Image of raised hands

Let your hands do the talking

By Anj Handa
As part of my presenting skills training programmes, I teach delegates about the importance of body language and, in particular, how effective using relevant hand gestures can be in engaging their audience, gaining trust or emphasising a point.

It’s backed up by research. A study by Holler and Beatie found that gestures increase the value of our message by 60%. Human behaviour research lab Science of People decided to investigate, using TED Talks as a basis for its research. Here’s what it found:

The least popular TED Speakers used an average of 272 hand gestures during the 18-minute talk, whereas the most popular used an average of 465!

Put your hands in the air like you don’t care?

You must to be careful though! Exaggerated gestures such as flinging your arms wide or high can be distracting, so use them in moderation. My personal bugbear is when speakers raise their arm high in the air when they want their audience to agree with them. I find it so contrived.

My advice is to keep your hands within the space between your hips and your shoulders, which is much more natural.

And although many presenters remember to vary their pitch, tone and volume, they sometimes forget to vary their hand gestures. I know that some speakers hold ‘props’ such as a pen or slide ‘clicker’ to provide ground themselves and calm their nerves.

However, repetitive gestures such as clicking the pen is not only distracting but can also work against female speakers being heard by the men in the audience.

Your voice is like music to men’s ears

Why? Research by the University of Sheffield found that men process male voices differently from those of females because while “male voices stimulate the part of the brain that conjures up imagery…”

...Women's voices stimulate the area of men's brains used for processing music. Click To Tweet

In an interview with Discover magazine, psychiatrist Michael Hunter who led the research suggests that “because women generally have shorter vocal cords and a smaller larynx, they have higher-pitched voices with more “natural melody”.

By using repetitive gestures to support your melodic voice, you could inadvertently lead men to believe you have added nothing new to your talk.

But we still get more across

It’s not all bad news. Hunter also stated that because the brain has to decipher this modulation, women might be able to communicate more information per sentence than men. This is an interesting side note. Only yesterday, a friend asked me why most personal assistant devices, such as Siri and Alexa, have female voice. I may have just discovered the answer.

As Hunter says “Most people at a railway station say female announcers are clearer. Maybe it’s this added input.”

If you want to tone down your jazz hands, or avoid replicating Trump’s accordion-playing gestures, come along to our International Women’s Day event at Clarion Solicitors in Leeds on 15th March.

As part of the afternoon, international Master of Ceremonies, Minoti Parikh, will lead a session on Presenting with Personality. This is your opportunity to learn from one of the best. <Book your place here>.

Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers. She teaches women how to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues.