The Power Of Effective Gestures

Gestures are an important part of any speech that you give
Gestures are an important part of any speech that you give
Image Credit: John Ragai

With a little luck, by now we all know that gestures are an important part of any speech that we give. What we do with our arms, hands, face, etc. support the importance of public speaking and can either help or hinder the message that we are delivering to our audience. That’s why it’s so amazing that a lot of us just don’t quite know what to do with our arms when we are speaking. We either don’t use them (bad) or we flap them around wildly (worse). Can anyone tell us just exactly how we can go about making effective gestures?

It’s All About The Base

When we start to talk about gestures and how best to include them in a speech. our conversation needs to start by dealing with the question of what you should be doing with your arms when you are NOT making gestures. This is why we need to establish a base for your arms – a place that they can start from when you are going to be making a gesture and a place where they can return to when you are done making the gesture.

The best base for your arms is for you to allow them to dangle at your sides. Pretend that you are at a tailor and you are being fitted for a suit – this will give you a mental impression of how you are supposed to look. If it helps you to keep your hands in this position, you can gently rest your thumbs on the side of your leg. For some people, this contact helps to sooth their nerves.

When it comes time to make a gesture, you are going to have to make some effort to be seen. I like to tell my students that they are dealing with a giant 68″ HDTV that is right in front of their face. Within the frame of this TV, they need to make all of their gestures. This means that they are going to have to lift their arms up and push them out from their body. By doing this they ensure that the people in the back of the room will be able to see each of their gestures.

How To Make Effective Gestures

Once we know what to do with our arms when we’re not making gestures and we know where to make our gestures when we are making them, we next need to take a look at how to effectively make gestures. One of the things that we often don’t spend enough time thinking about are the things that we should not be doing. These are just as important as the things that we should be doing.

One thing that we need to remember to not do when we are making gestures is to point at our audience. Since we can never really tell who is in our audience, we don’t know what part of the world they might come from. In different cultures, pointing with various fingers is considered to be rude. Instead, when you need to make a pointing gesture, use your whole hand – an open hand with fingers extended. You can’t offend anyone this way.

It can be very tempting to sit down and attempt to script out your gestures. You really don’t want to do this. The reason is because if you attempt to perform the same gestures the same way each time that you give a speech, your audience is going to pick up on this. What’s going to happen is that your scripted gestures are going to make you look stiff and it’s going to cut down on your immediacy with your audience.

Finally, you don’t want to gesture too much. Remember that every time that you make a gesture, you are going to be causing your audience to take their attention off of you and what you are saying while they watch your gesture. While some of this can be good, too much can be distracting. Even worse, if you end up confusing your audience with all of your arm waving, then you will have effectively erased the benefits of gesturing for your speech.

What All Of This Means For You

So I’ve got some good new and some bad news for you. The good news is that you can make your next speech even more effective by using the benefits of public speaking and including some gestures. The bad news is that if you do your gestures wrong, you’ll end up taking away from the message that you are trying to deliver.

One of the most important things to work out when you are going to be including gestures in a speech is where your base is. This is where you’ll store your arms when you are not using them. The easiest place to put them is down by your sides. When you do go to make gestures, make them up high so that the people in the back of the room can see them. When you’re making gestures don’t point at your audience because that could be taken as being rude. Don’t script your gestures or you’ll come across as being stiff and don’t gesture too much or you might confuse your audience.

Your audience wants you to make gestures during your next speech. If you don’t then you’ll just be standing there and that will be boring for everyone. However, your gestures need to support what you are saying and you need to pick which ones to make and when to make them very carefully. Get good at making gestures and your next speech could be amazing!

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

Question For You: What do you think is the best way to determine if you have too many gestures in your speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I can tell you that as a speaker, every time that I take the stage, deep down inside of me I am desperately hoping that I’ll be good enough this time to hold on to my audience’s attention during the length of my speech and show them the importance of public speaking. The good new is that sometimes this does happen; however, the bad news is that sometimes it does not. What I am always looking for is a way to grab my audience’s attention and I think that I may have found it: use a song.