Use the Power of Gestures

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.

Picture of Steve Mandel

Steve Mandel

Steve founded Mandel Communications in 1983. He is a renowned presentation skills trainer and coach and the author of the highly successful book Effective Presentation Skills. In addition to serving as a key Mandel company executive, Steve thrives on working directly with clients in one-on-one coaching and group workshop settings. He has a deep understanding of the communication challenges faced by professionals and executives in high-stakes settings and works with clients to pinpoint and address mission-critical communication needs. Steve's business success and his avocation as an accomplished amateur astrophotographer have earned him special recognition in Forbes magazine.
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