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Talking Hands

By: Patti Wood MA, CSP

Understanding gestures can help you increase your sales, they help you think and help you read what other people are thinking. The first thing they do is show your personality to your prospect. Because your arms come out from your heart they show how open and receptive you are to everyone you meet and interact with, so when you open your hands wide and hold them high you show you are open to your prospect. When you hide them behind your back or glue them to your sides you show you are not willing to embrace the person or situation you’re in. Personality tests say that the more outgoing you are as a person, the more you tend to use your arms and the more you gesture broadly. The quieter and more introverted the less you move your arms away from your body. How do you gesture and what does it say about you?

Make it perfectly clear

We use more gestures when we’re excited or trying to communicate a difficult message. There are more than 100,000 possible hand signals using different combinations of postures, arm, and wrist or finger movements. No wonder we keep on doing that crazy hand jive! As a professional speaker, I use an enormous number of gestures. Research says lecturers make twice as many hand gestures as people who are talking one-on-one. Gesturing actually helps you access information in your brain and helps you form your messages. One night after a week on the road, my body and mind were especial­ly tired. As I began an after-dinner speech, I noticed I was having trouble thinking and wasn’t as animated as usual. This was not good news as the audience had just finished a large steak and baked potato dinner preceded and followed by an open bar. They needed every bit of moxey I could muster. I increased my animation and gestures, and suddenly had no trouble speaking the words. They came out smoothly and effortlessly, when only a moment before I was struggling and my animations energized the audience. If you are ever in a situation where you are struggling for the right word, try to move around and gesture—even a little movement will help you verbalize. Using the right hand stimulates the speech centers in the left hemisphere of the brain so you can explain things logically and rationally. Using the left hand stimulates the emotional right hemisphere, so you can communicate everything from excitement to frustration. Caution, this may be dangerous as the right hemisphere’s only accessible verbal language is cuss words!!!

Help me remember

Gesturing may even help you remember things and let your brain rest. In a study, led by Dr Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago it shows one way our gesturing helps us remember information. In the study 26 children and 32 adults who were observed to use gestures went through a five- step exercise. First, they solved age-appropriate math problems. Then they had to memorize a list of items. In the third exercise they were asked to explain how they had solved the math problems. That was a tricky part of the research, having to explain increased the amount of work their brain had to do in addition to remembering the items, after that they were tested on their recall of the memorized items. Finally, they were asked to give the explanation again, this time keeping their hands still on a tabletop, and were tested again. The research found that people who were allowed to gesture recalled on average 20 percent more items than people who were not. In a discussion of this research another author, Dr Howard Nussbaum said, “These findings suggest that gesture reduces the cognitive load of explanation, freeing capacity that can be used on a memory task at the same time," Translation gesturing frees up our brain.

Research shows bilingual people tend to use more gestures when they’re speaking in their non-dominant language. They use the gestures to help them think. So you see again if you’re having a hard time expressing a point or finding the right words to say as you speak one-on-one, using gestures lets your arms and hands help write out your message.

Not sure if your prospect or client really understands what you’re saying? Read their gestures. How would you know if someone you're talking to needs more explanation or is ready to buy? Look for a mismatch between their gestures and their words and they explained the information. If someone says they see where the interest rates will go down if they sign with your plan, but their hands gesture upwards they are confused. If your prospect is repeating a point you’ve made and the gestures don’t match, or seem out of synch with what they are saying you know you need to clarify or risk loosing the sale. If you want to know if your prospect is truly excited you can gain insight from looking at their gestures. Sometimes they will use hands to create an exclamation mark in the air, or they will do little chopping movements up and down or sideways. As always you have to look at the whole body to tell you the whole truth of a nonverbal message, because if the chopping motions are overly forceful and aren’t accompanied with a smile they should be read as symbolic weapons. They are chopping you to pieces!

So as you go out this month notice that hands talk and do the crazy hand jive!