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Use the Power of Gestures

July 10    |    Steve Mandel

Do you ever feel awkward about what to do with your hands when you give a presentation?

You're not alone.

Isn't it strange, though, that people almost never feel this awkwardness during everyday conversation? Gesturing comes so easily outside of a presentation environment.  I'll bet you even gesture when talking on the phone to someone who can't see your hands moving.

The simple truth is gesturing is in our wiring.

It's part of the way human beings communicate with one another. Scientists have found that gesturing stimulates both long- and short-term memory centers in the brain. People gesture naturally, and also differently, depending on personality, culture and circumstance.

Anxiety when giving a presentation interferes with gesturing naturally and comfortably.

During a presentation, you may feel awkward and position your hands in places you might not otherwise were you feeling relaxed and comfortable. 

Here are a couple of things to try, so you can look and feel more comfortable the next time you present.

Before the presentation...

  • Observe what people do with their hands while in conversation when they are not in front of an audience.
  • Observe people when they are looking confident and relaxed.  What do their gestures look like?
  • Observe a really good presenter.  What do they do with their hands?

During the presentation...

  • Let your gestures “flow,” just as if you were talking to a room full of friends.  
  • Video record yourself giving the presentation and watch it later to see what you do with your hands. Be aware of what you do with your hands when you're not gesturing.
  • When you're not gesturing, use the “neutral position” to relax your arms.  Simply rest both arms down to your sides between gestures, only for a moment.  This looks better than wringing your hands in front of you, putting them in your pockets, or holding them behind your back.
  • There are two basic types of gestures. One type shows us objects and motion, like drinking out of a cup.  The other, and the one used more frequently, is the gesture of emphasis, accent or expression. Make sure you're using the former when appropriate and the latter frequently.


The art of using gestures for emphasis is just one of the skills featured in Mandel’s Presentation Skills Training Workshops.

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Mandel is the global communication skills training company for organizations that believe in unleashing the power and potential of their employees. As proven experts in the science of communication in a complex world, we help companies around the world discover new ways to help their people think and speak more effectively, and make every communication count.
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