Public Speaking: 8 Great Tips on Gestures

June 27th, 2009 by Frank Damelio

Eight great public speaking tips!

In my experience, 95% of speakers under gesture, which makes them appear uncomfortable, overly formal and stiff.  It can also lead to many yawns in the audience.

For novice presenters, gestures are at the bottom of the to-do list because many speakers simply want to survive the speech. They are primarily focused on their verbal flow. However, those who are a bit more advanced in public speaking are aware that they should be gesturing as they typically do when having a one-on-one conversation with a peer.

What happens then? Why do so few speakers gesture naturally when they present? I call it the cartoon factor. When people are in the spotlight, they FEEL like a small gesture looks big and goofy. It’s not true, of course. When I train businesspeople, they get to watch their own presentation on video, and they are amazed at how small those seemingly “big” gestures appear to the audience. Thinking gets warped when you are in the spotlight. Just as a two-second pause on stage feels like an eternity, a small gesture on stage feels huge.

Compound this false sense with the fact that most speakers would far prefer to look conservative and boring over flamboyant and goofy; and you now understand why people look like talking statues when they present.

What to do?

1.  Be aware that to gesture properly, you will probably FEEL a bit cartoony, but you will not appear that way to your audience.

2. Video your presentation, so that you can SEE what looks natural from the outside.

3. Keep in mind that the larger the group, the larger the gestures must become to create your presence.

4. Study a bit on body language and gestures.  Many warn against over-prepping your gestures because you can look robotic or too slick.  In my experience, that is hardly the problem with presenters.  Most speakers have torsos and arms that simply look petrified.

5. When you rehearse your speech, look in the mirror, and imagine that you are simply talking to a friend.  Watch how your hands move.

6. Avoid keeping your hands on the podium. In fact, get out from behind the podium.

7. Avoid the T-REX position with your arms.  So many speakers only extend their forearms throughout their entire presentation – keeping their upper arms glued to the sides.  After a while it looks funny, like a T-REX.  They subconsciously do this because of the cartoon factor.

8. Remember, people hate to be bored, so show some zeal.  Do try to avoid clapping your hands over your head though, because that would be cartoony.

There you have it, eight great public speaking tips on gestures.  I encourage you to leave a comment.

Public Speaking and Movement

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9 Responses to “Public Speaking: 8 Great Tips on Gestures”

  1. Best Public Speaking Tips and Techniques [2009-07-04] Says:

    [...] Damelio offers tips for gestures, including: Avoid the T-REX position with your arms.  So many speakers only [...]

  2. Simon Raybould Says:

    I’m absolutely with you on this one. I’m a presentations trainer and you’re spot on when you say most people just want survive – it’s not until they’re less terrified that they worry about gestures. I’d agree that most gestures are smaller than they seem to…

    …but….

    but I also come across some people who do a reasonable impression of a windmill in a storm! :) I think the skill comes in using larger gestures, as you say, but perhaps using fewer of them, so there’s a lot of time when you’re NOT moving your arms so much, as well. Gaps between the gestures make the gestures in your presentation more effective/notable in the same way as gaps between your words make your presentation more understandable.

    Simon

  3. Frank Damelio Says:

    Simon,

    “a reasonable impression of a windmill” LOL, that is brilliant!

    Thank you for bringing up the point that sometimes hands simply relaxed at the sides is as powerful as a gesture. I like the way you compare a “non gesture” to a pause. If you think about it, constant gesturing could become almost like white noise.

    Much obliged,

    Frank

  4. Seymour Segnit Says:

    Great advice and I’d like to add that it is important to consider the size of the audience and space in which you are speaking in as well. The larger the audience, the bigger your movements need to be in order to hold the space and keep the energy up in the room. Before you go on stage, you should give yourself plenty of time to prepare and scope out the space so you can assess how “Big” to go. If you take the time to fully prepare yourself, you will have a much easier time and you will feel more relaxed.

    More on this topic here: http://www.ConfidentlySpeaking.com

    Cheers, Seymour

  5. Confidently Speaking Says:

    Go BIG or Go Home……

    This is a critical lesson for anyone appearing in front of an audience.
    What’s great about it is that the same technique that will really help your performance will also significantly impact any stage fright or performance anxiety you might have…

  6. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking: Movement Says:

    [...] Public Speaking and Gestures [...]

  7. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking: 19 Deadly Delivery Mistakes Says:

    [...] Being too conservative. Unless you’re presenting to the board at a stodgy bank, put some fun into your presentation. [...]

  8. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking: Enthusiasm or tone it down? Says:

    [...] After weighing in, then check out this related blog entry on the cartoon factor. [...]

  9. Paul Rodriguez Says:

    You are the man, Frank! I always get something out of the information you give about public speaking. I’ve incorporated many of your techniques when I’ve prepared a presentation. Thanks!

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