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Unexpected ways that gestures can up your leadership communication

Gestures can support seven specific areas that can cause a change not only in your thoughts but how others respond to you as a leader, writes Frankie Kemp.

5 min read



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The one thing you don’t want is for others to misinterpret your intentions or form an inaccurate impression of you. However, it’s not merely how others perceive you; your nonverbal communication also impacts how you perceive yourself. Like a mirror reflecting our inner state, our gestures reveal confidence, authenticity and even vulnerability.

There is a glut of reasons why you need to pay attention to gestures. 

Consider this: 2006 research published in Psychological Science revealed that it takes as little as a tenth of a second for someone to form an impression of you — before you even open your mouth. That initial glance, that fleeting moment, sets the stage for all subsequent interactions.

Now, let’s delve into the seven compelling reasons why paying attention to gestures is essential for effective leadership communication:

  1. Become more trusted: Using matching techniques with a conversation partner increases likeability and rapport. A 2009 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology concluded that individuals liked and trusted those who physically mirrored them, either through gesture or posture. A further analysis of TED speakers involving 900 volunteers watching hours of talks showed that the most highly rated speakers used more gestures. Speakers who gestured more were viewed as warm, agreeable and energetic as opposed to those who used little or no gestures, who were viewed as logical, cold and analytical.
  2. Dispel nervous energy: When you have adrenaline coursing around your veins, it’ll often make you shake.  If you’ve had to present, you may well remember this sensation. It’s a very primal response to the threat that sits in our old limbic brain, telling us to either freeze or run from danger: not so practical in the middle of a pitch. Gesturing will not only make you look more confident when you’re not but also shake off the nervous energy.
  3. Be more succinct: If you tend to let words tumble out your mouth in some random order, studies have revealed that gesturing can help you order your thoughts. This can apply even when you know how to organize your communication. ‘Seeing’ these thoughts through gesture makes packaging them easier. Not only do we formulate our thinking as we gesture, but movements help us express these thoughts.
  4. Increase problem-solving capacity: If you get stuck trying to find a solution to an issue, move. A 2019 study by the University of Texas found that students who gestured outperformed students who didn’t. Previous research with young children on problem solving has backed this up, in which those who used gestures in math lessons gained a deeper understanding of the problems they’re taught.
  5. Increase your self-confidence: The study by Amy Cuddy and Dana Carney showed the relationship between confidence and posture by conducting experiments around so-called ‘power posing,’ now called ‘postural feedback.’  Experiments confirmed that when individuals privately adopt a pose associated with a memory, the hormone balance changes in as little as two minutes.  If the experience associated is positive, testosterone increases, boosting a sense of power.  At the same time, cortisol, the stress hormone, plummets. This is so powerful that the study found that those who ‘power pose’ privately before a meeting, interview or presentation convey more charisma, presence and confidence than those who don’t.
  6. Achieve more credibility and presence:  Research shows that when 900 people rated the credibility and trustworthiness of CEOs on their IPO roadshows — without listening to what they were saying — those who used more gestures attracted higher valuations of their companies. The more effective ones used gestures between the naval and the chin which is the area termed by Carmine Gallo as the ‘Power Sphere.’ They also used more frequent eye contact. The eyes of the weaker CEOs would either be darting around the room or looking at the slides. Hence, gesture increases how credible you look to others, especially when leveled around the ‘power sphere.’
  7. Be seen as fair: Social connection is vital to humans and social inclusion hurts. How you use your body language will make or break this. Looking at a few people and excluding others while talking or leaning back uninterested when certain people speak can all be seen as ‘micro-aggression.’  However, some are intentionally disruptive where such behavior may have the intended effect. Research by Naomi Eisenberger at UCLA found that when players of a video game felt excluded while playing, this affected the area of the brain associated with physical pain.  Even though it was their avatars and not the players themselves who were excluded, the players felt ‘snubbed’ by the other avatars. Being aware of facial and physical gestures as well as body orientation will increase the likelihood of others feeling included. 

Using intentional gestures yields a host of benefits. By focusing on your body language, you can enhance your problem-solving abilities, dissipate nervous energy, trim unnecessary verbosity, build trust, boost self-confidence, increase inclusivity and project greater credibility and presence. These improvements ripple across both your professional and personal life, fostering better relationships and enhancing your overall communication skills.


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