Hand Gestures When Making a Speech – A Good Thing or Bad Thing?

by Jane K Thomas

Can you recall a time when you were standing in front of an audience, their full attention upon you and all you could feel was extremely exposed and self-conscious? All speakers feel this way at some time and the most overwhelming problem in this situation seems to be what to do with your hands. Nothing you do with them seems to feel natural or easy.

Being up on stage or standing in front of a room full of people as you prepare to deliver a speech simply magnifies the problem of what to do with your hands.

Should you put them into your pockets? What about letting them hang limply by your sides? Maybe a ‘grand gesture’ or two might look more natural to your audience, in which case, should you fling your arms about wildly to emphasize your words?

And the more you think about what to do with your hands, the more you become distracted from the delivery of your speech and the more your anxiety is able to creep up on you from behind.

So, give the following tips a go and you’ll soon find that you can forget all about your hands and concentrate fully on the job of delivering an audience-pleasing and enjoyable speech.

Learn to relax. The real truth is that you only begin to focus on what to do with your hands when you are feeling particularly stressed. In your normal, day-to-day life you don’t worry about what your hands are doing as you speak to you family, colleagues and friends, do you? And the reason for that is purely because you feel at ease with the situation and do not experience nervousness at all.

Take a particular note of whether you usually use hand gestures to illustrate what you are saying at all other times. Try and relate to a friend how to tie a tie or describe a spiral staircase and see just how you use your hands to help enhance your words.

If you find that you naturally use hand gestures, then continue to do so when delivering your speech. Do what you always do and it won’t feel artificial or forced.

As a general rule, if you don’t feel comfortable using gestures, then don’t try to start!

Be aware that if you feel at all nervous, your emotion may be unconsciously demonstrated by what your hands are doing. Are you clutching your notes tightly, clenching your fists or constantly fingering your lapel?

Realize that finger pointing, desk banging and fist clenching gestures will convey negative or hostile overtones – maybe even be insulting to those belonging to certain cultures. Avoid these at all costs!

Be sure to limit your gestures during your presentation or you will appear to be windmilling your way through your speech.

If you find that you really feel uncomfortable about how to use your hands during your speech, try spending some time learning some helpful relaxation techniques and practising the use of different hand gestures in front of a mirror. If you think that your hands look natural and unobtrusive, then so will your audience.

Just as your words go towards making up your speech, so do your actions. Simply be aware that they just form another part of your communication with your audience and should be accepted as a natural part of your presentation.

Once you can see how the use of your hands can help give greater meaning your words, you will begin to find that you no longer think and worry about what they are doing. Instead you will discover that you are feeling relaxed during your speech and the use of your gestures will come completely naturally.

When you can do this, you can congratulate yourself on graduating to the next level of expertise in public speaking!

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