Have you ever tried talking without using your hands?
Try it. It’s more difficult than you think.
It’s only natural to use your hands when you want to make a point that you’re passionate about. When you are trying to explain something, attempting to translate the thought into words, the only logical vehicle by which to express your point is through your hands. They are extensions of your thought process. They are ways to express words without words.
Besides your face and posture, your hands are the next most important aspect in presentation delivery. You may just use them to emphasize points, but research shows that they do more for your audience’s understanding and perception than you may think. The use of hand gestures has been studied extensively. The following passage is taken from “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Carmine Gallo:
Dr. David McNeill, at the University of Chicago, is known for his exhaustive research in the area of hand gestures. He’s made it his passion since 1980. His research has shown that gestures and language are intimately connected. In fact, the use of gestures can help presenters speak better by clearing up their thought process. Yes, he says, it actually takes concentrated effort not to use gestures. McNeill has found that very disciplined, rigorous, and confident thinkers use hand gestures that reflect the clarity of their thinking — it’s like a window to their thought process. Use hand gestures to emphasize your point. Be careful, however, that your hand gestures do not become robotic or overrehearsed. In other words, don’t copy Jobs and his mannerisms. Be yourself. Be authentic.
So, how do you know when to use your hands and when to hold back?
The answer is simple. Don’t hold back if it’s natural. Keep up your practice and be yourself, and you won’t ever overuse hand gestures. It boils down to this: As you’re expressing yourself through your words, you can only enhance your points by providing physical highlights and inflection. You can pause for effect and follow-up with a hand gesture that backs up a powerful word or statement. You can continuously use your hands as you list a group of key points, maintaining a rhythm in your presentation. No matter what method you choose, using gestures reinforces the core of what you’re saying.
Here are three reasons when and why gestures are useful in your next presentation.
1. They show your passion
If you were to simply stand like a statue in front of your audience, you would be setting a formal, strict tone. Your audience automatically perceives the information as being boring. Why? Because everyone knows, whether consciously or subconsciously, that people use hands to talk about things that they care about. If it seems like you don’t care, because you don’t use your hands, then your audience definitely won’t care. By using your hands to showcase your point, you are adding an incredible amount of subtle passion to your argument. The key is to back up your motion with emotion. Use your words in conjunction with your actions to provide your audience with a cohesive, passionate argument.
2. They are natural
People believe other people based on trust. When you use gestures, you seem relaxed and comfortable with yourself, as if you are having an informal conversation with your audience. By building up a conversational tone, your audience feels as if you aren’t trying to sell them something. Rather, you are just chatting it up. When you have gained an audience’s trust, you cause them to rally around your idea. Think about it. If you watch someone talk, wouldn’t you be more willing to listen and respond to them if they seemed more human-like and down to earth, as opposed to a lofty lecturer?
3. They clear your thought process
Movement stimulates thought. If you’ve ever participated in a brainstorming session, you know that getting up and walking around greatly improves your ideas. You are getting your blood pumping, which sends more oxygen to your brain, which in turn increases your brain activity. You will be amazed how differently and more comfortably you approach ideas when you use gestures. Your demeanor greatly improves, and your words flow more smoothly as you express yourself with your hands. Move around. Your thoughts will flow more freely.
So, there you have it. Using hand gestures is crucial in maximizing your presentation potential. You could be a master at presenting, but you’ll be seriously underutilized if you fail to take advantage of your natural habits. As always, remember to practice, practice practice. Then practice some more. You can let yourself go, but it takes discipline to not “over-gesture” and seem fake or too practiced.
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