video conferencing tools

The Science of Talking With Your Hands

For some of us, “talking with our hands” is a cultural necessity—but did you know it also has scientifically proven benefits? It’s true. If you talk with your hands, keep up the good work because you’re tapping into the following six benefits:

1. It makes people listen to you.

Researchers at the Center for Language and Brain at Colgate University found that accompanying your speech with gestures makes people pay more attention to what you’re saying. Why? Scientists suspect that gesture-based communication evolved before spoken language. As a result, our brains are still wired to pay close attention to someone who’s gesturing.

2. It helps you solve problems.

According to one in-depth study, gesturing while talking through a problem is tied to more effective problem-solving. This was demonstrated when researchers studied children who were told to gesture while solving math problems. Compared to the kids who didn’t gesture, the kids who talked through problems with their hands were able to access more “implicit knowledge” and learn more quickly than their peers.

3. It helps people learn from you.

Researchers have also studied the effect of an instructor’s gestures on learners. The numbers are clear: both kids and adults learn better from teachers who talk with their hands.

Kids who are taught using gestures perform better on tests, while adults who try to learn complex math concepts have been shown to learn significantly more when the instructor gesticulates. Similarly, adult students who learn a foreign language (in this case, Hungarian) learn better when the teacher uses gestures.

4. It makes people more interested in what you’re saying.

Hoping to detect what makes a TED talk go viral, Science of People founder Vanessa Van Edwards got 760 people to watch and evaluate hundreds of hours of TED talks. At the end of that study, Van Edwards found a strong relationship between the number of hand gestures each speaker used and the viewers’ appraisal of the speaker’s talk. The research team concluded that the gestures themselves, regardless of the content of the talk, contributed to more positive ratings.

5. It can make you more likable.

In research focused on business leadership, people who gesture more actively were more likely to be evaluated as “warm, agreeable and energetic.” In contrast, people with more constrained gestures were seen as colder.

6. It can make speaking easier for you.

Researchers have found that talking with your hands “lightens the cognitive load” of speaking. Especially when you’re talking about something abstract, conceptual, or strategic, using your hands makes it easier for you to navigate complex ideas in your brain. How cool is that?!

Considering the science and the ease of video conferencing tools today, there’s no excuse not to realize these benefits during online meetings.

About Kelly Strain

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