6 Tips for Effectively Using Gestures When You Speak

Posted By Mandi Lindner on Apr 21, 2014 | 0 comments

Recently I wrote about how body language improves your public speaking, giving 5 reasons why you should add movement to impact your story. Today I’m going to tell you how you can add gestures effectively.

The classic, awesomely high-waisted video below discusses the three main types of body language we utilize on a daily basis: posture, movement, and gestures. Posture is the way you hold yourself, often based upon the level of confidence or type of emotion you are feeling. Movement is the subconscious body language you engage to fulfill an action or move from point A to point B. Gestures are conscious movements made to convey points or emotions. When you give a speech or tell a story in-person, these three types of body language become even more important and impactful to the information we are sharing.

Now that we understand what, we can move onto howHow can you make your posture, movements, and gestures purposeful to the information you are conveying?

Write gestures into your speech

Are there any points in your story that can be visually described with a gesture? If so, write it into your script and make a notation on your notecards. Writing them in will help you remember them, and if you practice them often enough the gestures will seem more natural.

Practice your gestures until they feel comfortable

Movement is a physical activity, obviously. You cannot learn it by reading and you cannot become better at it simply by writing it down. If the gestures feel unnatural to you then practice them until they become second nature.

Practice your speech in front of a mirror

One way to know the impact your movement has is by practicing your speech in front of a mirror, gestures and all. An even better way is to record yourself on camera. However, looking in the mirror while you speak may be too distracting or you may be too consciously aware of your movements to truly know how you’ll fare. A camera, on the other hand, is easier to ignore and once you watch the footage you’ll be more aware of any subconscious movement you make.

Avoid using the same gesture over and over

Repetito mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of all learning.


“Repetition is the death of magic.” – Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes)

The same gesture loses it’s impact the more you use it. That’s how you can tell a prepared speaker from a shoot-from-the-hip storyteller. The first will make gestures that punctuate certain points in the story for visual effect. The latter gesticulates wildly and gives him or herself away with nervous tics. Plan how you are going to use movement, but limit that movement for maximum impact.

Speak without notes in your hand

The best way to be natural in your movement is to not have notes in your hand when you speak. This frees you up to walk about the room, punctuate important points with either hand, and eliminates a crutch that often gives away your nervousness. When an underprepared, nervous speaker uses notes he or she tends to look down more often. He ends up presenting to the powerpoint screen and not to his audience. She fidgets with her paper as her notes become an outlet for her nervous energy. A prepared speaker, on the other hand, doesn’t need notes. A prepared speaker walks around the room, shares eye contact around the audience, and uses his or her hands to punctuate story points and add visual interest.

Be aware of cultural differences

The one important thing to remember when planning and practicing your body language is your audience. Are there any gestures that are insulting to them? Is there certain body language that is not acceptable or that could be misconstrued? What are the cultural norms? What are other speakers doing? You want your movements to add to your points, not take away from them. Being aware of cultural norms and values will ensure your audience stays with you.

One other thing to remember is that if your presentation is being video recorded then you should limit your movement. Practice good posture and gestures during your speech, but you won’t want to be walking in and out of frame.

All of this may seem like a lot to have to remember in addition to all of the wonderful points you’ll be making and stories you’ll be telling, but that’s why practice is so important. The better you know your information the easier it will be to add emphasizing body language. The more you practice the body language the more natural it becomes when you speak.

What do you think?