For as long as I can remember, I’ve spoken with my hands. Well, technically, I speak with my mouth -- but, for the most part, my hands are always doing something while my mouth is moving.
I’ve always attributed this to my Italian heritage. We Italians have a knack for doing this type of thing, you know, the way Andrea Pirlo (or any other Italian football player) will run up to the referee -- with his hands in the shape of the “Johnny Manziel money sign” -- pleading after a hasty booking.
I figured “hand speaking” was a result of great passion, in the way Italians have always been said to be extremely passionate -- sometimes crazy -- people.
I figured, when people can only say so much with their words, that same passion would have to come forth through the hands.
The same way an extremely exuberant child will run up to you with his or her hands flailing, shouting that there are fireflies outside on an early summer’s night.
According to Carol Goman, of Forbes, “studies have found that people who communicate through active gesturing tend to be evaluated as warm, agreeable and energetic.”
I suppose this is because enthusiasm is inviting. I mean, I’m sure we all recall (more than) a few bad decisions we’ve made in the past, on behalf of that one super-convincing friend.
When people are enthusiastic about something, it’s hard not to wonder why and feel compelled to gain a better understanding.
That enthusiasm is contagious. And, in a lot of cases, enthusiasm -- or the ability to translate enthusiasm -- comes off as “charisma,” which is one of the most important qualities to have as a leader.
As reported by Goman, most great leaders also have the knack of speaking with their hands.
Whether during a business presentation or a speech to a great mass of people, how you gesture your hands can greatly affect the message you’re trying to convey. Most of the time, your hand gestures are direct reflections of your sentiment.
As Goman writes, “when leaders don’t use gestures correctly, it suggests they don’t recognize the crucial issues, they have no emotional investment in the issues, or they don’t realize the impact of their nonverbal behavior on the audience.”
At the same time, you can immediately engage your audience by being vocal through your body language, in addition to what you’re saying verbally.
In fact, as Annie Paul writes for Business Insider, using hand gestures while speaking can also portray a higher sense of intelligence to those listening.
The reasoning behind this comes from the notion of “embodied cognition,” which Paul describes as “the recognition that our bodies play a big role in how we think.”
Essentially, the use of nonverbal cues adds a sense of confidence to the things you’re saying, verbally.
As Paul explains, hand gestures double as a “second language,” one that can fill in certain aspects of your message that your words might’ve left out.
Hand gestures and verbal cues are meant to work together in congruence. And, when our gestures and spoken-pieces aren’t in sync, so to speak, it will sometimes backfire.
In similar fashion, Paul continues to suggest the importance of hand gestures with respect to learning.
An important study on the topic, conducted by Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, introduces the idea that we “change our minds by moving our hands.”
One of the most important findings of Goldin-Meadow’s work revolves around what she calls as “mismatches,” which are, generally speaking, incongruences between hand gestures and verbal cues.
According to Paul, these “discrepancies indicate that we’re in a transitional state, moving from one level of understanding to another.”
That said, hand gestures -- and “mismatches” -- also encourage learning.
Goldin-Meadow discovered that mismatches act as red flags for instructors in a school setting and serve as the cues they need to adjust their teaching style.
When students use their hands at young ages, these mismatches are much easier to identify and, subsequently, are much easier to fix.
Additionally, speaking with one’s hands has also been said to accelerate learning as well.
A separate study, conducted by Susan Wagner Cook, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Iowa, revealed that “third graders who were asked to gesture while learning algebra were nearly three times more likely to remember what they’d learned than classmates who did not gesture,” as Paul explains.
Cook also reported that people who speak with their hands are far more likely to construe information that will be retained than those who don’t.
In order to make the most of your communication skills, it’s important to incorporate your hands -- but ensure you’re doing it correctly, first.
Susan Weinschenk Ph.D, in an article from Psychology Today, explains a few techniques that are the most efficient. Having said that, each technique tends to tell your audience something different.
By speaking with your palms down, for instance, you’ll be expressing a greater sense of certainty, however, palms at a 45-degree angle, as Weinschenk continues, depicts honesty.
At the same time, by keeping your hands out in front of your body -- in a grasped fashion -- you will come off to your audience as nervous or tentative, so it's extremely important to be observant of your own gestures.