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Top 7 Guidelines for Gesturing When You Speak

By Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

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When I coach executives who want to become more effective speakers, or when I direct a presentation skills seminar, there's one question I hear repeatedly:

"How should I gesture when I give a speech?"

Usually the questioner adds: "I feel awkward enough just trying to remember my speech. Then the tension escalates when I realize that audience members are watching my movements as well as listening."

Here are the Top 7 Guidelines I give them--and now you.

  1. NEVER PLAN OR CAN A GESTURE

    Speakers who plan or can gestures, rehearse them, and then insert them at the time they seemingly fit their message will resemble robots.

    Would you consider planning a gesture for a one-on-one conversation? Of course not. You just let gestures happen. You gesture when a hand or arm motion expresses your mood. Follow that approach when you face an audience. Listeners will consider you genuine and likable.

  2. CHECK VIDEOTAPE TO ELIMINATE ANNOYING GESTURES

    Three years ago I watched videotapes of four one-hour speeches I
    had given for a client. Much to my amazement, I noticed a gesture
    that I wasn't aware of at all--not terribly offensive as a one-time motion,but it became very annoying when I did it over and over. Soon I eliminated the problem.

    So I encourage you to videotape your speeches, and select what you need to stop doing. The camera doesn't lie. You can spot flaws and make changes.

  3. USE GESTURES APPROPRIATE FOR YOU

    Yes, we have opportunities to watch highly animated speakers who
    gesture with captivating vitality--candidate Barack Obama, evangelist Joel Osteen, marketing expert Terry Brock, newscaster Kiran Chetry, and success guru Tony Robbins. We think, "If that works for him or her, I'll adopt that pattern."

    You'd be just as mistaken to try to copy those speakers' fingerprints. Gestures emerge from an individual's personality and communication style. Follow Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice: "Imitation is suicide. I must be myself."

  4. GESTURE VISIBLY ENOUGH FOR LARGER AUDIENCES

    Adjust the range of your gestures to match your audience size. A
    gesture you use for a staff meeting of twelve people would hardly
    catch attention with an audience of 500, much less have impact.

  5. LIMIT YOUR GESTURES FOR TELEVISION INTERVIEWS

    To stick within the camera range, gesture close to your body. Otherwise,you could exceed the lens boundaries.

  6. PUT YOUR BEST FACE FORWARD

    With facial expressions, it's important that you relax enough to enable your face muscles to correspond with the mood you are feeling. Here again, videotape helps. You'll learn that a spontaneous smile helps your audience enjoy your humorous comments

  7. MOVE AWAY FROM THE LECTERN OR PODIUM

    There's a tendency to hold on to a lectern or podium with the same
    tenacity of a drowning man holding a life preserver. We fear
    letting go. What would happen if we drifted away?

    Just this--walking away to another spot frees you to gesture. Even when I deliver convention keynote speeches, I ask my host to provide a small table for my materials and remove the lectern. Ordinarily I wander away from the table about five minutes into my speech,roaming the audience.

Bill Lampton, Ph.D.--author of The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life!--helps you "Learn More. . .Earn More!" He has provided speeches, seminars, and coaching for the Ritz-Carlton Cancun, Duracell, Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Celebrity Cruises, and other top-tier clients. Visit his Web site to sign up for his monthly e-mail newsletter:
http://www.championshipcommunication.com Call him to find the solution to your communication problems: 678-316-4300

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Article Submitted On: June 26, 2008