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Why you’re not using enough gestures in your presentations

No, you won’t look nervous by incorporating more hand movements. In fact, they’ll probably make your audience trust you more.

Why you’re not using enough gestures in your presentations
[Photo: Oleksandra Troian/iStock]

Author Vanessa Edwards and her team watched thousands of hours of TED Talks and noticed something surprising: The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures during their 18-minute presentations, while the most popular used an average of 465 hand gestures in the same amount of time. As she noted on her blog, that’s almost double.

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Gesturing properly can add tremendous impact to your speech. After all, your audience is doing more than listening to your words when you’re giving a presentation. They’re looking out for your body language, expressions, tone of voice, and, yes, your hand gestures. But there are also other, less conspicuous reasons why incorporating gestures can make your talk more effective and compelling. Here are a few of them.

1. Gestures energize your voice

You might be presenting the most exciting material in the world, but if you remain completely still, your voice will be flat, monotone, and dull. For starters, you’ll probably get bored of standing there and not moving, and that boredom will likely register with your listeners, who will get bored themselves. Incorporating gestures, however, makes your voice come alive. It becomes richer, more resonant, and multidimensional. Your audience will be able to hear it, they’ll feel it, too. This creates a virtuous circle: You enliven your delivery, which in turn energizes your listeners.


Related: This is why your brain hates public speaking so much 


2. Gestures help your thoughts flow

Try this simple exercise: Count to 10 out loud and move your right hand up and down really quickly. Now, count again at the same pace, but move your hand much more slowly. You’ll probably find that your mind and body will feel better aligned the second time–when your hand movements are at a similar pace to your speaking voice–and that’s exactly what gesturing does. It syncs the brain and body, and you’ll hear your verbal fluency improve. You won’t find yourself stumbling over your words as much. You’ll pause less, because you’re not constantly trying to remember what to say, and you’ll utter fewer “ahs” and “ers.” Overall, your speech will be smoother, and your messages will have a stronger impact on your audience.


Related: You can speak more powerfully without ever raising your voice 


3. Gestures enhance your credibility

You can come across like a robot if you deliver a message and the audience sees nothing else aside from you moving your lips. Remember, your listeners don’t just want to hear what you have to say, they want to connect with a real person. And real people gesture naturally. How many times have you engaged in an interesting conversation with someone who doesn’t make any physical movements?

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Incorporating gestures in your presentation helps you show more of yourself to your audience. You’ll no longer just be a speaker reciting boring corporate-speak, but a human being with ideas and emotions. In a world full of questionable “personal brands,” you have to be authentic for the audience to take you seriously. If they think that you’re not being true to yourself, they’re less likely to buy into your message.


Related: Let your favorite podcast hosts fix your public speaking problem


4. Gestures help you feel more in control

You can’t combat stage fright with gestures alone, but you can use them to feel more at ease. Think about the last time you were nervous and went for a walk–chances are you felt more relaxed while walking (and still do when you recall your de-stressing stroll right now, even weeks later). Likewise, gesturing as you speak lets you direct where your speech is going and get into a comfortable rhythm. When your nerves aren’t all over the place, you can focus on accentuating the impact of your message. You’ll know when to pause, when to walk to the other side of the stage, and when to put your hand on the podium. In other words, you’re more in control of your performance, rather than letting your nerves and emotions control you.

Your listeners want to hear what you have to say, but they don’t want to sit there and see a statue. So next time you give a presentation, don’t be afraid to walk around and move your hands a little bit. You might even find that you enjoy yourself more.

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About the author

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. and the author of the new e-book, CEO Speaking: The 6-Minute Guide. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world--including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies--develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power.

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