6 Hand Gestures for the Ultimate Professional…and 4 to Never-Ever Use

In the business world, you’ll run into a lot of opportunities to make you look like the ultimate professional…or the ultimate ignoramus. Your body language has a lot to do with this; if you’re making gestures that project confidence people will probably find you attractive. If you’re making gestures that make you look weak, flawed, or just plain stupid, those won’t help either.

So we’ve prepared a rundown for you: here are six gestures that will make you look more powerful, and four to never, ever do.

1. Show two things being brought together by bringing your hands together.

If you say something like “we focus on design that people find useful” raise your left hand when you say “design”, your right when you say “people” and bring them together. Sounds cheesy, but it works.

2. Help your audience keep track of your explanations by using one hand to represent one thing and the other to represent the other, and move them as such.

So if you’re talking about strategy 1 (left hand) and strategy 2 (right hand) it’s easier for you audience to understand what you’re talking about by using the assigned hand when you’re talking about that strategy.

3. Emphasize emotional statements by placing hand over heart.

This would be appropriate when you say something like “This means so much to me.”

4. Use your hands to show importance of things.

For a minor issue, use your thumb and forefinger to show how tiny it really is.. Use both hands spread wide when you’re talking about a big issue.

5. Show the number with your fingers when you say a number.

This helps your audience stay focused and brings back those who might be mentally wandering. For example, “We have three major issues to address today.” Hand up in the number 3.

6. Use the dialectic.

This gesture is so hard to describe that I am going to point you to this Wired article that has a GIF of it. You’ll recognize it: it’s used by TED talk speakers and pros around the world. It’s a slight claw-into-spin-of-the-wrist-ending-with-academic-flourish. It’s spellbinding and you can use it for emphasis on practically anything. Just don’t, as with any of these gestures, overuse it.

So there are your six to keep you looking like a pro. Here are the four to avoid at all costs:

1. Self-touch: the equivalent of thumb-sucking for adults.

People who are uncomfortable will often start rubbing their arm or leg or even their face to self-soothe. Don’t do that.

2. Don’t. Fidget.

As a chronic fidgeter when I have had too much coffee I totally understand, but fidgeting basically states “I’m insecure right now, and I have to find something to do to distract myself.”

3. Keep your hands out of your pockets.

While it may feel natural to you to put your hands in your pockets, in a professional setting it can project nervousness. Clasp your hands in front of or behind you, or if you must go for the pockets try hooking your thumbs into them instead of putting your hands fully in your pockets.

4. Shoulder shrugging:

it’s super-common for one shoulder to rise up slightly while you’re talking to someone, but it projects a lack of self-confidence. Try to keep your shoulders level.

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