“According to a classic 1968 study by A. Mehrabian in Psychology Today, only 7 percent of an initial impression is based on what's said. 38 percent is based on style of speech and 55 percent on body language.”
Just what is body language? It is carriage, facial expressions, eye contact and gestures. All go into establishing your presence and making a connection with however your speaking with. Gestures can be made with your hands, arms, shoulder, torso, legs, feet or a combination of these but hand gestures are probably the most common.
Since body language movements are done at a subconscious level, they can often reveal things to others before a conversation is even started. These non-verbal cues are picked up on by the observer and they interpret them based on their experience. This process is a two way street, at the same time the observer becomes the observed. The importance of body language has been noticed, not only by scientists, but also individuals who seek to gain from it. Throughout our social experience we are continually processing and giving off non-verbal cues.
"Cartoon Animation" by Preston Blair
Noticing how people walk, how they carry themselves and how their faces appear during the day can provide you with many clues. Even though they may be sending the wrong signals, you should still take note of them so you can assess situations more confidently instead of relying on the perceptions of others.
"When we're speaking, we're thinking in two forms simultaneously," the study noted. "Speech and gesture are one system. Gesture is a hand movement that is as much a part of language as speech." The same Chicago study claimed that speaking without gesturing could cause an audience to miss large chunks of your presentation (Animation).
One key to enlarging gestures is to start them from the shoulder. Wrist or elbow gestures are automatically smaller and tend to be limited in their variety, too. In fact, this is the single most common problem that drives people to "repetitive gesturing." If you keep making the same gesture, it rapidly becomes meaningless. The misguided feedback becomes "Stop talking with your hands!" The better feedback would be to start really talking with your hands-to make your hands more powerful and expressive.
Next, make sure your gestures are high enough. Low gestures draw the eyes of the audience down and away from the face. They become distractions. If you watch for it, you can sometimes catch people doing a vague imitation of penguins, with their hands flipping about at their waists. Penguins can be cute, but they're not good animators.
You can also use hand gestures by using them to respond. Introduce humor by contradiction between your gestures and your words. Where appropriate look for opportunities to use your hands to express emotion or attitude, emphasize importance, demonstrate relationship or contrast, show shape, direction or location and signal recognition, acceptance, departure, or approval.
Hand gestures can be used to emphasize the stucture of your dialogue, This represents the best use of hand gestures and you should avoid using gestures as decorations. You can accentuate your point of view with a solid, intentional gesture and emphasize main points with deliberate gestures. Use your hands to indicate a new topic or transition with a forward or open gesture. Finally, signal the ending with a gesture indicating closure or departure.
Lastly, here are several common "gotchas" that you should be aware of.
- Avoid using the same hand gesture over and over in a pumping action
- Refrain from copying others, the best gestures are unique to you
- One-handed gestures are often more effective than both hands mirroring each other
- Gestures are a physical activity, you can not learn to do them by reading