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Hand gestures when public speaking (part 1)

Your hands can speak volumes. But are they saying what you want them to say?

Have you ever thought about how your hands — and what you do with them when you speak in front of an audience — can give more meaning to your message?
Your hands are an important tool in your speaker’s toolbox. This is part one of a five-part series about hand gestures when public speaking that will help you discern what to do — and what not to do — the next time you speak.

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Your hands: Where are they now?

DO pay attention to where your hands are and what you are doing with them.

DON’T stuff them in your pocket, run them through your hair, hide them behind your back or clasp them together in front of you.

Moreover, don’t scratch your head, touch your face, put your hands on your hips or adjust your clothing with your hands.

If you use distracting hand gestures when public speaking, you will prevent your audience from absorbing what you’re saying.

Instead, be purposeful with both of your hands. Let your audience see your hands — don’t just keep them robotically at your side — and let your hands speak. For example:

  • If you are talking about a big fish, move your hands far apart to illustrate just how big that fish was.
  • If you are comparing this year’s results with last year’s results — and profits went up — move your hand in an upward motion to indicate this increase.
  • If you are explaining two options, cup your left hand to help the audience “see” option 1, and then contrast that by cupping your right hand to help the audience “see” option 2.

While some people are used to “talking with their hands,” others are not. As you rehearse your presentation, practice these kinds of deliberate movements with your hands until they become smooth and spontaneous. Start to become conscious of your hand gestures when public speaking so you can help your audience understand, process and remember what you’re saying.

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Are you preparing now for an upcoming speaking engagement? If so, consider what you’ll do with your hands. Half the battle is simply being aware that your hands can speak and then thinking deliberately about precisely what you want your hands to say.
If you can use your hands in purposeful ways that enhance your message with more meaning, you will more successful in winning over your audience the next time you speak in public.