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Speaking with Gestures

March 13, 2011

The following post is by Maureen Gibbons, a member of Talk for Change.

Gestures are one element of body language, which also includes how we stand, our facial expressions and eye contact. Often, when we speak, we use the podium as a crutch, holding tightly onto the sides, or we just leave our arms down at our sides. This is really a shame, because gesturing – along with other elements of body language – is just as important a part of communication as speaking.

Gesturing can also give you more energy. This is especially true if you are nervous, because gesturing can relieve the tension that builds in your arms if you’re keeping them stiff. Then you can put all of that energy that would have been trapped in your arms into your speech.

Large audience, large gestures.

One tip that I found that I think is especially helpful is to gesture large enough to “embrace the audience.” Normally, when we speak, we are speaking one on one or in small groups, so our gestures are appropriately smaller. When we speak to a larger group, we need to make our gestures larger. A good way to make your gestures bigger is to focus on moving from the shoulder instead of the wrist or hand. I like to think of Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupsPg5H6aE). When singers sing to a stadium full of people, they don’t just move their hands from their wrists, they raise their whole arms up above their heads.

Gestures should appear natural to an audience and feel natural to you. Gesturing from the shoulder feels very awkward at first. Practicing your speech in front of a mirror, or having someone video tape you is a great way to get comfortable with larger gestures.

Sources:
http://totalcommunicator.com/eyes_article.html The Total Communicator. Vol 1, Issue 1 “The Eyes Have it, and They’re all on You… and Your Gestures.”
http://totalcommunicator.com/body_article.html The Total Communicator. Vol 1, Issue 2 “While You’re Talking, What is Your Body Saying?”
http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/FreeResources/NeedHelpGivingaSpeech/TipsTechniques/GesturesGetMoving.aspx Toastmasters International. Tips & Techniques “Gestures: Get Moving!”

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