Make your presence unforgettable: Hand gestures to drive your point home

The Clinton thumb, Obama’s fist pound, Hillary’s hand-to-heart, Trump’s “claw” – some of the most memorial politicians also have the most memorable hand gestures. Politicians are master hand gesturers, and even the most seasoned professional could learn a thing or two from them. 

After all, hand gestures increase the value of your message by 60%, according to authors and researchers Holler and Beatie. It’s certainly one quality most leaders have in common: They know how to speak with their words and their hands.

The study also found the most popular TED talkers used an average of 465 hand gestures during an 18-minute talk. Even our Italian grandmothers’ hands might get tired at that rate!


The next time you want to add some extra meat to your message, try using a few of these popular hand gestures.

Gesture #1: Listing

Whenever you say a number, you want to show it with your fingers. Not only will this cement the number in the listener’s brain, but it can add some friendliness to your body language.

How to do it: Hold your elbow near your rib cage and hold out the number of fingers needed. It’s the perfect unspoken anchor to your conversation.

Gesture #2: A tiny bit

Sometimes we have to say something as a formality – but we don’t want the listeners to worry about it. That’s the perfect time to use a “tiny bit” gesture. The next time you need to mention a fact – but don’t want bring too much attention to it – use your hands.

How to do it: Using your thumb and pointer finger, hold them about a half-inch apart. Then show your audience how small the fact or point really is.

Gesture #3: Listen here!

On the flipside, there are certain times when you really need to get a point across (like if your team slipped up on a project).  The “bottom line” or “listen here” gesture is powerful, because it involves movement and sound, so use cautiously.

How to do it: Hold your right elbow near your ribs, with your hand flat out in front of you. Then bring your left hand down into your right hand, so it makes a small but distinct noise. It’ll grab people’s attention and show the seriousness of the situation.

Gesture #4: A clean slate

Is your team struggling to move past a failure? The right words coupled with the “clean slate” hand gesture can get everyone back to square one.

How to do it: With both your left and right hands, make a sweeping motion from right to left. You’re visually pushing something out of the way, allowing your team to get rid of any negative thoughts and start over.

Gesture #5: I’ve got this

If you’re a Shark Tank fan, you’ve likely seen Kevin O’Leary’s infamous steeple.

How to do it: This is where you lightly tap the tips of your fingers together, clearly saying, I’ve got my stuff together. I can handle any curveballs.

Gesture #6: This vs. that

When you’re looking to separate two diverse ideas or things (like your company vs. your competitors), use your hands to represent each party.

You might say, We offer round-the-clock customer service, while they’re only open during business hours.

How to do it: When you say “we,” pretend you’re gripping a baseball in your right hand and move it to the right side of your body. And when you say “they,” do the same with your left hand, but put it toward the left side of your body. You’re visually showing your audience what a distance there is between the two.

No matter what the situation, from a formal presentation to your next elevator pitch, the right hand gesture can make your message even more memorable. Just make sure the gesture matches your words and you’ll give yourself a powerful advantage.