How To Have Effective Gestures
We talk a lot about verbal and non-verbal communication in our public speaking workshops, but what exactly is non-verbal communication? To put it simply, it’s the way you communicate through body language or gestures, and it’s a critical component of presentation skills training.
To make a gesture is to move your body in a way that reinforces a verbal message you are trying to get across. People often gesture with their head and shoulders (nodding and shrugging are both examples of gestures), but when it comes to presentations and public speaking, it’s typically the hands and arms that do the bulk of the gesturing.
Gesturing is a very important part of public speaking
Gesturing should be purposeful and deliberate; you can always tell an inexperienced speaker by the way he moves his hands (or doesn’t move his hands, as the case may be). Dead giveaways are hands in the pockets, behind the back, or—to the other extreme—waving them wildly, which is very distracting.
Here’s the truth: Your audience is judging you and your message not only by what you say, but how you say it—and that means your body language. People most remember what they see (as opposed to what they hear), which makes the gestures you use even more important. If you want your presentation to stick with your audience, make what they see as interesting and stimulating as what they hear.
So what can you do? How can you gesture effectively? The first thing you should know is it’s difficult to ignore a moving subject. Standing at a podium reading from prepared notes will have your audience yawning in no time. Instead, move around and use your hands to emphasize the key points in your presentation. Make eye contact and smile warmly.
Practice is fundamental to mastering public speaking skills, and that includes gesturing. So remember as you practice your next presentation (you are practicing, right?) to include a few appropriate gestures—ones that will add value and place an emphasis on what you’re saying.
Here are some presentation tips to keep in mind:
Stop fidgeting. Tapping your fingers, running your hand through your hair, jingling the change in your pocket—these are all examples of fidgeting that will take away from your presentation by distracting your audience. (It’s difficult to ignore a moving subject, remember?) Instead, stride across the stage or presentation area with your head up and shoulders back. Move your hands in a way that co-ordinates with the words you are speaking.
Act naturally. Waving your hands and arms erratically is not natural behavior—most people don’t do it in everyday conversation, so don’t do it during a presentation. Consider the gestures you make when you talk to family and friends. When you are trying to identify something to another person, for example, you might point. That’s a natural behavior and therefore is an appropriate gesture to use in a presentation. A good rule of thumb is to let your gestures come naturally as part of your feelings on the subject you are speaking about. You can’t practice everything.
Look the part. How you hold your body sends a message to your audience. Leaning on the podium, folding your arms across your chest, and shifting your weight from foot to foot will not make you appear very confident or engaging (and you probably won’t feel it, either). These positions also do nothing for your delivery. You want your voice to come out clear and smooth. Standing in a slouched position will make you look and sound uninteresting. But standing with your feet hip width apart, with one foot positioned slightly ahead of the other looks poised. Balance your weight evenly on the balls of your feet, relax your shoulders (without letting them droop), and let you arms hang naturally at you sides. Take a few deep breaths and you’re ready to begin.
Never underestimate the power of effective gesturing; how you move your body adds personality to your presentation and can be far-reaching. Make a habit of observing how others use gestures and how it affects their message, then set up a camera as you practice your next presentation and evaluate the gestures you use. Are they adding or taking away from what you’re saying?