The visual presentation is often considered as important as, and sometimes more important than, the actual words you use or the way you say them. Consistency between content, delivery, and gestures in dynamic public speaking is essential to avoid audience confusion. Think of a time when someone said, “yes,” but at the same time shook their head. Or told you, “of course, I’d love to,” with a stern grimace and a tense posture. Or stood with arms folded, or better yet, hands on their hips in a “mean gym-teacher pose” while telling you that, “everything is going to work out just fine.”
The message didn’t match the visual, and the gesture used was confusing. Thus to help with clarity and to promote effective communication, we should review some of the basics of gestures.
First, gestures in dynamic public speaking come in different sizes: small, medium, large, and extra-large. Those at the fingers only (like counting or pointing) are small. Moving at the wrist is medium, at the elbow is large, and everything else from using the full arm to the entire body is extra-large. The size of the gesture depends on the distance between you and the audience, the strength of its meaning, and how you want to come across.
Second, gestures in dynamic public speaking have specific purposes. Use gestures to emphasize, support, and reinforce important points, helping the audience understand and remember. Additionally, gestures can show the spatial or temporal relationships between items. Gestures can also telegraph or illustrate points by building anticipation or expectation in the listener. Above all, many gestures carry meaning on their own and thus can communicate the message by themselves. Think of a “thumbs-up,” an “okay” sign, or a nodding head.
And last, gestures can be misused. The fundamental error that speakers make is to restrict their use of gestures in an effort not to fail. Another fundamental error that they make is… flail! Gestures must be natural and unforced. While it is possible to choreograph and rehearse specific movements and gestures to be made at certain key points of a speech, take extreme care to not appear forced or rehearsed. A much safer approach is to have a command of the content and concepts that you wish to convey, and then pay attention to how you naturally gesture while speaking. Watch for repeated movements and avoid them. Examine your base position and ensure that it is natural, balanced, and comfortable. Observe the reaction of your audience as you gesture to reinforce your message, and learn what works and what does not.
Your visual presentation is just as important as what you say. Spend time practicing and observing. Watch others and how they gesture. Video record yourself speaking, and watch what you do. There is no one way to use gestures in your dynamic speaking– but it must be done to help the listener understand. Armed with new knowledge and an appreciation for the importance of gestures, you can turn flat and monotone speech into dynamic, effective communication.
Gestures in Dynamic Public Speaking – today’s CommLink. Be sure to look for more Dynamic Speaking Principles from P H Tyson & Associates.