replicate this is to use the ‘certainty’ gesture that is found not just in human behavior, but in that of other animals, including lizards. When you stretch your hands out, palm down, in front of you, it conveys the message: “I’m certain about this.” It’s an assertive gesture that can instill confidence in a potential buyer, or an employee that you're trying to motivate.
Flipping those hands the other way around – palms up – doesn’t simply reverse the message. It gives a whole new meaning: “I’m being open.” Opening yourself up like this is a good technique for inspiring trust in your audience. Let them know you’re stating the bottom line, or that you have nothing to hide, and you have license to continue doing excellent work. Do so without them noticing, and you can win an ally with minimal effort.
Have you noticed I’m a genius?
Have you heard of ‘steepling’? You might have seen Steve Jobs do it, or any number of successful thinkers, business people, and scientists. In movies, an actor who is playing a supposed-genius will do it to show just how deep his power of thought is.
Steepling is achieved by holding your hands in front of your chest, prayer-like, and creating a steeple with your open palms and pressed fingertips. It’s a gesture that exudes power and wisdom, or indicates that you are carefully thinking through a difficult problem which you are qualified to solve.
You can pair this one with the ‘I have a big idea’ gesture, using the latter as the payoff to all that deep-thought posturing. When you have a great idea, or want to introduce your big idea midway through a longer talk, try opening your arms up wide for a moment. It’s a TED Talk special because it immediately makes you look like your idea is so massively brilliant it’s going to change the way your audience think. Cue cheesy music!
This new series of gifs contains seven such gestures to try out in your professional life, complete with animations to demonstrate how they’re done. Try it out next time you’re in a meeting. What’s the worst that could happen? < shrugs >