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Ending A Speech With The “Steeple Gesture” – And Killing It

In February of 2004 Malcolm Gladwell, gave an 18-minute speech on spaghetti sauce at a TED Conference that blew away the audience and then went viral on the web.  We know that non-verbal communication plays a huge role in delivering a break-through performance, but what did Malcolm Gladwell do that separated him from the other speakers?  It was only partly because he impressed them verbally with a well researched and thought out delivery, but can also be seen in how he ends his speech.

We have known for a long time that strong public speakers are perceived as more powerful, more intelligent, and more capable when they employ positive Kinesic cues.  This first became documented during a presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960.  Richard Nixon was seen as a higher skilled debater, and to those who listened to the debate on the radio believed that Richard Nixon had decisively beaten JFK in the debate, while those who viewed the debate on television (this was the first televised debate in history) believed that JFK had won the day.  The answer?  Kinesics.  Strong body language.

As we have talked about in other posts, we are always looking to place the people we are observing into clusters to see if they fit in with the baseline or if they are an anomaly that is present, and Kinesics is usually the domain that is most often observed.  The dominant cluster specifically, can offer us not only a window into the mind of the person displaying this type of gesture, but also some information on the dynamics of the group that is accepting this behavior.

The steeple gesture is shown by placing your hands together as if you are praying or can be modified from that form of the gesture by separating the palms but keeping the fingers in tact.  This is a form of dominant behavior because it is a form of pointing, even though it is not as direct as the drill instructor pictured here.

The steeple gesture is an indicator of confidence and an indicator of intellect.  What better way to end a speech than to show the crowd how strongly you believe in every word that you just presented to them?  At the next office meeting you have to attend, observe those around the conference table and see who is trying to assert dominance over the rest of the group, either overtly through very direct pointing, or more subtly with the steeple gesture.  Even though this is just one indicator, once you become accustomed to finding this gesture you will begin to develop your ability to quickly put those you are observing into the various clusters.

In the video in this link, Malcolm Gladwell begins displaying the steeple at the 17:10 mark of the video, and I want you to first watch the video from this point on so you can see how he ends his talk.  After talking for 18 minutes on spaghetti sauce (you will get the context for this soon) he chooses to end the speech with this gesture and you can hear the crowd begin their standing ovation before the video cuts out.

After you have picked up on the steeple gesture, go back and watch the entire video to put that gesture into context.  You will find yourself completely engaged in a talk about spaghetti sauce that will change not only how you consider your body language during a speech but also how you view the grocery store aisle.

Comments on the steeple gesture or the speech?  Let us know.

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