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The next time you see a TED talk or a politician’s speech, watch closely the movements of the speaker’s hands.
Is it a slow or energetic movement?
Is it subtle or expansive?
Do the hands move vertically or horizontally?
It is well known that nonverbal gestures can influence the way a message is received . Sometimes even more than the words that are used.
Rava recently discovered that a deeper voice is related to greater authority, and that this can influence the amount of money an executive earns.
Now, a series of studies carried out by the University of Vienna has examined how people speak with their hands.
The conclusion is that the hands reflect important elements of your personality. They can even change how people perceive your height, making you look taller or shorter.
This discovery is reminiscent of the famous theory about “power poses” (standing with hands on hips and feet well planted, like a Superman or Superwoman). It is believed that these small confidence gestures feed the brain and make people feel more assertive before speaking in public.
However, the studies carried out by the University of Vienna are different in certain aspects. “Power poses” are held in private to build trust before a meeting, and are largely static positions rather than fluid movements.
On the contrary, this research examines the movement of the speaker’s hands and how this gesturing influences the perceptions of others.
Markus Koppensteiner of the University of Vienna conducted a study in which he transformed videos of political speeches into animated figures, so that facial expressions were not visible.
The participants had to look for personality traits in these silent figures.
Although some features seemed difficult to discern from the gestures, others were clearly visible.
For example, participants associated frequent hand movement to being an extroverted person.
Perceptions of authority were linked to vertical hand movements. People who make these kinds of expansive gestures tend to be rated as less friendly, but more dominant.
In addition, Koppensteiner discovered that these personality classifications, based solely on silent animations, could predict the amount of applause that politicians actually received in speeches.
These ratings also predicted whether politicians were booed, suggesting that domination gestures may be perceived as positive or negative, depending on the context.
Vertical hand movements also influenced the perception of the speaker’s physical height. “Basically if you move your arms up and down vigorously, people may think you are taller.” Says Koppensteiner.
The psychological mechanism is not clear. Previous research has shown that tall people are considered better leaders. It is possible that these hand movements create a visual illusion that makes the person look taller, and therefore more dominant.
Or it might work the other way around: by linking gestures with greater domination this makes the person appear taller.
The results of Koppensteiner seem to support the conclusions of other studies. The author and body language coach Vanessa Van Edwards, for example, has analyzed hundreds of TED talks to understand why some talks become viral and others receive very little interest – even when they deal with similar topics.
He found that the most successful speakers performed almost twice as many hand movements (465 compared to 272).
It must be emphasized that Koppensteiner has not yet analyzed whether people can imitate these gestures to change the way they are perceived. Even so, he suspects that many people use these tricks deliberately.
Since public speaking is one of the most common phobias, these tips could help many people overcome this fear.