Your Hand Position Can Determine Whether an Audience Loves or Hates You

Oli Gardner
Founder of Outline
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Your Hand Position Can Determine Whether an Audience Loves or Hates You

Understanding body language is a powerful component of your skills development as a public speaker. Simple posture changes can influence how you feel, your energy levels, and your confidence. How you gesture move and gesture can also have a profound impact on how the audience perceives you.

Allan Pease gave a fascinating talk at TEDxMacquarieUniversity (over 5 million views) about the power we hold in the palm of our hands.

In the talk, he shares the results of an experiment—giving the exact same talk three times for three different audiences—each time maintaining the same tone of voice, and varying only the position of his hands.

With each of the hand positions he gestured with:

  • Palms up
  • Palms down
  • Pointing directly at the audience

The audiences were then surveyed to determine two things: how they felt about the speaker, and how much of the content they could recall.

Watch the embedded video below, and prepare to have your mind blown.

To summarize the outcome:

  • Palms up: The audience felt the speaker was laid back, friendly, humorous, and engaging, and had up to 40% more retention of the content than the palm-down speaker.
  • Palms down: The audience felt the speaker was authoritarian, managerial, pushy, and telling the audience what to do.
  • Pointing directly at the audience: The audience could hardly remember any of the information, and the words used to describe the speaker were the worst of all.

Observe your hand position and change it to palms up

Your action item from this tip is to observe how you typically hold your hands when gesturing to an audience. You can do this by watching any video recordings you have of you speaking, or watch what you do the next time you’re talking to friends or family.

It’s surprisingly easy to change this behaviour once you’re aware of it, and it feels really good to do so.