Simple Jury Persuasion: Stand up straight but avoid gesturing with your hands in front of the jury!
Just in time for the New Year—we have breaking news in research about how to achieve success and stay on message. First, Mom was right (again)! Stand up straight! And stop talking so much with your hands! It’s distracting.
While Mom was right about that first one (stand up straight!) she was wrong about the reasons we want you to rein in the second one. But let’s leave Mom alone and get to the research.
New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows the importance of posture. We’ve written before about ‘power poses’ and this research is an extension of that work.
The researchers in this case found that if you use “posture expansiveness” (positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space) you activate a sense of power within yourself. Your physical positioning thus communicates with your brain and you behave more confidently, powerfully and believably.
Thus, your presentation in front of the jury will be more purposeful, confident and (hopefully) more convincing.
A second pair of researchers out of the University of Chicago focused on both how action affects thought and their prior work on gesturing. They had participants explain to each other how they moved the stacked disks in the Tower of Hanoi game from one peg to another. It is almost impossible to explain this without using your hands. Then they changed the weight of the disks so that some participants could only use one-handed gestures to explain the process. They found that the act of gesturing actually changed how the participants were thinking and solving the puzzle. Those who could only use one hand (due to the heaviness of the weights) were slower to explain the game to each other. “Gestures make the thought concrete, bringing movement to the activity going on in your mind.”
Now this one is tricky. If gesturing makes your thoughts evolve and modify—it might also make it hard to stay on message at trial. You want to be careful about how you use gesturing. Perhaps it is fine for explaining physical movements of objects—as an illustrator. But it may be better to minimize your physical hand movements while doing your opening and closing statements to stay on message.
So watch your hand gestures to stay on message and position yourself to take up space and activate your power. (Unless you are sharing an airplane row with me, in which case you will only activate my sense of irritation and desire to whack you.)
Susan Goldin-Meadow, & Sian L. Beilock (2010). Action’s Influence on Thought: The Case of Gesture. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5 (6)
Huang L, Galinsky AD, Gruenfeld DH, & Guillory LE (2011). Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior? Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22 (1), 95-102 PMID: 21149853