Put Your Hands In The Air And Wave Them Like You Don’t Care…

To Wave Or Not To Wave, That Is The Question…
To Wave Or Not To Wave, That Is The Question…

If you’ve ever gotten any training on how to give a speech, the instructor probably told you that if used correctly, hand gestures can be a powerful tool. However, as with all such things in life, do you think that it’s possible to use this tool just a bit too much? Where should a speaker draw the line?

The History Of The Hand Gesture

So just where did the idea of using hand gestures to give some more “oomph” to a speech come from? Well, there are a lot of different ideas but the one that seems to hold the most weight is the one that reminds us that PA systems are a relatively new invention.

What this means is that back in the day a speaker might not be able to be heard by some (or most) of their audience. At least not everything that they’d say. Clearly this was a problem. In order to at least partially solve this problem, speakers started to use outsized hand gestures in order to clearly convey the emotion of the words that that they were speaking at the time.

This means that if you were getting angry about something, while you said the words you’d go ahead and start to punch the air in front of you with your fist. This meant that even the people sitting back in the “cheap seats” would get the point that you were ticked off about something.

In all honesty this made a lot of sense. Public speaking got its start in the theatrical productions that were popular back in the day. Speaking for a long time was simply a form of acting.

The Day That The Hand Gesture Died

Well, ok, it didn’t really die. However, the arrival of the ability to amplify a speaker’s voice by using a PA system changed the nature of public speaking forever. All of a sudden, those wild hand gestures were no longer needed – everyone could hear you and it was your words that counted, not your hand gestures.

This has all led to where we find ourselves today. Instead of attempting to appear as though we are putting on a one man (or one woman) stage production, what we are all trying to do is find ways to come across as being as authentic as possible. This means that we’ve done away with the windmilling of the arms and instead started to focus more on the words that we say.

This isn’t to say that hand gesture are no longer an important part of the toolkit that a speaker has to work with. The trick is to know when and how to use them.

A hand gesture should never come across as being a forced action. Instead it should bubble up and be interpreted by your audience as a natural extension of what you are saying. It should fit the moment and help to make your point.

What All Of This Means For You

When you watch the video of old-time political leaders, we often have to laugh to ourselves when we see the wild hand gestures that they used. However, if we realize that the reason for those gestures was because more people could see them than hear them, it all starts to make sense.

The days of the big hand gestures have gone away; however, that doesn’t mean that hand gestures are not still a powerful tool for a public speaker. You just need to be careful how you go about using them. In the end, your hand gestures should be as authentic as your speech is.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills

Question For You: Do you think hand gestures are appropriate to use when you have a small audience?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Communicator Blog is updated.

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

What is the purpose of having you create a speech, practice it until you have got it “just right”, and then go through the mental and physical challenge of actually delivering the speech? Hmm, perhaps our purpose for going through all of this effort should always be the same – we want to change the world.