Mastering the art of the gesture when speaking in public: 8 tips

There’s no doubt about it: Gestures can make or break a presentation.  
Use too many and your audience can’t focus on what you have to say. Use too few, and you risk appearing stiff and detached.
In a recent Washington Post article, behavioral investigator and consultant Vanessa Van Edwards says proper hand gestures make audiences happy because they’re offered two avenues of communication – speech and movement.

Upping your game

Here are some key do’s and don’ts of hand gestures:

  1. Do use open palm gestures to help gain your audience’s trust.
  2. Do keep your hands in the “strike zone,” the area from your shoulders to the top of your hips.
  3. Do let your hands drop to your sides for a minute to regroup if you catch yourself using the wrong gestures.
  4. Do use gestures when you’re behind a lectern. While it’s tempting to hide behind a piece of furniture (or have a white-knuckle grip on it), this won’t add to your presentation.
  5. Don’t point. You’ll come across as aggressive and unwelcoming.
  6. Don’t use the “Clinton thumb” – that gesture politicians use where they make a fist and let their thumb sit on top of it. It’s unnatural and awkward.
  7. Don’t draw attention to awkward places — or, to put it less delicately, don’t stand with your hands clasped in front of your groin. If you catch yourself doing this, let your hands fall to your sides for a moment to regroup.
  8. Don’t hold anything. Having a pen or papers in your hands leads to unnecessary fidgeting.