Hand signals for Zoom: 6 non-verbal cues to enhance your meetings.

Here are 6 simple hand gestures you can use on any Zoom meeting to improve engagement and convey your point.
April 12, 2021

Simple hand and arm gestures may be more effective than emoticons to improve engagement during Zoom meetings.  Research from the University College London (UCL) in the UK shows that an intuitive set of hand signals can warm up the virtual meeting room and help participants communicate better.  The signals, 26 in all, range from crossed arms to show disagreement, hand on the heart for kindness, and thumbs up for yes or down for no. There is even a sign for “I don’t understand” inspired by the Laurel and Hardy comedic gesture of scratching your head.

The study seeks to put body language back into video calls and essentially make them more human. There is abundant research that shows that nonverbal information is 90% of humans communicate. With hand signals, meeting participants can quickly react to what someone is saying, without interrupting or pressing keys.

More than 100 undergraduate students tested the new Video Meeting Signals Systems, developed by UCL’s department of Psychology and Language Sciences, during the lockdown of 2020. 

Half of the research subjects, chosen at random, were asked to use the signals while on camera during online seminars. The other half acted as control subjects and were not taught the signs but still had to keep their cameras on.  Students completed a questionnaire evaluating their experiences.  The group that used the hand signals gave significantly higher ratings for group affiliation, personal satisfaction, and learning outcomes, and felt that their interactions improved overall.

Related: 7 hand gestures that will immediately increase the value of what you say.

While some people are trying to use more technology to improve video conferencing, the UCL team chose to investigate human behavior and interaction during meetings instead.   Behavioral studies have found that mirroring gestures and body language can increase social bonds, facilitate cooperation, and engender the trust that is vital to teamwork.

“As we have all moved meetings, classes and social interactions online in the last year, many of us have found that it can’t replicate seeing people in person, and some have felt fatigued or isolated. Because you can’t make eye contact or pick up on subtle nods, gestures and murmurs of agreement or dissent, it can be hard to know if people are engaged with what you’re saying.”

Dr. Daniel C. Richardson, professor of Experimental Psychology, UCL, co-lead author of the study.

Are hand signals more effective at making video meetings more human than platform-based emoticons and reaction buttons?  Dr. Richardson and his colleagues will tackle that study next and hope to compare the hand signals to other non-verbal methods as well.

For now, the researchers are encouraging people to adopt the hand signals and have been working with private companies, like AztraZeneca, yielding positive testimonials and promising applications.

6 hand signal for Zoom that you can implement in your next meeting

So, thinking about my own experience leading Zoom skills workshops and taking part in up to five video meetings a day, I came up with my own set of signals.  I realized that I was using them already spontaneously. Perhaps they can work for you, too. 

Hand gestures for Zoom
Hand gestures go beyond emoticons to connect meeting participants.

Whereas the built-in emoticons may be universally understood, they are sometimes difficult to spot on a busy display screen.  The real person’s body gestures are more evident and encourage them to participate physically in the meeting.

The challenge to meeting organizers is to establish a visual language that everyone can understand and to use them repeatedly so that they fold into their organizational culture.

I invite you to introduce hand signals to improve your own virtual meeting experience.  The UCL set of signals, with their assigned meanings, is freely available online.  

Do you have other non-verbal meeting signals to contribute? 

I would love to hear from you and include them in a future blog post and newsletter. Write your ideas in the comments section below.

Rosemary Ravinal

I teach business leaders how to shine on video calls and have more productive virtual engagement. As Founder/Chief Trainer at RMR Communications Consulting, I also help executives master the art of public speaking, inspiring presentations, and authoritative media interviews online and in person. My company’s services are available in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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