Use Hand Gestures to Make Your Speech Impactful
August 5, 2019
Nonverbal communication is like a powerful second language that in many ways is richer than our words.
Like your eyes, your hands tell others a lot about your thoughts and feelings. When speaking in public or professional settings, hand gestures can be used to underscore the meaning behind your message, to demonstrate confidence or openness, and to fully engross your audience in your ideas.
Unfortunately, most of us learn the importance of hand gestures when we’re caught flatfooted in a presentation and don’t know what to do with our hands. Often, we simply hide them in our pockets or awkwardly dangle them on the side, losing the audience and our confidence.
At best, bad hand gestures make us look indifferent and uncertain about what we’re saying; at worst, we appear untrustworthy and unprofessional.
But there are a few pointers you can follow to make sure your hands give impact to your words.
How to do it
Don’t hide your hands ot not use gestures
Hiding our hands and not using gestures are often reactions to nervousness or being caught off guard. To the audience, this signals a lack of conviction, trustworthiness, or credibility as a speaker. Whatever you do, put your hands in the open for others to see. Give them publicity and give them power.
Use your hands to emphasize importance
The best speakers use well-timed hand gestures to emphasize a point and you should too. Identify the most important words, sentences, or ideas in your talk, and plan to use appropriate hand gestures to highlight them. Sabina Nawaz, a CEO coach and speaker, suggests you make your gestures large and impactful by moving your arms away from your torso—or what she calls “airing out the armpits”.
That said, try to keep your hand gesturing space from the top of your chest to the bottom of your waist. Anything outside this area detracts from your message and throws off the audience.
Use your hands to emphasize positive qualities
If you want to come across as honest, open up your hands facing up at a 45-degree angle. If you want to communicate certainty and assertiveness in what you’re saying, open your hands facing down and flat. And if you want to communicate you’re an expert and highly confident in yourself, have your palms face each other waist width apart or steeple your hands.
Match your hand gestures with what you’re saying
If you’re comparing two people or situations, you might represent one group with your left hand and the other group with your right. If you want to talk about things coming together, you want to bring your hands together too. If you’re mentioning a number, show it with your fingers. Or, if you want to show determination, clench your fist. While it’s important to create unity between your words and your hands, avoid using jazz hands that are free-spirited or distracting.