Gestures add a visual impact and an extra dimension to your speeches. They seem an obvious and easy thing to use when speaking but somehow those easy gestures we use in the coffee shop, or when talking to friends, just don’t happen when we find ourselves speaking in front of an audience.

The second most common issue for novice public speakers (after the fear of public speaking) is what to do with their hands. Those natural gestures morph into clasping of hands, white knuckles, playing with rings, hands in pockets or on the hips, in fact doing anything except adding meaningful impact to the speech.

Unfortunately, when beginning to add gestures to our speeches there can be a tendency to over gesture, waving the arms around like someone being attacked by a swarm of bees! The secret is practise, practise and still more practise until your gestures feel smooth and natural. Go though your speech and identify where an appropriate gesture would add a visual component to reinforce your message.

It is well known that movement will catch people’s attention – appropriate gestures will catch the audience’s attention and focus them on you the speaker. Using gestures in the opening parts of your speech can help dissipate the nervous tension with the physical activity.

Three types of gestures are:

Descriptive gestures – which are used to clarify or enhance a verbal message. They can help the audience to understand contrasts, comparisons, visualise size, shape, movement, location and number.

Emphatic gestures – which are used to underscore the message. They indicate earnestness and conviction; for example using a clenched fist suggests strong feelings such as anger or determination.

Prompting gestures – these are used to evoke a specific response from the audience. I like to call these “Simon Says” gestures: you do the gesture and the audience will copy you. For example: if you wish your audience to raise their hands, or clap or perform some definite action then enhance the chance of a response by performing the action yourself first.

Don’t be afraid to use gestures. Remember they add impact to and a visual reinforcement of your message. They must be natural and arise out of the message not just used because you were told they were a good thing to use. Using gesture may feel awkward at first but will get more comfortable the more you use them Just think back to the coffee shop and how comfortable the gestures come and bring that comfortable feeling to your speech and your use of gestures.

Trish @ Trischel

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