With body language, the power is in the palm of your hands

March 9, 2015

With just a wave of his palm, Allan Pease was able to convince his audience to follow his instructions. No, he was not using the force, at least not in the Star Wars sense. From his TEDx Talk however, we find out that when speaking to an audience, the way in which we orient our palms can dramatically alter the way that the audience perceives us. Not only that, but palm orientation also affects audience memory and retention.

What is so special about our palms? According to Pease, speaking with palms down implies authority. He traces this back to the origins of the handshake. The ancient Romans used to lock hands, with the stronger man pushing his hand on top of the other’s.

People who spoke with their palms up on the other hand, were perceived as more trustworthy and friendly. Interestingly, people who used their pointer finger when presenting were perceived the most negatively. I guess there’s some truth in the idea that it’s rude to point at others.

Pease also highlights that retention of the speaker’s presentation varied based on the person’s palm orientation. Audiences tended to remember more from people who spoke with their palms up than their palms down. Not surprisingly, they remembered the least from people who used their pointer finger.

Though most may not want to seem authoritarian at first, there are times when one may want to appear so, such as during emergencies. Context is important in changing between palms up or down, for during a earthquake or fire, giving orders with palms down may be the best option to facilitate decisive action.

Ultimately, Pease’s Ted Talk should be a message not to underestimate the importance of body language in our day to day interactions. If small changes in the way we orient in hands can have a large impact on our social interactions, then it is probable that we also pick up other even more subtle cues. We may not be able to use the force, but who needs it when we can harness body language?

–Alex Chin, Winter Intern