Remember the last time you felt anger? Your facial muscles where tense and your gestures and posture expressed anger. Did you notice what happened with your body? If you feel the emotion, your gestures just happen. However if you try to display certain emotions with particular gestures included artificially, it will look very unnatural.
Imagine a shy man with a very soft voice and low energy showing broad gestures because he wants to appear confident. How does it look? Unnatural! When you are really energetic, try to stand still and not to gesture. It’s very difficult and even if you manage to do so it will look unnatural. Everything that looks unnatural is perceived as insincere. Everything insincere breaks the connection with your audience and it kills your speech.
If I were to give you the single tip that can significantly improve gestures of any speaker it will be this: “Never use rehearsed gestures. Let the emotions drive your gestures. Feel the emotions and your gestures will just happen.”
Of course at the beginning many of your gestures may not look all that great. You need to analyze them and make sure that you are following the best practices described below. After a while, you won’t need to check to see if you are using these best practices because they will come naturally to you.
Gesture in all dimensions
Many speakers gesture just in front of them and below their chest. All of them are dramatically limiting their potential for gestures.
You can point at something behind your back. You can point at something on the floor. You can try to reach the sky with your hands. Don’t limit yourself to gestures that you’ve seen other speakers use. You can gesture in 360 degrees and if you truly want to be memorable to your audience members, perform different gestures.
The size of your gestures depends on the size of the audience
When you speak one on one with your manager, friend or relative, you make small gestures. One person is a very small audience. However if you speak to 1000 people, your gestures should be broad, voice louder and with a higher energy level. Use bigger gestures for a bigger audience and smaller gestures for smaller audiences.
Resting positions for your hands
One common question I receive is this: “Andrii, what should I do with my hands when I am not gesturing?”
Well, what do you do with your hands when you are walking, or talking to your friend? That’s right! Your hands naturally hang alongside your body. This is the only resting position that’s acceptable in public speaking.
Yes, it may be a bit uncomfortable at the beginning. When you don’t gesture and your hands are in this position, you feel a bit awkward and feel an urge to do something with them. This position displays confidence. This position is natural and you need to practice staying in this position. Later, it will become natural for you.
You may hear from some public speaking trainers that it’s acceptable to hold your hands at the level of your stomach with your fingers touching each other and creating a pyramid. If you hear this, run! There are many trainers who teach public speaking and they can’t speak well themselves.
Don’t gesture constantly
The key to being dynamic on stage is contrast. Change everything you can to avoid being boring. Make different gestures, but also don’t repeat them. If you gesture all the time, you diminish their value.
Whenever you need to support your point, make a gesture. When you don’t, keep your hands in the resting position. Presentation is a combination of your words and pauses and of your gestures or lack of them. Your speech may look in the following way: gesture, resting position, gesture, resting position.
Use asymmetric gestures on occasion
Some speakers do only symmetrical gestures, gestures where both hands symmetrically do the same thing. To add contrast and variety to your speech do gestures that are symmetrical, do gestures that are not symmetrical, do gestures with only one hand. Once you add variety to your gestures, you will become one-step closer to mastering the magic of public speaking and becoming one of the best speakers in the world.
Make broad and open gestures
No matter what the size of the audience, no matter what you speak about, your gestures should be broad and open. When your gestures are open, you look like a person who has nothing to hide. It helps to connect you with the audience. When your gestures are broad, it means you are confident in what you are saying. It makes you look like a person who it is worth listening to!
Use an open hand to point at your audience
Have you ever heard this from your Mom: “Don’t point at a stranger?” Have you ever experienced a speaker pointing their finger at you? How did you feel? Correct, you felt accused! It’s an uncomfortable feeling.
When somebody points at you, you feel accused and this gesture is perceived as aggressive, even if the speaker has only good intentions. However when you refer to the audience, you need to point at people in some way. How can you point differently?
Place your fingers together and point at a person or the entire audience with open hand. You can safely point and it will be perceived positively. True masters of public speaking point at their audience with an open hand. This is a small tip, but it can make a big difference in your speech. It helps you avoid making your listener feel uncomfortable and breaking the connection.
Use your character’s gestures
In dialogue, use the gestures of the character, for whom you’re speaking. Gestures of the adult man are different from gestures of a 5-year-old girl. Gestures of an excited and happy man are different from gestures of an angry or sad man. Adjust your gestures according to the background and mood of the character.
Gestures shouldn’t differ significantly between characters. But through a slight change in gestures, you need to hint to the audience about who is talking. This slight change will make your presentation more visual. Your listeners will dive into your story!
In public speaking in addition to words you also have gestures to convey your message. People receive much more information from your non-verbal signals and body language than from the words themselves. Follow these 9 simple rules and your listeners will not only form good opinion about you as a speaker but will also feel engaged during your entire speech. Some of them would rather see your next speech than watch the latest Hollywood movie.
To get inspired read: 27 Public Speaking Quotes That Can Inspire You to Become a Better Speaker
To become a world-class speaker read: Magic of Public Speaking Book
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