Last month I got to be a judge. For a few hours I sat in front of four nervous law students who were arguing a made-up case about accommodating for a disability in the workplace. I loved the intellectual exercise, and, I can’t lie, I also loved being called “your honor” and getting to interrupt at will to ask questions. (These are the rules of how moot court works – lawyers stand and make their cases and get interrupted by judges peppering them with challenges).
After hearing arguments and rebuttals we were left to assign a score to each lawyer based on a list of grading points. One of the points we were asked to grade on? The lawyer’s use of gestures. On of the approximately 12 things we scored on was how effectively the lawyer used his or her hands.
I was left wondering… are gestures really that important?
I did some research and was surprised to discover how important gestures are to being understood.
So why do gestures matter so much? They convey intention, help with explanation and also boost your trust and charisma. Gestures make you more memorable.
So don’t save them for your TED Talks – use them to help make your point at your next one-on-one meeting! Why?
Gestures help the speaker keep the beat of his or her speech and coordinate appropriate timing and pace.
Another benefit? Gestures can actually help you think. They help you find a word you’re looking for. Gestures that relate to a word might help your brain retrieve the word and improve your communication. Gestures help people form clearer thoughts, speak in tighter sentences and use more declarative sentences.
When we speak our words are more than just robotic words being repeated. Think about the phrase “Let’s talk.” You can say that phrase with an ominous intention (possibly leading the listener to believe she’s getting fired) or with a positive, upbeat intention that gets the listener excited to have the conversation. Gestures can help you convey the motivations and emotion behind what you’re saying.
Lastly, gestures help the listener learn to trust you. Trust is established through congruence which can be communicated through alignment between what is being said and accompanying body language. Just try telling someone sales are going up while making a downward motion with your hands. When your gestures match your speech this boosts the listener’s understanding and often, buy-in to what you’re saying.
How Do you Add More Gestures?
Try one (or more!) of these gestures at your next meeting:
- Anytime you mention a number, use your hands to reflect that number back to your listener.
- When discussing increases or decreases in anything make an upward or downward motion with your hand.
- If you’re pulling at the listener’s heart strings or talking about something emotional, gesture in your heart region to show where you feel the point.
- If you are talking about two different groups of people or ideas or anything else, hold the two different groups with your hands. This helps people keep track of the various parts.
- Along those same lines, you can also bring the two groups together by bringing your hands together
- If you are talking about yourself or others in the room feel free to gesture to the appropriate person (and also use the bringing together gesture noted above) but be careful with pointing and use open hands or partial thumbs up, not a direct point because direct points can be interpreted as aggressive.
So the next time you’re looking to get your point across, think about how you can use your hands in addition to your voice!
If you try one of the methods out I’d love to hear about it! Send me an email and let me know how it went.
If you’re looking for other ways to improve your communication, you can attend my class at General Assembly on May 14. See you there!
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