When we discuss gestures in our one day public speaking workshop we use a story that highlights the consequences if you don’t use the appropriate gesture for the size of the venue. Now as this story revolves around an incident in my business partner’s life I quietly commiserate whilst sharing the laughter that invariably sweeps the room when the story is shared. She has been very good and patient with us as the story does highlight the issues beautifully – soup, gesture and lap may give an indication of the high points in the story.

Alas I have to say that even I, after my many years of speaking, can lapse. In my defence I was really excited, as I was having coffee with the current world champion of public speaking – Mark Hunter. As my enthusiasm grew and the vocal variety supported the excitement – my natural gestures were growing even more expansive, mind you, beautifully supporting the message, it happened: one too many big gestures and well, glass, water everywhere, red face are the high points of this story.

On the positive side Michele can now quietly commiserate whilst sharing the laughter that I am sure will sweep the room when I use this story, and I definitely will, to demonstrate the need for the gesture to suit the venue.

The moral of this story: in a small venue use small focussed gestures that whilst enhancing the vocal message, will avoid spilt water, spilt soup or knocking out your dinner partner.

In a larger venue, especially auditorium size, with larger audiences, gestures need to be big and expansive, even exaggerated. They need to be this for those in the back of the larger audiences to see them. You may be assisted with screens around the room which assist audiences in seeing the speaker. However, you still need to be aware that your gestures need to be a step up than those in smaller, closer environments.

Practise, practise, practise will help you to avoid problems. Go through your speech – mark where you feel an appropriate gesture will enhance your message. Practise incorporating your gesture in front of a mirror. Refine, refine, refine, until the gesture looks natural. There is nothing worse than watching a speaker who inserts a jerky obviously rehearsed gesture because that’s what he/she was told to do. Gestures must flow from the message, be appropriate for the venue, enhance the message and most of all must be natural. You have to own your gestures. You can polish, practise and refine but unless it looks and feels natural to you it won’t work.

So next time you find yourself in small environment like a coffees shop or restaurant table, talking passionately with someone remember small gestures are required lest you too spill water, spill soup and end up with a red face.

Trish @ Trischel

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