That’s a Handful! How to Energise and Excite Your Audience With Your Hand Gestures
We like to think about the big picture when it comes to public speaking. What is the grand gesture? How do I stand out and appear bigger on stage? In doing so, we tend to ignore the small details that can impact the strength of your speech or presentation. These details, if neglected, can leave a bitter aftertaste for your presentation despite your winning or impactful content. That persistent body language leakage (e.g. swaying, leaning, fidgeting) may be the only thing your audience will remember about you.
One of the finer details of body language in a presentation involves the use of your hands, or more specifically, hand gestures. For a body part that we use quite frequently in our daily routines, we still somehow manage to find ways to use our hands awkwardly or uncomfortably during our presentations. The common question is – what do I do with my hands? Your hands are a versatile set of tools, from your fingertips to your shoulders. How you utilise these tools can make your presentation more multi-layered and dynamic.
To help you along in maximising your hand gestures, here are three simple tips and techniques on how you can use hand gestures to enhance your presentation.
Tip #1: This Way, Please – Direct With Your Hands
You hold power in your hands to direct, instruct and move your audience during your presentation. Hand gestures are fantastic directional tools, especially if you have multiple moving parts in a dynamic presentation. You would have seen a traffic police officer signalling at a traffic junction – the majority, if not all, of the main gestures, stem from the hand (imagine an officer jutting his chin out to indicate direction – that would be chaotic!). The analogy applies to speech and presentations as well – these are road junctions that your audience need to navigate to reach the treasure i.e. your speech message. Your hand gestures can make that navigation smooth-sailing.
This technique involves the use of transitional hand gestures, that is, hand gestures indicating transitions in your speech/presentation. These gestures can also be referred to as sign-posting gestures, much like a sign-post along a traffic junction. There are three tips to keep in mind for such gestures. First, ensure that your timing for the gesture is impeccable. The best gestures will link with the relevant portions of your speech accurately and precisely. Second, be confident, clear and firm in your gestures. The audience can tell if you are unsure about the use of your gestures. Third, adopt purposeful gestures – if there is no reason to use a transitional hand gesture, you can make do without them.
Tip #2: Open Up – Maximise Your Action Zone
We have emphasised this before – hand gestures can make you look big and welcoming, especially on a large stage. With appropriate usage, hand gestures can also elevate the energy level of your presentations in ensuring that the audience attention is immediately captured. The use of hand gestures is not limited to your palms and fingers alone. Learning to engage your entire hand (up to your shoulders) will go a long way in helping your presentation skills (e.g. taking note of the extension of your arms).
To maximise the effect of your hand gestures, be aware of your movements within your hand’s action zone. This is the general area in which you should place most of your hand gestures, encompassing the area above the waist up to your shoulders. Beyond the typical open gestures (e.g. arms wide apart), play around with levels with your hands. For example, when making a comparison between extremes, reach out for the sky and the floor to create a visual disconnect for your audience. Take note though – some dynamic hand gestures may cause the rest of your body to tense up (e.g. raising your hands too high will induce pressure on your shoulders). Your key focus should still be comfort – adopt hand gestures that do not make you feel uncomfortable or awkward on stage!
Tip #3: Working Hand-in-Hand
While this article focuses on the finer details of body language through hand gestures, your hands do not work alone for your speech. Be aware of how your entire body operates together as part of your body language repertoire. Specifically, when using hand gestures, there are specific body language techniques that can apply together.
For example, when using transitional hand gestures with a presentation slide or prop, turning your eye contact/head to follow the direction of your hand gesture will enhance the transition. Mirroring is also a technique utilised by speakers when referring back to their slides – instead of simply pointing at the relevant slides, their entire body language directs the audience to the main content in the slides. In the same vein, this same body language can also bring the audience’s attention back towards the speaker himself. Experiment with various body language combinations such as hand gestures, stage positioning or even posture!
Have a Swing and Try!
Hand gestures are about movement – as obvious as this is, it is common to see speakers at a loss over what to do with their hands. Start with action; move your hands around with purpose, and you will soon start to feel a difference in the reaction towards your presentation. Taking the first swing at hand gestures may not be easy but we hope with the three tips above, you too can have the power to deliver great presentations – in your hands.
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