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Volume 5, Issue 22

Gestures in Presentations: 8 Reminders

In a presentation, let your hands do plenty of "talking," suggest several body language experts.

In fact, gestures may be key to a speaker's success: The most popular TED Talks happen to be the ones in which speakers used their hands more, according to consultant Vanessa Van Edwards' analysis of the talks.

"When really charismatic leaders use hand gestures, the brain is super happy," said Van Edwards in a recent Washington Post article on the role of gestures in public speaking. "Because it's getting two explanations in one, and the brain loves that."

It can be challenging, though, to determine how to use the right gestures. Body language coaches suggest professionals keep these five tactics in mind—and at hand.

  • Make movements descriptive. Help the audience keep track of what you're saying, suggests Van Edwards, by holding up your fingers to represent numbers, gesturing when something is large or pinching fingers when something is small. She calls such gestures "nonverbal highlighters."
  • Place palms up. Outstretched palms indicate that one has nothing to hide. Mark Bowden, president of a Toronto-based communications training firm, refers to it as "no tools, no weapons."
  • Keep pointing to a minimum. It can seem aggressive and audiences hate it, says Van Edwards.
  • Skip the politicians' moves. Many politicians do this—make a fist and rest the thumb on top of it—but it's awkward and tense looking for most people. Ditto with "spider hands," or placing fingertips and thumbs in a diamond shape.
  • Don't hide behind the lectern. Rest hands lightly on the lectern or use gestures the audience can see. Hiding your hands, says Van Edwards, can make you seem untrustworthy.
  • Change it up. Try not to use repetitive moves such as chopping the air—a move executive communications coach Gina Barnett calls "conducting." "When you do anything in a repetitive pattern, [the audience] is gone," she says.
  • Drop the pen. Barnett says she's had clients give a presentation and not realize they've spent the entire time clicking a pen. Avoid rustling papers, too.
  • Finally, avoid drawing attention to the wrong areas. Clasping hands in front of the groin area, for instance, is not advised. 

This article is from the Advancement Weekly, Nov. 30, 2015 issue.

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