Use of gestures when public speaking : 5 things to do

by | Nov 2, 2018

This is often a highly debated topic during discussions of public speaking. What do I do with my hands? Do I move them or not? Do I keep them in my pockets? What should I do?

Rule of thumb:

Too much of anything is distracting. So, too much of walking across the stage, too many pauses, too much of eye gaze, too much of moving hands is not recommended.

And neither is standing still, fixated in position, with hands tightly held in one position, recommended.

I personally think the use of gestures and hand movements are relevant to the context. Here are the following scenarios and suggestions. Always remember to warm up before you start talking, so that your shoulders are nice and relaxed, and down. We tend to raise our shoulders and make more movements when tensed/anxious/excited, so ensure you do some shoulder rolls & shoulder drops to keep them nice and relaxed.

Standing and speaking at a lectern:

Your hands should ideally be around your chest height, and moving at times.

Resist the urge to lean on the lectern and fold your hands and resting it there. Once you do that, your posture and demeanour and the rest of the presentation style changes. Rest it there for a short while, if you must. But do not lean on the lectern

Standing and speaking on a stage:

This can be done with or without a handheld mic. If you are holding a mic on one hand, hold the hold with your non-dominant hand and use the other to gesture to the slides, if you have any.

If you have no mic to hold, and have free range of movements, here are things to avoid

  • Nil hands in pockets
  • Nil folded hands behind your back
  • Nil hands on hips
  • Nil hands adjusting hair ( LADIES!)

What you should do instead:

  1. Welcome the audience with your arms outstretched in front of you, when saying hello. ( Imagine an opera singer, that is what you want to do at the start with your hands, to welcome your audience and make them feel included).
  2. Make small circular movements when talking
  3. Gesture, refer to slides when talking.
  4. When asking a question to the audience, pose it to them, and have your hands wide open ( as at the beginning ). It is a somewhat vulnerable position to hold when posing questions, but a good one too, as it will invite the audience to feel safe and comfortable to ask a question.
  5. Lastly, remember to use natural gestures, as you would when speaking. Some cultures use more gestures than others when communicating. So learn about your audience first, before you engage in a presentation.

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