|From BBC Capital / Credit: Getty Images
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An easy way to seem more persuasive, by David Robson (From BBC Capital)
Your hand gestures can help make you more charismatic.
Research into public speakers suggests hand gestures can powerfully change the way you are perceived - David Robson explains.
Next time you watch a TED talk or a political speech, take a moment to look closely at the speaker’s hand movements. Is the motion slow or energetic? Is it subtle or expansive? And how are the hands mostly moving – vertically or horizontally?
It is well known that non-verbal cues can have more of an influence on the way that a message is received than the actual words spoken. As BBC Capital recently explored, a deeper voice increases perceptions of authority, for instance – and this even appears to influence a CEO’s earnings and how long they stay with a company.
Now a series of recent studies from Markus Koppensteiner at the University of Vienna has examined the way that people talk with their hands – with remarkable results. Even when all other factors have been taken into account, your hand gestures signal important elements of your personality like extraversion and dominance. They can even change people’s perceptions of your physical height – making you appear a few inches taller or shorter.
Koppensteiner’s findings would seem to recall the famous research on “power poses” – the strategy, for instance, of standing, like Superwoman, with your hands on your hips and your feet planted wide apart. These small gestures of confidence are thought to feedback into the brain, leading people to feel more assertive before public speaking.
In the words of the Harvard University professor, Amy Cuddy, who conducted many of these studies, “you fake it until you make it”.
Cuddy’s research had come under criticism, with some serious doubts over the reliability of the finding, but recent research shows that power poses do have a robust effect on people’s self-perceptions.
There are some important differences with the new research, however. Power poses are primarily designed to be performed in private to increase confidence before a meeting – and they are largely static positions rather than fluid movements.
Koppensteiner’s research, in contrast, examines the motion of the speakers’ hands as they talk and the ways that this influences others’ perceptions. In a typical study, he would take real videos of politicians’ speeches, and then transformed them into animated stick figures so that confounding factors – like their facial expressions – would no longer be visible. (GO TO FULL ARTICLE to see an example + read more)
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