Do Your Hands Hurt or Help You in Public Speaking? The Case For and Against Hand Gestures in Public Speaking Part Two.

As mentioned in my previous article, one of the most common questions I get asked when doing executive speech coaching and running courses on public speaking is what do I do with my hands?

Well, this is a much debated question.

Some coaches argue gestures should be restrained while others advise that gestures should be used for greater emphasis of impact.

There is no right or wrong answer, so I’m going to argue the case for both!

The Case For Hand Gestures in Public Speaking.

Well if you are going to use your hands in a presentation to look natural, how should you use your hands?

Visual cues to an audience really help to draw them in and help to emphasize points as well.
Firstly, it comes down to what kind of presentation you’re giving.

Secondly, what kind of presenter you are.

Thirdly, what type of audience you are speaking to.

Finally, the room set up and especially the area or platform or stage you have to present from.

1. Use Natural Gesturing Throughout Your Presentation

Try to use natural gesturing throughout your presentation because we naturally gesture with our hands.

During a normal conversation with family and friends our hands are moving around.

It looks awkward to clasp your hands together in front of you or put them in front of your belt or even worse your groin region.

That’s not a good look and probably not the best way to use your hands.

So think of a speech as an animated conversation where your energy levels are slightly higher than a normal conversation.  So what we want to do is bring your normal gestures into your speech.
So don’t be afraid to use the natural gestures that you would during a standard conversation with one of your friends. 

If you want to look natural, use natural gesturing.

Remember styles do differ depending on your personality, for example extroverted outgoing personalities tend to use very big hand gestures. Certainly your cultural background may also come into play.

On the flip-side, if you’re a shy, more reserved and introverted person and you’re using big hand gestures, it is not going to be authentic and congruent with your personality.

This could distract and take away from your message because it’s going to look unnatural because you’re not being yourself.

So be your true and authentic self. 

The whole point of gesturing is to add value to our message. So there’s no definite way that you should gesture. We have to tailor our gesturing based on our audience, based on what kind of material we’re presenting, based on who we are.

2. Impact for Important Points

Use gestures for impact on important points.

Visual cues can be effective to emphasize what you are saying.

Acting out the scene using your body will be an impactful way to engage an audience when telling a story.

For example, if you’re talking about improving performance then use that visualization. Pretend to be moving from a low base to a high base. 

Use kinaesthetic speaking and the whole stage.

If making three different points, stage left for point #1, and centre stage for point #2 stand and stage right for point #1.

You want the audience to see points 1 to 3 in a left to right view (their left to their right) because this is how people read information.

So you need to do the exact opposite as the speaker – mirroring this facing the audience – you move from your right to your left.

If you need to elaborate for any of these points just go back to the position on stage that represents the point.

This is a great technique for off the cuff speaking or speaking without any aids such as whiteboard or PowerPoint.

Do not do not try this if you have the points on a PowerPoint slide. It will just confuse the audience!
Hand gestures that are larger than the outline of your body communicate a large idea or concept. If something is really big then stretch your arms out really wide and to say this is a massive point or this is massively important. For example, the sales challenge is this big.

So if you’re using that natural gesturing but then you get creative on those important points and use visualization techniques, then that can add power, authenticity and variety to your presentation.

3. Mix It Up

Just like you want to avoid a boring monotone voice and you should have vocal variety, you should also avoid repetitive gesturing.

This can also be referred to as a non-verbal body language crutch.

Often many people are unaware they are doing it until they are told or even better see a video recording of themselves presenting.

Some body language examples:
Hands hidden so your audience can’t see your hands means it will be hard for them to trust you.
Compared to hands open and your palms at a 45-degree angle, this communicates that you are being honest and open.
Hands open with palms down sends the non-verbal message that you are certain about what you are talking about.
Palms facing each other with your fingers together often give the impression that you have expertise about what you are talking about.
Palms’ facing each other says "I'm an expert on this".
Be aware that if all your hand gestures are large and fast people will perceive that you are chaotic or out of control.

Remember though, if we are just as animated as we are in our everyday conversation then our hand gestures look small and our facial expressions look like we are not doing much at all especially if we are on a stage a long way away from the audience.

By being more animated you actually are more impactful as a speaker and convey more emotion.
So use hand gestures to project your feelings and emotions.

People remember emotions more than facts. That’s why storytelling is so powerful in a speech.

4. Congruency

Your body language must match your verbal message.

Gestures must be relevant to the phrases being used at the time, otherwise there is a danger of giving your audience conflicting messages.

Facial gestures can be most effective. For example an animated facial expression can greatly enhance your speech and help build rapport.

Mirroring and matching the body language of individuals in your audience is also a very powerful way to build audience rapport.

5. Slow Deliberate Movements

This is the most powerful way to use hand gestures.

Nothing rushed - nothing fast.

This will give you more stage presence and charisma and hence make you more believable and credible as a speaker.

Because this is often a new skill and conflicting with all the anxiety and adrenalin in your body, it takes practice to achieve this skill.

There is a lot going on in a speech.

You will be working the stage, giving a presentation, talking, trying to make eye contact, trying to give hand gestures, remembering your content, working the visuals, and mixing it up every seven minutes using the DARE principle. That’s a lot of things to do at once.

You need to practice progressively. Start by taking small steps.

It does takes practice, some say 10,000 hours to master a good speech, but over time you become better and better. If you watch yourself back on video you will see that is very normal to be more animated than less animated.

So the best rule is - if hand gestures are supporting the delivery of you message then generally they will add value to your speech. 

But if the hand gestures are taking away from the supporting of your message then generally it’s going to weaken the impact of your presentation.

As for me, I like slow and deliberate hand gestures. 

Please consider my next public speaking course on Tuesday August 12th 2014. Book here.

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