How to Use Hand Gestures in Public Speaking?

How to Use Hand Gestures in Public Speaking?

Do you know how to use hand gestures in public speaking?
What do you do with your hands?

Have you ever watched someone’s hand gestures when they are talking? Open hand gestures tend to make a person appear open and honest. Bringing hands together to a point can accent the point you are making.

Wringing your hands or excessively moving your fingers and hands will give away nervousness.

public speaking hand gestures

Read the article written by Jena McGregor and Shelly Tan dated November 17, 2015  (The Washington Post). It is a good reference for what to do with your hands while speaking in public.

What to do with your hands when speaking in public?

Here are the key points:

  1.  Keep hand movements descriptive.
  2.  Use open palm gestures to build the audience’s trust.
  3.  Keep your hands in the strike zone when possible.
  4.  Don’t point. Just don’t.
  5. Politicians love to use the “Clinton thumb.” Most people shouldn’t.
  6.  When you don’t know what to do, drop your hands to your sides for a moment.
  7. Avoid drawing attention to the wrong places.
  8. Conducting is for orchestras, not public speaking.
  9. Keep objects out of you hands.
  10. If behind a lectern, show your hands.
  11. Avoid “spider hands.”

The following youtube videos demonstrate how to use your hands – and how not to – while giving a presentation. I find these videos useful and would like to share with you.

Communication does not just consist of words. Less than 10% of the words we use in speaking gets through to others. On the other hand, over 55% of our body language is communicated to others very clearly. Whether you are trying to sell your product or service to a client or you are trying to persuade a group of people to change their behavior, it is critical that your words and gestures match. Many people have sabotaged their messages because their words were saying one thing, while their bodies were saying the exact opposite.

Can you think of a time when someone told you that he would be able to do something while his head was shaking no? Which did you believe, the words or the gesture? When your body movements are congruent with your words, your message will have a very powerful impact on your audience.

Gestures include your posture, the movement of your eyes, hands, face, arms and head, as well as your entire body. They help to support or reinforce a particular thought or emotion. If our gestures support our statements, we are communicating with a second sense. People tend to understand and remember messages better when more than one sense is reached.

Winston Churchill was a master at using gestures to powerfully bring home his point. During World War II, Churchill rallied the citizens of Great Britain to continue their fight against overwhelming odds. He often visited the neighborhoods of London, which had been devastated by bombs and walked through them with his fingers held up in the sign of a “V”. This victory sign accompanied his famous message, “Never give in. Never, never, never give in.” This gesture so powerfully communicated Churchill’s message that soon people gained greater resolve to continue fighting whenever they saw the victory sign.

People naturally use gestures in conversations. They are not on the spot, so they easily move their arms and hands and make facial expressions to illustrate the points they are trying to make. However, an amazing thing happens when people stand up in front of a group to speak. They suddenly think, “Oh no! What am I going to do with these things attached to my shoulders?” and they either don’t move them at all or they move them awkwardly. Gestures should be a natural extension of who we are. Presenters should strive to be themselves. They should be as spontaneous with their movements as if they were talking to their family or friends.

What are you doing with your hands? If you get nervous in social situations, you may feel that no matter what you do with your hands, it’s the wrong thing. Many people who cross their arms in front of their chest are probably doing so at least in part because they don’t know where else to put their hands.

You should never cross your arms in front of your chest unless you really don’t want anybody to approach you. That is the message this gesture sends out. If you want to look open and approachable, keep your arms at your sides. Holding your arm in front of your body can be seen as a signal that you want to defend yourself against other people.

Practice Makes Natural.
A good way to be comfortable with gestures is to know your speech well. Several of the most outstanding speakers offer the same piece of advice: “The key to effectively using gestures is to know your material so well, to be so well prepared, that your gestures will flow naturally.” Practice your speech and know it well so that you can enjoy sharing your message with others.

Join Toastmasters and find a club that you like to practise your speeches in a friendly environments. You are welcome to visit our Kampong Ubi Toastmasters Club if you are living in Singapore.

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17 Effective Public Speaking Tips to Improve Your Speaking Skills

17 Effective Public Speaking Tips and Tricks
public speaking

When you think of impressive public speakers, they have their passion for their topic.

So the most important thing you can do is to get fired up about your topic. Find an angle that excites you, and the rest will come.

Here are the 17 Effective Public Speaking Tips that can help you get much better for your next presentation:

  1. Define Your End Goal
    The first thing to do when preparing a speech is to define your end goal. What do you want the audience to do after they leave the room? What information should they walk away with?
  2. Be a Giver, Not a Taker
    Once you’ve defined your end goal, build a presentation that offers real value to your audience, regardless of whether they pursue your product or service. Make any business pitches subtle and at the end of your presentation.
  3. Make Slides an Aid, Not a Crutch
    The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends using keywords, instead of sentences or paragraphs on your slides. This helps your audience focus on your message.
    PowerPoint Do’s and Don’ts
    Use legible type size.
    Be brief.
    Use key words to help audience focus on your message.
    Enhance readability.
    Make every word and image count.
    Limit the number of slides.
    Don’t overuse special effects.
    Don’t use more than eight words per line or eight lines per slide.
    Don’t use too many words or include non-essential information.
    Avoid hard-to-read color combinations.
  4. Practice (But Really, Practice)
    Maybe you’ve rehearsed your presentation by yourself, but haven’t run it by anyone else.
    Make sure you’re practicing your presentation in front of several groups of people.
    Ask for honest, critical feedback on the good, the bad, and the ugly of your presentation.
  5. Eat Well & Burn Cortisol
    Eating a protein-packed snack before a public speaking engagement boosts your energy, focus, and mood. Exercise one to three hours before you speak. You’ll feel less stressed and your audience will benefit from your focus.
  6. Meet Audience Members First
    It’s always a good idea to meet a few of your audience members before taking the stage.
    This is a great way to calm pre-presentation jitters.
  7. Give Yourself Time to Acclimate
    Many speakers begin talking immediately after being introduced or walking onstage. Instead, try approaching the stage in silence. This gives you time to gather your thoughts, take a deep breath, and get used to being in front of the audience.
  8. Don’t Open with an Excuse
    Don’t begin your presentation with an excuse. That makes the time about you, when it should be about your audience and how you can provide value to them.
  9. Be Conversational
    How do you make the most of that first few seconds of your presentation? First, be conversational. Use inflection in your voice and engage in natural, friendly body language.
  10. Rejoice in the First Mistake
    I wouldn’t recommend calling out the first mistake you make in front of your audience. Simply acknowledge your first mistake and view it as permission to relax and move on with your presentation.
  11. Tell Stories & Make It Personal
    Your audience is more likely to remember and share the stories you tell than the stats and figures you pack your slides with. Make your presentation personal, and remind them that you’re human.
  12. Channel Nervous Energy into Positive Energy
    If you’re not excited about your presentation, why would your audience be? One way to channel excitement into your public speaking is to transform nervous energy into positive energy.
  13. Speak Slowly & Pause Often
    Speaking slowly make it easier for your audience to understand. Routinely pause during your presentation can allow you to refocus and get attention from the audience.
  14. Repeat Audience Questions
    Try to repeat audience questions. It gives everyone a chance to hear what was asked. Repeating audience questions unsure that you’ve understood what the question is and give you an extra few moments to gather your thoughts.
  15. Reinforce Key Points
    Repeating key points at multiple times throughout your presentation helps your audience retain what’s most important.
  16. Use Video & GIFs Sparingly
    When appropriate, throw in a GIF or video. But make sure it aids in your storytelling, instead of distracting from it. A truly engaging public speaker will be able to present impactfully without gimmicks.
  17. Always End Early & Say Thanks
    Whether your audience gave you five minutes of their attention or an hour, end early and say, “Thank you.” Be respectful and always end early especially if you’re expecting a longer Q&A period.

Check here to download the shorter version of 17 Effective Public Speaking Tips and Tricks in pdf format for your easy reference.

Public speaking is an art, and one that can take years to perfect. Join Toastmasters and find a club that you like to practise your speeches in a friendly environments. You are welcome to visit our Kampong Ubi Toastmasters Club if you are living in Singapore.


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