7 Guidelines for Gesturing When You Speak

by Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

When you're giving a presentation, you're usually so concerned about what you're saying and how you're saying it that your gestures and movement around the room are the last thing on your mind. But your body language is a key part of how you'll be perceived by your audience. Here are seven tips from an experienced presenter that'll help you make sure your gestures are sending the right message.

When I coach executives who want to become more effective speakers, or when I direct a presentation skills seminar, there's one question I hear repeatedly:

 

"How should I gesture when I give a speech?"

Usually, the questioner goes on to say: "I feel awkward enough just trying to remember my speech. Then the tension escalates when I realize that my audience members are watching my movements as well as my words."

I understand the uneasiness. I experienced it myself during my first years of making presentations. As a manager who conducted staff meetings, trained volunteers, and presided over corporate functions, I fretted over my discomfort. Eventually, I discovered seven guidelines for gestures that worked for me, and now for my coaching clients. I'm glad to share them.

ONE: NEVER PLAN OR CAN A GESTURE
Speakers who plan or can gestures, rehearse them, and then insert them at the time they seemingly fit their message will resemble robots. They will appear rigid, inflexible, and out of touch with the audience.

Would you consider planning a gesture for a one-on-one conversation? Of course not. You just let gestures happen. You gesture when a hand or arm motion expresses your mood. Follow that approach when you face an audience. Listeners will consider you genuine and likable.

TWO: CHECK VIDEOTAPE TO ELIMINATE ANNOYING GESTURES
Three years ago I watched videotapes of four one-hour speeches I had given for a client. Much to my amazement, I noticed a gesture that I wasn't aware of at all--not terribly offensive as a one-time motion, but it became very annoying when I did it over and over. Soon I eliminated the problem.



So I encourage you to videotape your speeches, and select what you need
to stop doing. The camera doesn't lie. You can spot flaws and make changes.

THREE: USE GESTURES APPROPRIATE FOR YOU
Yes, we have opportunities to watch highly animated speakers who gesture with captivating vitality--candidate Barack Obama, evangelist Joel Osteen, marketing expert Terry Brock, newscaster Kiran Chetry, and success guru Tony Robbins. We think, "If that works for him or her, I'll adopt that pattern."

You'd be just as mistaken to try to copy those speakers' fingerprints. Gestures emerge from an individual's personality and communication style. Follow Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice: "Imitation is suicide. I must be myself."

FOUR: GESTURE VISIBLY ENOUGH FOR LARGER AUDIENCES
Adjust the range of your gestures to match your audience size. A gesture you use for a staff meeting of twelve people would hardly catch attention with an audience of 500, much less have impact.

FIVE: LIMIT YOUR GESTURES FOR TELEVISION INTERVIEWS
To stick within the camera range, gesture close to your body. Otherwise, you could exceed the lens boundaries.

SIX: PUT YOUR BEST FACE FORWARD
With facial expressions, it's important that you relax enough to enable your face muscles to correspond with the mood you are feeling. Here again, videotape helps. You'll learn that a spontaneous smile helps your audience enjoy your humorous comments.

SEVEN: MOVE AWAY FROM THE LECTERN OR PODIUM
There's a tendency to hold on to a lectern or podium with the same tenacity of a drowning man holding a life preserver. We fear letting go. What would happen if we drifted away?

Just this--walking away to another spot frees you to gesture. Even when I deliver convention keynote speeches, I ask my host to provide a small table for my materials and remove the lectern. Ordinarily I wander away from the table about five minutes into my speech, roaming the audience.

Try these seven gesture guidelines. You will enjoy speaking more, and your audiences will love to listen--and watch you.

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., Communication Consultant, Speech Coach, and Video Trainer, "Helping You Finish in First Place." Visit his Web site, Championship Communication. Call Dr. Lampton: 678-316-4300

 
  

 
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