Clear Comm Consulting

To gesture or not to gesture, that is the question!

Jun 1, 2005

How many times have you stood in front of an audience and wondered, “What should I do with my hands?”

It is the single most-often asked question when I speak with clients about presentation skills. No one wants to appear to be a wild, out-of-control windmill behind the podium. At the same time, very few people want to be addressed by a mannequin!

The most surprising piece of information I can give you is that few people have to worry about being overly aggressive gesture fanatics. The problem is often in the opposite direction and the bottom line is this: People are simply more natural when they use their hands while they are speaking. Here are some good ways to measure your gesturing.

First, how do you gesture normally?

If you’re a person who uses his or her hands all the time, great! It is part of your personality and therefore go with it! The most effective speakers are people who project the best of what they are while they are speaking. Cutting out your gestures would cut off one of your best tools as a communicator. Gestures can be like punctuation marks in your speech. Remember, your audience is judging you by the words you use, the tone of your voice and your body language and studies show body language is the most important of those three!

What if you are NOT someone who uses their hands?

There are few things more uncomfortable to watch then a person who is practicing random gesturing … the ill-timed flailing of the arms will distract from the message and the messenger. You might remember Sen. John Kerry was parodied by Saturday Night Live for gestures that seemed out-of-sync with his words, showing up a second or two after he had made a particular point.

But how do you know if you are a bad gesturer? Well, the camera can be your friend … sometimes a better friend than your real friends, because the camera doesn’t hedge or soften the message. If you have an important speech or presentation, ALWAYS practice it in front of a video camera. The camera will tell you things you cannot possibly know by just doing the speech in your head. (At the very least, do the speech in front of a mirror.) It’s vital that you know what you look like to the audience and how you can use all of your tools to get your message across.

Finally, if you or your bosses are prepping for a BIG presentation, get some professional help. You wouldn’t dream of going into court on a big case without a sharp lawyer at your side. Never make the same mistake on a major presentation.

ClearComm Note: A year has gone by and I didn’t even know it! April marked the one year anniversary of Monthly Memo. Thanks very much to our ever-growing list of readers. If you are interested in any of our past issues, just go to our web site. Also, send any thoughts or comments to [email protected] and here’s to another great year!

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected]

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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