Can hand gestures dramatically improve the quality of a speech? We have all seen great speakers, and they use many tools to capture our attention. One key tool is hand gestures. This article is focused on hand movements and not body language. I watched a Toastmasters International video and several speaking “gurus” who lump the two together. My focus is on just the hands. I’m not interested in head movements, shoulders, or postures. I’m focused on the things that reside at the end of our arms.
The Hand Gesture Zone
I read articles that suggest that you should keep the gestures in the “strike zone” from shoulders to waist high when gesturing.
• we look people in the eye when we talk, and our peripheral vision sees the individual from the waist up.
• you want to keep gestures above the waist as not to draw attention to the groin region.
Like a good pitcher, you need to work the strike zone and toss hand gestures in and out of the zone. This will break up the rhythm and keep your gestures interesting and natural.
Not using gestures is like a pause in speaking. This allows the audience time to reset, absorb and proceed with the next thought. So feel free to drop your hands to your side as this, too, can impact a speech message.
The inner voice in my head echoes the words of a theater producer and experience Toastmasters, “Make the gestures bigger so the people in the back row can see them.” Many articles overlooked how big to make the gestures. My logic, if the room and audience size increase, so must your hand gestures.
The exception to this rule is if you are being projected on a large screen for the audience to see, then treat the hand gestures like you would in a personal setting.
When to Use Hand Gestures
Personally, I like to use hand gestures to illustrate key points in a speech to help sell the message. Politicians are great at using these techniques. Watch this review of President Trump’s hand gestures.
How to Become Proficient with Hand Gestures
First, you must write your speech and once you have your speech, look at areas where hand gestures add value and help explain your message. Then practice these gestures until they become second nature. Here is a parody of Hillary Clinton practicing a speech.
The key to any great speech is the speaker knows their
• message they are conveying to the audience
• speech is well-rehearsed
• hand gestures are scripted and set to keywords
• voice inflections and where to use them
• movement on stage is for a purpose
Types of Hand Gestures
Vanessa Van Edwards wrote 20 Hand Gestures You Should Be Using, lists examples of hand gestures, but her list is incomplete as there are way more than twenty. In one Toastmasters meeting, you would witness numerous hand gestures, not on the list of twenty. Are these the most popular 20 gestures? No. Like language, there is slang, dialects, and different words that have different meanings. This is true with hand gestures.
As a kid, I learn to make the okay symbols with my fingers. In researching this article, I learned that some people believe the “okay symbol” is associated with the devil representing triple six (666).
I never heard of tossing a shoe at somebody until it happened to President George W. Bush, but it is a sign of disrespect in other parts of the world. I advise if you speak to an international audience or in a different country, check with locals to ensure your gestures are acceptable in that culture. After all, a hand gesture does communicate a message to the audience.
Example of Good Hand Gestures
In Garret Gray’s TEDxIIT talk The Truth About Success, he demonstrates fourteen hand gestures in the first 1-minute and 30-seconds. I’ve listed the movements out for you. Read through them and then watch the video and see how hand gestures flow with the story and help the audience follow the sequence of events.
• Hands palm down for “bad experience.”
• Revealed gesture of hands palm down to hand palm up
• Even you – hand gesture waved waist high at the audience
• Index finger raised representing one.
• First to show solidarity and action
• Points to different locations for items
• Square represents giant plasma TV
• Puts imaginary tickets in the bucket
• You desire is a hand gesture to the audience
• Buying tickets
• Giant auditorium represents with a hand closer to farther apart
• Showing distance hand open gesturing to the back of the room to the right
• Emcee is shown in the opposite direction
• He grabs a bucket is shown by hand being pulled close to the body
Additional Infomation on Hand Gestures
Wikipedia has a large list of hand gestures that people worldwide have added but is warned that this list may be flawed.
Where to Use Hand Gestures
When you are stressing information that you want somebody to remember.
• Your next business presentation
• Your elevator pitch
• Sharing your ideas
• Your next Toastmasters or TEDx Talk
The Power of Hand Gestures
Hand gestures are a powerful tool, and with some thought, practice, and creativity, you can take a normal presentation and make it special. We are given mobility from birth and have been using hand gestures to communicate since that time. It is first, when we start to study speaking techniques, that we fully understand the power of non-verbal communication. Once you start using hand gestures and verbal skills, your presentation will improve and communicate better to an audience.
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