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Just say no... to the hand wringing, arm flinging, fly swatting, hand slicing (think Tony Blair) gestures. Constant hand flailing as you desperately try to make your point can totally distract your audience. Worse yet, it can send them the wrong message about YOU. We've talked an awful lot on Ginger's Public Speaking Brain Blog about body language. But let's take a specific look at hand gestures and how they can make a presentation amazing.
Uncontrolled hand gestures can be downright weird. Dr. Graeme Codrington tells of one such time...
I once watched a speaker give his whole presentation with his finger in his ear. It was only after he saw himself talking back on video that he realised he was doing it.
According to thousands of hours of research on TED Talks by the Science of People in their super fantabulous research lab...
The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures during the 18 minute talk. The most popular TED Talkers used an average of 465 hand gestures—that’s almost double!
Carol Goman, of Forbes, says “studies have found that people who communicate through active gesturing tend to be evaluated as warm, agreeable and energetic.”
Discover magazine takes it a step further...
"Gestures may help us organize our thoughts, perhaps by “chunking” or otherwise guiding them into more easily processed units. When speech planning gets hairy, gestures usher in efficiency, sparing us resources to retrieve a word from the deepest reaches of memory, or avoid a grammatical speech error, or simply put things as eloquently as we’d like."
So not only does the lovely use of gestures help the audience, it helps you as a speaker too! Now thatwe've seen some of the expert evidence, are you asking how you can improve your gestures as a speaker? Good. Because it certainly can. Hand gestures help us get our point across more than you think, AND they also help YOU think. Gesturing allows the audience to better understand what we’re trying to say, and we're seen as friendlier and warmer than people who don’t talk with their hands.
Here are Ginger's eight ways to use gestures to create a serious impact when you speak.
Simple but effective. If you have three points, make it ultra clear with a one, two, three on your digits. It allows the audience to follow your structure and remember what you said (also the rule of three). Hold your fingers out solidly at shoulder level and don't wave them around!
Want to seem authoritative and not aggressive? This gesture is for you. Waist-height slow sweep out from your arms (crossed over like an X) to arms spread out. With face down palms looking like you're smoothing a sheet, this gesture says "That's final!" Pacifying but assertive at the same time, this gesture tells it like it is.
Your hands can do more than just point. Clapping your hands or snapping your fingers at a key point in your speech can create a layer of drama and energy in your speech. Don't overdo it however, slip it under the radar as to be an accent to your words not overpower them.
When you want to create agreement from your audience, this is the perfect way. Open palm, held upwards, and then act as if you're throwing a card to an audience member. It allows the audience to involve themselves in your speech, mentally or even by answering questions.
This is one of my favourites, ideal for the precise parts of your presentation. Put your forefinger and thumb together like you were plucking a cherry. Then gesture slightly with those two fingers forward. It gives the impression of you picking out a very specific point and handing it right over to those listening.
If an emotional lift is what you're looking for, a fist clench can do that for you. It creates a powerful backdrop to phrases like "Let's be strong" or "We did it" or "We'll make this work". It's bold but if used in the right way the audience will definitely feel the power.
No, not a kids toy. A way to create all the visual aids imaginable, without needing any physical props at all. The greatest speakers can mould and shape the space around them to create amazing props for themselves. If you're telling a story about a tiny puppy, how hard is it to open your palm and refer to the cute little pooch sitting on the palm of your hand? My very favourite way of utilizing space putty is to connect different concepts. When I gesture down-left to the imaginary Rainbow Unicorn, that is where the Unicorn will be in the minds of the audience. When I gesture up-right to the Giant Blue Bunny, that's where the bunny now lives. I can come back to them, move them around, and even play with my space putty Unicorn and Bunny whenever I like. It's a great way to allow your audience to use their imagination and visualise your points.
A gesture you return to time and time again whenever your main message shows up in your speech. Think of the most important bits of your message, the ones your really want your audience to remember, and find gestures that fit. Be bold. It's a unique way to emphasise your message through gestures. An unusual gorgeous gesture will stick in the minds of those listening to you. Remember Churchill's V for victory? Powerful from his frequent use as well as how well it reinforced his message of victory. (Don't use the Tony Blair hand chop. Just don't do it.) Think of your own gesture to get your point across. It could be a starburst, closed fist to open hand, or holding your arms out to your sides in a magnanimous pose.
Whatever the gesture, you've got to sell it as authentic. If any of these gestures feel embarrassing or out of character then don't do them. Work out which ones feel right for you and your message. To get more insight, study other speakers and how they use gestures.