Monday, November 21, 2011

The all-in-one on gestures for public speaking: 12 great tips

You carry three important sets of tools with you into every presentation, speech or informal talk: Your arms, hands and fingers. With them, you can use gestures to add color and emphasis to your words. The advantages are twofold, since gestures not only help you produce words, but they help your audience to understand what you're trying to put across--and that's true whether the gesture is generic or specific to the point you are making. Think of gestures as a way to help the audience "see" your point, and use these 12  resources to do a better job with this important speaking tool:

  1. Gestures don't just contribute to your message. They may actually help you to think while you're speaking, says this book from a researcher who looks at gesture and how it helps us to speak.
  2. Understand where gesture began: When you shrug your shoulders and turn both palms up, you're repeating what might be the oldest gesture of all, one that signals you're not going to hurt the person in front of you. Researchers think it might have been the start of helping humans produce speech.
  3. Want to persuade? Gestures (as well as vocal patterns) that mirror your audience's gestures--whether that's one person or a crowd--can contribute to your ability to put your point across, research says.
  4. If you think you're losing the audience, gesture is among the tools you can use to bring their attention back to your remarks.
  5. Planning gestures in the course of your talk is a smart move, particularly if you want to emphasize certain points, or aren't sure whether you use gestures too much or too little. Marking your text to remind yourself when and how to gesture is one of my 7 bite-size ideas to get you speech-ready.
  6. What gets in the way of your gestures? Perhaps jewelry. Check my list of 4 things to remove before speaking to find out.
  7. Trying to master gestures? Be sure to record yourself on video. Gesturing is among my 9 not-to-miss reasons for video practice. You might be like the trainee in one of my workshops who was convinced she was gesturing too much; a review of the video showed she gestured just once or twice. But you'll never know without some video practice.
  8. Why gesture? Here's the speaker's secret: If your hands are immobilized (gripped tightly, or in your pockets), you'll stumble verbally more. If you gesture, it actually helps you to speak better.
  9. Pointing can be considered impolite by audiences in many cultures, so try my 5-finger exercise to avoid pointing while still directing your listeners.
  10. Left or right may have meaning.  Researchers who looked at politicians' gestures found that they use one hand more often when making positive points, and the other for negative points--regardless of whether they were right- or left-handed.  (This is tough to control, but good to know.)
  11. Don't lock on to the lectern. In fact, gestures can help you use--or lose--the lectern to good effect.
  12. Who needs that pointer, when you brought two perfectly good ones into the room with you? Use your arms and hands instead.

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