Way back in May 2008 I wrote a post to answer the question posed by many nervous presenters – “What do I do with my hands?”   In it, I focussed on a comfortable resting place for your hands when not gesturing. In this new article, I want to take things a step forward and look specifically at hand gesturesI’m going to share the secret of effective gestures by looking at the six most common gesturing mistakes and how to avoid them.

Gesture Mistake #1 – Don’t point at your audience!

I recommend that you avoid pointing at people  as it this typically seen as an aggressive, blaming gesture.  Instead, extend your whole arm and hand with the fingers extended so that your palm is open. This is a “safe” gesture that works in most cultures.

Gesture Mistake #2 – Don’t script your gestures

Whilst it is tempting to plan your hand gestures, be careful not to overdo it. Many politicians face criticism because their gestures seem too scripted and not genuine. Remember “perfection isn’t connection”.

Gesture Mistake #3 – Beware of gesturing too much

Overdone, repetitive hand gestures are distracting and  detract from your speech.  Make sure you punctuate your gestures with gaps when your hands return to your sides. Think of it as  the visual equivalent of a verbal pause.

Gesture  Mistake #4  Don’t only use one hand to gesture

If a speaker gestures with the same hand all the time it looks odd and unnatural. Add variety by sometimes gesturing with your right hand, sometimes with your left, and sometimes with both hands.

Gesture Mistake #5  – Don’t gesture at waist level or below

When you are speaking, it is natural for your audience to look at your face. If your hand gestures occur at waist level or below, your audience will be distracted. If it helps, imagine that you are standing in  water up to your waist. To be visible, all your gestures should above the water level!

Gesture Mistake #6 – Don’t keep your elbows locked to your sides

Many novice presenters use only their forearms to gesture, and it looks as though their elbows are pinned to their sides. This makes them seem tense and also makes their gestures less visible. When presenting, flex your elbows and gesture from the shoulder using your whole arm.   

In conclusion:

Gesturing is a natural trait that can add real value to any speech or presentation.  Most amateur presenters are unaware of the effectiveness or otherwise of their own gestures. The best way to find out for sure is to ask a friend to record a short video of you presenting using a smartphone, and then to give you feedback on your gestures. Use the list of common gesturing mistakes in this post as a checklist to improve your use of effective gestures,

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