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Seven Guidelines for Gesturing When You Speak

Seven Guidelines for Gesturing When You Speak

Guideline #2: Watch a videotape of yourself speaking to catch unnoticed gestures

Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

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 goes on to say: "I feel awkward enough just trying to remember my speech. Then the tension escalates when I realize that my audience members are watching my movements as well as hearing my words. I become so concerned about my physical activity that I get distracted from my main goal—sharing ideas with the audience. I understand the uneasiness. I experienced those worries myself during my first years of making presentations. As a manager who conducted staff meetings, trained volunteers, and presided over corporate functions, I fretted over my discomfort. Eventually, I discovered 7 guidelines for gestures that worked for me, and now for my coaching clients. I’m glad to share them.


Speakers who plan or can gestures, rehearse them, and then insert them at the time they seemingly fit their message will resemble robots. They will appear rigid, inflexible, and out of touch with the audience. In these cases, gestures become a distraction. 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. Consider public speaking nothing more than enlarged conversation. Listeners will consider you genuine and likable.


Three years ago I watched videotapes of four one-hour speeches I had given for a client, Oceania Cruise Line. 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.

A decade ago, getting your speech videotaped required that you hire a professional video producer, whose rates might stretch your budget. Now cameras have become so portable and so reasonably priced you don’t need that camera professional any more. Take advantage of these technology advances to see yourself as others see you.

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