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The Power of Gestures

When you're standing in front of a room to present, do you suddenly realize you have hands and think “what the heck am I supposed to do with these things?

Probably not – at least not to that extent. But presenters often struggle with how and when to use their hands (and other body language). I get questions about it all the time during our workshops.

Pair of Hands courtesy of Wix

That’s one of the reasons I found this article so intriguing (click the link and go read it!):

I touched on it in an earlier post this week… but I wanted to get into it a bit deeper because it has some deep implications for anyone that presents or trains others.

First, some takeaways from the article… then I’ll give recommendations on how to apply when presenting.


ARTICLE TAKEAWAYS (the underlined emphasis is mine):

Supplementing communication (words) with motion (gestures) is universal.

Gestures are movements used to reiterate or emphasize a message. They represent action but can convey abstract information.

When we see gestures, that info is processed in language and motion areas of our brain. It creates a multisensory experience.

“just as language and gesture are intimately entwined, so too are motor production and perception. Specifically, the neural systems underlying gesture observation and understanding are influenced by our past experiences of generating those same movements”

Gesturing helps us learn – and helps us quickly understand context, intuit meaning, and predict what’s next when observing others’ gestures.

“When I see you performing a gesture, I’m not just processing what I’m seeing you doing; I’m processing what I think you’re going to do next,”

Gestures reinforce our recollection of our own physical experiences – while written information does not.

Bottom line: “Gesture allows us to express ourselves, and it also shapes the way we understand and interpret others.”



This reinforces that we WANT gestures when we present - because it helps drive learning and perception. But gestures should be authentic and deliberate.

That means gestures should be natural and relatively unrehearsed (don’t practice them to the point they becomes robotic or time them so precisely it comes across as acting). And when I say deliberate, I mean we don’t want to have tics or repetitive movements that distract our audience (the gesture equivalent of the dreaded “umms”) because these don’t convey context or information.

For gestures to have an impact, the audience must see them. So whenever possible, get out from behind the podium and keep your hands out of your pockets. For large rooms (large audiences), you may need larger, exaggerated gestures so the folks in the back of the room can see them. For meetings, stand up (or at least keep your hands above the table) when you’re presenting information. Face the room, not the screen, so they can see your face and your hands.

It’s also difficult (or impossible) to use body language in virtual environments like webinars or conference calls. This is likely one of the reasons most of us dislike or struggle to stay engaged when attending remote events. If possible, use video when presenting virtually – not all systems allow this, and even then the video usually isn’t all that great – but it’s better than nothing. If you can’t use video, consider increasing or exaggerating your vocal range to help convey the emotion and context usually delivered through your gestures.

I think this is an interesting topic. Share your questions, feedback, and own best practices.

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