The technique of anchoring to emphasise decisions, contrasts and progressions

Some talks are as clear as mud.  The speaker pops from one point to another, jumping scenarios until they merge into a verbal custard, swilling around in your head.

2011 research published by the American Psychological Association shows that gesture is vital in helping an audience understand and absorb content.

Using movement provides a second channel of communication for the listener and adds to the conviction of the speaker.

Here’s one way of driving your point home through your movement.


Using Anchoring to clarify your message

One way to help you use movement to clarify your message in meetings or presentations is to use anchoring.

In anchoring, you ‘place’ one aspect to one side, and a contrasting one to another.

For example, let’s say you’re talking about the past.  When you refer to that, you’ll place your hands to your right but to the left when you take us to the future.

You can use this gestural clarity, whether you’re discussing ‘you’ and then the ‘competitor’; your online business and the stores; the Marketing Department before you cover the IT department.  You can apply this technique to dilemmas, advantages and disadvantages and ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenarios.


Now see anchoring in action

This is Neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, in his Ted Talk, How To Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed.

At 3.42 minutes in, he’s about to describe the technique of a ‘prospective hindsight’, which involves preparing for a situation which may not happen. At this point, he remarks that some of the approaches of prospective hindsight are obvious.

Then he adds, that some aren’t.  Notice the gesture here that counterbalances the previous one.

This emphasises the opposite.

If Levitin were to talk about the obvious methods he may even move to one side, and to the other side with the less obvious ones.


Here’s the remarkable Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, demonstrating a compelling piece of storytelling as she shares her personal experience of fleeing a forced marriage.

At around 6.50 seconds, in this clip, she’s describing the moment when she’d run away from home.

After being tracked down by a police officer, she was presented with the choice to return home and marry or stay away and be disowned by her family.

The gesture here emphasises the dilemma that determined the rest of Jasvinder’s lifepath.


Here at about 3.50, Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s Prime Minister, talks about how careful the nation is in using its limited resources.  He then moves to mark the contrast of the need for development, and the challenge that sets for Bhutan.


The movement highlights the dichotomy of economic development one side and the increasing pollution on the other.





So you can see how gesture and movement help distinguish content.  There are no big theatrics here, only a subtle and effective way of demarcating your content in a way that keeps your audience with you.

In presentation skills training, this technique is often a support for clients as it helps them to ‘see’ what they’re saying and, thereby, keep track, rather than find themselves digressing.

Your Action:

  1. When you need to make an important point, consider if there is a contrast.
  2. Once you’ve ascertained the contrast, consciously distinguish it by:
    • using gesture to park one aspect to one side and the another on the opposite side or
    • moving to the left or right to distinguish the content
  3. Here’s a 3.5 minute video of me showing you the technique of anchoring.


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