A Guide To The Hand Gestures That Could Make Or Break Your Next Meeting

Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens to a question from a reporter during a press conference. Paul Kane-Pool/ Getty

A person’s body language can be a clear indicator of how they are feeling – and how they feel about you.

So it’s important to know the do’s and don’ts of hand gestures, and how to use them appropriately in meetings to ensure you are always portraying the image you want.

Business Insider spoke to Professor Allan Pease, an expert in body language, about the hand gestures that could make or break your next meeting.

“People form up to 90% of their (first) impression in under four minutes,” and hand gestures play a significant part in how this impression is created, says Pease.

According Pease, “60-80% of all face to face communication happens non-verbally”. Because hand movements are one of the easiest body language movements to read, where you place your hands and how you move them can have a significant impact on the meeting outcome.

We asked Pease to list the important hand gestures that should and should not be used in a business meeting. Here’s what he said.


  • Talk with you palms facing in an upward position. Doing this, so that people can see the inside of your hand, dramatically increases “the degree of trust of what you are saying,” says Pease. People will also more often associate this hand gesture with the adjectives of “friendly, laid back, easy going.”

    “The reason behind this is because it’s a primal instinct, says Pease, “to should they show they are not concealing anything in you hands or arms.

    “It is hardwired into us, it’s a survival thing. You are being open and not threatening… It has a soothing affect on people.”

  • Place your elbows on the outside of the chairs arms when sitting in a chair during a meeting. According to Pease, people of high authority assume this position because it alludes authority and confidence. “Elbows on the outside (of the chair) creates an atmosphere that your relaxed and you don’t feel intimidated. Where as if your are nervous or up tight they keep their elbows in beside their ribs as a form of protection.”
  • Keep hand gestures no higher than your chin when talking or listening. This body language not only maintains authority, says Pease, but more importantly “you’ll feel more authoritative.”
  • Keep your hand vertical when shaking hands to create rapport. This neutral position, as well as maintaining an even pressure, will create a good first impression. The vertical hand presents you as an equal, not overpowering or submissive, says Pease.
  • Use powerful gestures such as “the steeple”. This gesture looks “almost like you’re praying, where the fingertips come together, makes you look and feel confident”, says Pease.
  • DON’T:

  • Talk with your palms facing down. According to a test done by Pease, “people recall up to 40% less. And remember you in harsher terms: authoritative, pushy, aggressive” when you use this body language.
  • Point. “The rule is you can point at things, not people… You can point with your hand or a pen.” In the same test by Pease “No one could remember much of what the finger pointer said and just didn’t like that person… It is like having a small stick and you’re hitting someone with it”, says Pease.
  • Talk with your hands higher than your chin. The higher above your chin, “the less credibility people perceive you’ve got”, says Pease.
  • Splay your fingers. “For those who don’t feel confident, when they use their hand they spread their fingers.

    “Perhaps is comes down to ancient primal signal that you’ve got nothing, and you’re totally unthreatening,” says Pease. But in a business meeting when you are trying to appear successful and confident, it is not a signal you want to give off.

  • Put your hands behind your back, in your pockets or crossed in front of yourself. According to Pease these are three big no-nos. “If your palms are out of sight, people get suspicious. You ancient brain is saying ‘Why is this person not showing me they’re unarmed?'”
  • Handshake with both your hands over the other persons “Never give a double-handed (handshake) on a first meeting – ever,” Pease says. “This is because you want people to feel accepting of you and not intimidated. By using two hands you are taking control.”
  • But most importantly gestures must only be used in sync with what you are saying. Hand movements are great way to aid what you are communicating but only if it is reinforcing what you are saying.

    Pease says it is a common observation that “The lower a person’s vocabulary, the more hand and arm movements they use” and therefore should only be used at the appropriate time.

    Watch Allan Pease’s TEDx Talk here.

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