Though there are circumstances when a speaker needs to use very few gestures (imagine a spokesperson after a tragedy), in most instances, gestures greatly enhance a speaker’s effectiveness.
We know that much of communication is non-verbal. Facial expressions, body movement, and gestures all contribute to more effective communication.
Yes, it is possible to have too many gestures; but for every speaker with too many gestures, there are many, many more with too few gestures.
There are plenty of “guidelines”. Vary your gestures (don’t make every gesture the same gesture); gesture above the waist; and if you are speaking behind a stand (commonly called a podium, but more accurately called a lectern), gesture above the stand. In other words, people have to see your gestures for the gestures to have the desired effect.
Here are two tips for improving your gestures.
- Tip #1 – Watch yourself on video with the sound turned off.
This is such an easy “this will help me improve” step to take. Turn the sound completely off, and watch yourself move and gesture. When you do so, check the following:
- Eye contact: Are you looking directly into the eyes of your audience members? Are you looking at audience members in each part of the room, in a fairly balanced way?
- Facial Expressions: Do you let some of your personality out in your facial expressions? The more you express yourself through good facial expressions, the more effective you will be.
- Gestures: Are you using plenty of gestures? Do you use different gestures, or are they too much the same? Watching yourself speak with the sound off reveals so much, and provides an agenda to work on.
- Tip #2 – Unvelcro your elbows.
Many speakers seem to gesture–even with fairly wide gestures–with their elbows “velcroed” to their side. It’s like he elbows are stuck to the side of the body and can’t break free.This looks unnatural—what my wife calls “floppy”. It looks inhibited and constrained. So, unvelcro your elbows. Stand in front of a mirror and practice gestures, with your elbows fully disconnected from your torso. Watch the best speakers, and they are not constrained or not inhibited. Their gestures and body movements are energetic and large. A way to practice getting better at this is to unvelcro your elbows. Making this one change can make a big, big difference.
Gestures, facial expressions, and body movements: these can all greatly enhance your effectiveness. And we can all improve our gestures.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis