How Talking With Your Hands Engages the Audience

August 30, 2022
5 min read

The next time you do a presentation at work or speak at a public engagement, you can rest assured that it’s not your audience’s first rodeo. Most (if not all) of the audience members will have heard many other people speak before, perhaps even on a similar topic. 

Talking with your hands is one way to cut through the noise and grab your audience’s attention. You can use hand gestures to emphasize specific points, create a structure for your message, indicate your emotional state, draw attention to people or objects in the room, and more. 

To get your message across more effectively, you must learn how to incorporate hand gestures into your presentations and speeches. Below, Poised explains this type of nonverbal communication in more detail and shows you how to get started. 

Why Is Non-Verbal Communication So Important?

Nonverbal communication refers to the cues you give the person, or people you’re communicating with that don’t involve your voice. How you move, react, work, and listen are all forms of nonverbal communication cues. 

In many respects, nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication because it indicates the level at which you:

  • Are truthful.
  • Care about what you’re saying.
  • Care about the audience.
  • Listen and engage with other communicators.

Matching your nonverbal cues with your words helps cultivate clarity, trust, and rapport with your audience. When your nonverbal signals and words contradict each other, it breeds confusion, tension, and mistrust. Becoming an impactful communicator requires you to be mindful of your and others' body language and nonverbal cues.

You don’t have to be a body language expert to learn about nonverbal communication and its importance. Watching TED talks of viral speakers like Vanessa Van Edwards will reveal how hand gestures and other forms of body language can hook the audience. And some well-known public speakers, like Carol Kinsey Goman, talk extensively about the topic of body language itself.

Further, it can help to observe your own body language and that of others in daily life. You might be surprised by how simply increasing your awareness can improve your communication skills!

Your Body Language Shows Your Interest in What You’re Saying

Imagine yourself standing at a lectern with your head down, eyes on your notes — you speak for 30 minutes while hardly looking at anyone in the audience and keep your hands planted on the sides of the lectern.

Sure, this kind of speaking behavior may suffice in a lecture hall where your audience members rely on the information you provide for improving their academic and career pursuits. But how will it fly when speaking in a virtual meeting with colleagues or giving a companywide presentation?

Using effective body language indicates to your audience that you’re interested in and care about your message. Consequently, it makes your listeners more likely to gain and maintain interest in what you’re saying. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

At the end of the day, no one wants to hear someone talk about something the speaker doesn’t care about. Neglecting to show your interest in your message will inevitably breed a sense of purposelessness and leave your audience thinking their time could be better spent elsewhere. 

Of course, not using powerful body language doesn’t automatically mean you’re uninterested in your message. It could be you are simply learning how to present yourself and improve as a communicator. But to engage listeners, employing well-timed hand gestures, facial expressions, and other nonverbal signals is essential. 

Your Body Language Keeps Listeners Focused on You 

People are typically more eager to hear leaders speak than employees, followers, or the general public. Employees might have developed a sense of trust and respect for their business leader, or at the very least, they rely on the leader's message for their jobs. A leader of a movement may have reached their place of influence by exhibiting strong communication skills and resonating with their followers' convictions and philosophies.

In most cases, leaders who conduct public speaking of any form know how to engage their audience, even if it’s on a nominal level. Whether or not you aspire to become a business leader, understand that you must cultivate trust and credibility for your team members, managers, and clients to absorb your message as you envision. And if you’re a business leader, chances are you have room for improvement. 

Body language has been referred to as “the silent language of leaders.” Using appropriately placed body language in your presentations and speeches will help you hook your listeners’ attention from the beginning to the end of your message. It will help you come across as more competent, regardless of your position in the company hierarchy. 

Your Body Language Conveys Confidence

Finally, your body language will indicate to your audience members your overall confidence level. Maintaining eye contact with listeners and practicing proper posture can go a long way in helping you exude confidence, but the hand gestures you use are just as critical.

In the right context, finger-pointing, a self-hug, open palms, steepling, and other hand movements can all aid your message and make you appear like a confident public speaker. Resorting to pacifying gestures and clenched hands can indicate that you’re perhaps nervous, uncomfortable, or unprepared.

It’s worth noting that most common gestures can both help and harm your performance, depending on the context. For instance, pointing your index finger at an object in the room can help your audience visualize what you’re talking about; pointing to an audience member and saying a negative comment can appear aggressive. Likewise, clenched hands are generally seen as a sign of discomfort but can be used to emphasize a dramatic story. 

The key is to be free with your hand gestures and body language without crossing over into inappropriate. People like to listen to other people who are comfortable with themselves.

How Do You Talk With Your Hands?

In a sense, you always talk with your hands when speaking, but that doesn’t mean your hands are always saying the right things.

Your hands play a critical role in every moment of your presentation or speech. You can use hand gestures and movements to emphasize key points, transition to another topic, or help your listeners visualize a story you’re telling. Even keeping your hands stationary or out of sight can benefit your message if it minimizes distractions and your words draw attention to something else.

Here’s the point: Don’t underestimate the power you have in your hands. You don’t have to be using sign language to say the wrong thing!

Here are a few proven methods of learning how you naturally talk with your hands (and how to improve):

Practice in the Mirror

What better way to discover the hand movements, gestures, and positions you commonly use than to talk in the mirror? Of course, seeing yourself may influence your natural behavior. You might focus more on your hands than the content of your message, become self-conscious, and change your body language.

Still, practicing in the mirror is an excellent way to make instant adjustments. Over time, you might notice your natural body language improving to where it helps you engage your audience. 

Another option is to video yourself practicing your presentation or speech. Set up a tripod and a phone or camera, and go through your presentation as if you're speaking to audience members. This strategy will give you a platform for a more in-depth analysis. Simply play the recording and take notes of each gesture and how it relates to your message. 

Recording videos of yourself can also help you avoid becoming self-conscious, leaving you more likely to talk with your hands naturally. Practicing in the mirror and recording yourself can both be helpful self-improvement tactics, each serving its own purposes.

Use a Real-Time Communication Coach

One of the most effective ways to analyze your body language while speaking is to incorporate a real-time communication coach in your presentations and speeches.

For example, Poised tracks and analyzes many communication metrics as you speak and engage with your team members. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide personalized feedback on your hand gestures, eye contact, words most spoken, verbal speed traps, filler words, and more.

Your listeners won’t know you’re using Poised, and you’ll get real-time communication tips to implement during your meeting. Plus, the communication coach will analyze your long-term speech trends so you can prepare for your next meeting. Additionally, if you choose a personalized plan, you’ll have access to a range of expert content and lessons tailored just for you.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Practicing and taking steps to improve your body language is essential. But engaging in actual speeches and presentations is the best way to challenge yourself. Don’t wait until you’re 100% confident in how you talk with your hands to join another team meeting or accept a public speaking opportunity.

Fortunately, you can fake it until you make it. Remember that if an audience believes you are confident in yourself and your message, it can be enough for them to engage. Even if you’re speaking for the first time, just don’t let your listeners know it!

At the end of the day, we are all learners with room for improvement. Whether you’re presenting to your colleagues or conducting a video call with another professional whom you met on LinkedIn, believe in your abilities and capacity for improvement so you can communicate confidently. Confidence will eventually evolve into competence.

How Can Poised Help With Non-Verbal Communication?

Understanding the importance of how you talk with your hands and use other forms of body language is the first step to improvement. Remember the tips above for practicing your hand gestures, movements, and positions.

You can rely on Poised to analyze your nonverbal communication in real-time and over the long term. No one will know that you’re getting coached on hand gestures, eye contact, and other cues! When you need a hand, Poised is there.


Strong Nonverbal Skills Matter Now More Than Ever in This "New Normal" | Forbes

Benefit of Nonverbal Communication in Business | Chron

7 Effective Delivery Skills for Public Speaking | Entrepreneur

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