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February 2003 - Using Gestures Effectively

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February 2003

Using Gestures Effectively

Gestures—the purposeful use of the hands, arms, shoulders, and head to reinforce what is said—help speakers communicate. Here are some guidelines to help you gesture effectively.

  1. Be relaxed. Although gestures can be perfected through practice, they will be most effective if you make a conscious effort to relax your muscles before you speak, perhaps by taking a few short steps or unobtrusively arranging your notes.
  2. Be natural. While you might watch effective speakers and emulate their gestures, in most cases you will be better off to do what comes naturally to you. The same gestures you use in informal conversation are often the ones that will work best when you are speaking in front of a group.
  3. Be vigorous. Effective gestures are complete and vigorous. Many speakers begin to gesture, but perhaps out of fear, they don’t carry through and their gestures abort. This can be distracting for the audience and can make speakers appear unsure of themselves.
  4. Use good timing. A gesture that comes after the word or phrase is spoken appears ludicrous. Good gestures should come exactly at the time or slightly before the point is made verbally. Poor timing often results from attempting to "can" or preplan gestures.
  5. Be versatile. A stereotyped gesture will not fit all subjects and situations. Furthermore, the larger the audience, the more pronounced your gestures should be.
  6. Don’t overdo them. Gestures should cause the audience to focus on what you are saying and not call attention to the gestures. You want the audience to remember what you say, not what you do.
  7. Make them appropriate. Gestures should be appropriate to the audience and the situation. Large audiences and formal speaking situations may call for bolder and more pronounced gestures. Smaller groups and less formal settings call for less formal and less pronounced gestures.

In summary, gestures should spring from within. Effective gestures are both natural and spontaneous. Observe persons talking with each other in a small group. Try to approximate the same naturalness and spontaneity of gestures when you are speaking.

(This information was extracted from Dr. Kline’s book, Speaking Effectively: Achieving Excellence in Presentations, which Prentice Hall will publish later this year.)

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

February 2003 - Using Gestures Effectively
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