Is Talking With Your Hands a Good or Bad Thing?

Let me tell you a small tale before we begin. Once there was a debate competition held in my school. I remember this incident so vividly because of a particular student, who when given the stage almost hypnotized me. Literally, not in an impressive manner. The student was so awkward and phony with her hands moving left to right and so on and so forth that it felt like a pendulum shifting side to side. This was not only distracting but also hard to look at.

My point of telling the anecdote was simply to explain that there’s no harm in using your hand. However, if not done right they can, in truth, leave you hanging.

Talking with Hands

Talking with hands simply means expressing your thoughts better with hand gestures. Often you might have noticed when people speak they tend to gesticulate. It refers to the animation of movements people carry out when they speak. Talking with hands or gestures is a natural part of your expression and a way to indicate, just like any other.

They say that you start speaking with your hands from your birth. If you notice a few months old baby’s palm in a wad position that means they are hungry. On the contrary, when their palm is open like jazz hands then it’s an indication that they are full.

Not only does our voice modulate while talking to a crowd, so does our hand gestures. They both correspond and try to sync. It not only shows that we are confident but also makes us look knowledgeable and well versed with the topic. 

On the flip side if there is a mismatch between gestures and speech it might put a halt on your convincing the audience. This is because the listener might get disoriented, whether you yourself believe in the topic or not. 

It is believed that people using hand gestures are seen as more warm, agreeable and energetic. On the other hand, those who are less active are seen as logical, cold and analytical.

So here’s a question, why is it important to use hand gestures?

Pros of talking with hand gestures:

1.Complementary: Gestures add meaning to your verbal message, complimenting them. For example, when you thank someone and at the same time you join hands, your action altogether look genuine.

2. Easy presentation: When you explain something in points instead of literally saying the count you can use your hand gestures. That way it will be easy to move to the next point as well.  

Here’s a video of simple hand gestures to give you an idea.

3. Substituting: Sometimes your hand gestures can replace your words. You saying ‘this much’ and simultaneously indicating the quantity with your hands could be one instance.

4. Attractive presentation: No one likes to look at a person standing still and impassive. An attractive gesture oozes confidence.

5. Reducing wastage of time: You can reach the audience faster by alternating your words with hand gestures. By doing so you will not only complete the presentation in time but also save your energy.

6. Quick expression of message: It makes it easier for the audience to interpret actions quickly.

Cons of talking with hand gestures:

1. Information can get distorted: Hand gestures can get lost in transaction. If a person uses too much hand movements to explain their concept, chances are that the audience might not focus on the words.

2. It’s hard to be precise: Hand gestures come different to every person.

3. Not suited for all purposes: It might be seen as informal etiquette at some places.

4. Culture barrier:  Hand gestures of one culture can mean different things in other cultures. For example, a simple thumbs up means ‘okay’ in the USA but in parts of Italy and Greece it stands for ‘up yours’.

Dos and Don’ts of talking with hands

There are many people with a similar fix asking ‘What exactly do we do  with our hands while talking?’ If you too are one of the many then here are a few tip-offs.

Pay attention to where your hands are.

Your hands should effortlessly talk for  themselves. But make sure they are conveying an accurate message. Here are a few things to do with them-

1. Firstly, do not keep them rigid by your side or shoved into your pocket. Try not to fold your arms as it seems rude and uninviting. As a speaker your body language should be open and approachable and not otherwise. Latest, do not keep them behind your back all the time.

2. No wiring of hands. As it lays the impression of either you being nervous or under confident which you do not want audience to see it through. There are many different ways like clasped hands, cupped hands, and intertwined finger hands. Do not use either of these, instead keep it in a steepling or triangle position.

Clasping of Hands

Cupped Hands

Steepling Hands/ Triangle Hands Position

3. Do not move your hands pointlessly. That is, if it doesn’t correspond to what you are saying then avoid using it or keep it minimal. For instance do not run your hands through your hair, don’t touch your face or scratch your head, or place your hands on your hips or waist, do not keep adjusting your clothing and so on. With all these distracting hand gestures you tend to ward off the audience from what you want to say.

Keep your hands insight.

Always keep your hand in such that they are visible to the audience or else like trying to figure out a puzzle the audience  will keep  on wondering where your hands are. This will again act as a distraction.

Use this trick to remember, I call it the “Visibility range Box”. Imagine a virtual box in front of you starting from your chest to your waist and 1 foot from either side. This knack will help you to locate your hands as to not being extra with your hands as well as making sure they are visible.

Use your hands to convey your idea better rather than take you backward.

While giving a presentation or speech always make sure that you use different and powerful signs to put stress on the statement. I call them ‘Credibility movements’. For instance, making a fist and moving in a downward motion or pointing (not towards someone) in general. Try not to overdo with these signals as they will lose their reliability.

Use your hand to convey your message appropriately.

Every hand gesture has its own meaning and that’s how the intensity differs.

If you are talking about something huge, use your whole arms. If you are talking about something petite then a small figure and/or the palm movement like using your index finger and thumb is enough.

Do not take your hand above your shoulder again and again. It’s seen as if you are overdoing it with gestures, unless you are a theatre actor.

REMEMBER- If you want to be an out of the box presenter then do not go out of the imaginary ‘visibility range box’.

Here’s a short video about some powerful hand gestures to practice and follow.

Why follow the Dos and Don’ts?

Many of you must be thinking in respect as to why hand gestures are so important to focus on.

Before answering the above, I want to just ask you this one thing, why not use the stage and opportunity you have got to the utmost by using hand gestures?

“I can read your body language like a conversation.” – Dom Kennedy

When you use your body language vis-à-vis your hand gestures you are not only trying to convince but also communicate. This form of non-verbal communication is important not only for the communicator but also for the attendees. When you are provided a platform to make a difference you will want to grab hold of the chance. Apart from that, hand gestures add structure to your speech and allows you to emphasize more on your discourse. They make you look not so disassociated.

To know more about body language while presenting in front of the crowd, check out our article on 5 Body Language Tips To Command The Stage.

How to avoid too many hand gestures?

Firstly, if you find your hands wiggling too much then try to focus on 3 to 4 primary hand gestures; according to your speech. Make them your go-to hand gestures. So when you feel too carried away with your hand you can come back to these primaries. 

Secondly, Practice.The best way to do this is to record yourself. This way you will know what type of actions come easily to you and which are unnecessary, that which you can omit.

There are many questions frequently asked that might help you to escalate your profile when you give a speech. Few of the addressed are:

Is talking with your hands a sign of intelligence?

Moreover there is a lot of research done to find the link between intelligence and hand gestures. There was a team of German researchers who particularly studied the same. The students with higher fluid intelligence performed better on the task than the students with average fluid intelligence, but they also produced more representational hand and arm gestures.

Both gesture and speech appear to be found on the same underlying system of simulated action in mental imagery. It’s not been concluded yet whether gestures facilitate the development of fluid intelligence or whether the gestures themselves are its product. However, since young children are shown to use gesture when learning new concepts and expressing new ideas, the activity may facilitate cognitive development by simulating thought. 

Gestures are for a fact known as our ‘Second Language’. As they have the ability to express what sometimes our words lack. You might have noticed a mismatch between vocal expression and physical gestures. This indicates two things. One is the discrepancies between your cognition and your words. Second, is our transactional stage, moving from one level of understanding to another.

Hence, talking with your hand is a related sign of intelligence.

Why do we move our hands?

In theory, hand gestures are a more effective and expressive way of communicating our thoughts. When we talk with our hands our gestures help express better as to what is in our mind. It makes our thoughts accessible to others. Gestures help the audience to paint the picture more vividly.

These hand gestures also help with the pace and timing of your speech. Sometimes we all undergo this very frustrating episode wherein we forget even the simplest words and can’t seem to remember it. This is also known as tip-of-the-tongue phenomena. Psychology says, our hand gestures help you to overcome these slightest errors. They help to locate words better and maintain our flow of thoughts.

To know more about how to effectively communicate and present, check out our article on 10-Minute Presentations: How To Write, Design & Deliver (Complete Guide).

Is talking with your hands genetic?

To all those who are possessive about their hurling hands when they talk, good news my friend! It is genetic. Gesturing in itself is an innate language. It is a fact that people who are blind from birth also use hand gestures while they chat.

However, your gestures differ while giving a speech and casually talking to someone. When you give a speech you try to be specific and precise.

Is talking with hands attractive?

I totally second that some types of hand gestures do look more attractive than the rest. Some can make you look rude and aloof while others  may make you look warm and confident. The bifurcation of types of hand gestures are as follows:

1.      Defensive Hand Gestures- These include hands in your pocket, hands behind your back, crossing your arms or hand over your chest. Hand gestures like these showcase in total disregard and are seen as defensive.

2.      Open Hand Gestures are the ones where you show your palms, they stay at 45 degree angle or at the triangle hand position. When your body language is open and relaxed your audience will connect with you.

(Watch this for better understanding, from 00:45 second)

Is talking with hands feminine?

We sure can witness the difference between men and women when they talk with their hands but there is no such thing as feminine gestures. We can say that both have some advantages on their side. For instance it’s easy for men to use bold and large hand gestures whereas for women it’s easy to show enthusiasm.

Saying that does not mean that any particular hand gesture only goes for one and not the other. It all depends on how you choose to present and what is the need for an hour.

In the end if you want to put your best foot forward use all your resources as your assets. It is as important to work on your hand gestures as you work on your speech. Use all the means of information be it the directives like do’s and don’ts or be it informational. Do not be vague about hand gestures. Be aware how and where your hand goes when you speak. Look out for the aspects you need to improve to make a greater impact onto others.    

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