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The Brilliance Behind Donald Trump’s Wild Hand Gestures

April 30, 2016, 12:00 PM UTC
Photograph by David McNew—AFP/Getty Images

Much has been said about Donald Trump’s arsenal of hand gestures. In one speech, Bloomberg counted “73 distinct motions,” coining them “The Bunny,” “The Claw,” “The Forehead Tattoo” and “Pocket Rockets.”

Whether or not you support the GOP presidential hopeful, Trump’s dynamic gestures make him more entertaining to watch and his messages more memorable.

Take for instance a speech he gave earlier this month in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania. As Trump discussed immigration, particularly “the migration” from the Middle East, he sweeped his hands boldly and pointed down as he referred to the “thousands and thousands of people coming here.” Trump went on to say “they’re putting them all over the country,” drawing a floating circle for his audience before stretching his hand out and vowing, “Don’t worry about it we’ll build a wall.”


And there you have it: in a 20-second stretch, his gestures conjured up an image, punctuated key words and that looked natural, authentic and spontaneous.

Of course, Trump is not the only politician who knows how to speak with his hands. In 2008, people began talking about how then-presidential candidate Barack Obama kept putting his index finger against his thumb and jabbing a bit whenever he delivered an important point. The New York Times declared it his signature gesture, one that suggested he had a handle on the finer points of a topic.

So the lesson is gestures are worth investing in: researchers recently looked at hundreds of hours of TED talks and found that there was a correlation between the number of hand gestures and how well people rated their talks.

Gesturing naturally and often makes speakers look confident and sound more interesting. Try it. Read a line from a book out loud while gesturing or illustrating your words; you are more likely to emphasize more words and pause in between lines, making your words more memorable to your audience . What’s more, gesturing helps you feel more relaxed and less nervous when speaking publicly just as other natural movements like walking can help.

So how do you get it right? Here are four tips:

Keep your hands handy

The #1 question I get from my clients is “where do I put my hands?” My answer: Don’t have them hang awkwardly at your sides, tucked in pockets or hidden behind your back. You have hands, use them! To make it easy: Hold them waist level in a resting position — not clenched. Rather, have your hands losely folded up or down, or finger tips touching so they are available to use naturally.

Time it right

If you are giving a presentation and planning to use a specific gesture to help make a point, videotape yourself and make sure you start the move just before you say your key word or line. For instance, if you want to say “we need to head straight down the middle,” you would naturally bring your arm up on the word “to” before extending it.

Do it strategically

Illustrate your words but not every word. The point of gesturing on a key word or thought is to make it stand out; to dramatize it and make it memorable. Gesturing provides an image and if you combine image and text it doubles the time people remember. Gesturing on every sentence is like bold facing everything in a Word document. Nothing really stands out, so be strategic!

Line it up

Finally, align your gestures with your eye contact and body direction. That is what we do naturally. Otherwise, it looks inauthentic, staged, even manipulative. And that’s not a winning move for politicians, or for the rest of us.

Mary Civiello is President of Civiello Communications Group.