Let your hands do your talking

Simple hand and finger movements while speaking greatly influence the way people hear what you are saying. Use your fingers online and in person to add dimension and significance to your ideas.
April 25, 2022

After watching a ton of TED talks and observing some of the best speakers in the world, I have some of the most powerful hand gestures for you to try. These nonverbal expressions underscore the points you are making and enhance your ability to persuade, inform and motivate. 

Hand and finger gestures amplify the impact of your spoken words by as much as five times. In fact, people will remember more of what you said if you gesture while you speak.

Delivery-consider nonverbal expressions with particular focus on Amplifiers, Signifiers, and Delineators. Amplifiers are motions used to add emphasis such as facial expressions and hand movements. Signifiers are motions used to convey concepts such as using hands to point at objects, mime acts, or using fingers/hands to form shapes everyone can understand. Delineators are motions used to specify qualities such as using hands to designate volume or distance and tracing the arc of a line on a chart.

When you plan a speech or presentation, think about your verbal content, and match your hand gestures to what you are saying. The interplay between language and movement is very powerful in-person and online. 

In her excellent guide: Presenting Virtually: Communicate and Connect with Online Audiences, Patti Sanchez, chief strategy officer at Duarte, Inc. groups nonverbal expressions into three categories: Amplifiers, Signifiers, and Delineators. 

Amplifiers are gestures used to add emphasis to your messages, such as facial expressions (a frown, a smile) and hand movements (placing hand to heart to express love). Signifiers are motions used to convey concepts such as pointing at something with your hand, using your fingers to count, or miming an action like putting on a hat. Delineators are hand motions used to express volume, size, distance, and progression over time, like tracing the arc of a line on a chart.

Let’s take a close look at Signifiers. 

These are the hand movements used as symbols without the need for words. For example, using your fingers to gesture a number, making a heart shape with your hands, or pointing to yourself, someone, or something that you are talking about. Note: best practice is to point with all five fingers and an open palm instead of one finger, which can be considered too aggressive.

In the companion video to this blog, I demonstrate how to use your hands to signify a numeric sequence or an amount. Think about the way children are taught to represent their age by using their fingers and how they learn early math concepts through finger counting activities.

Perhaps that’s why the easiest and most basic hand gesture when speaking is numerical.

Anytime you say a number, do the corresponding gesture. This makes the number easier to remember for the listener, adds movement and warmth to your body language, and serves as a nonverbal anchor in the conversation, investor pitch, sales presentation, or media interview.

Here is an example of how I would use finger counting to set up this tutorial: 

I have three tips for you today. 

  • Tip number 1 is to plan your speaking with gestures and body language to match your words and message. 

  • Tip number 2 is to keep your enumeration to three because three is a magic number that helps people follow your narrative and remember more of what you say. 

  • Tip number 3 is to pause when you gesture to draw the attention of the audience to you, build suspense and keep them focused.

A signifying hand gesture can be used in other ways—like when you want to show increases or decreases. Move your hand up imaginary rungs in a ladder to show a progression from low to high. Or trace an arc or curve with your finger, as if you were drawing on a board, to illustrate the ups and downs. The same goes for mimicking a line graph.

Move your hand horizontally in a choppy motion to denote chronological order or movement over time.

These gestures working in concert with your well-chosen words and effective vocalization act like imaginary highlighters drawing attention to what is important and emphasizing what you want your audience to remember.

Let your hands do more talking to ace your next speech or presentation on any stage

Watch the other videos in the series on Body Language on my YouTube Channel. 

Do you have a big presentation, media interview, or keynote coming up?  Schedule a practice session with me to nail your talk with impact and confidence.

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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Rosemary Ravinal

Let me help you speak, engage, and persuade like a pro in person and online in English and Spanish.

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