Mastering Gestures in Public Speaking

Using Gestures in Public Speaking

Mastering Gestures in Public Speaking 

The use of gestures is an important part of public speaking. Many books have been written on the subject of non-verbal communication. Gestures reinforce our verbal message and add a new dimension to our speaking if used effectively. They also have the ability to detract from our presentation if not used properly. 


Let’s look briefly at Barak Obama.  Like him or not, he was the king of hand-gestures when making specific points or emphasising something when speaking in public.  In fact, numerous published articles on the internet relate to Obama and his body language. Here are some of the commonalities between articles.



Obama small point When Obama points at the audience during a speech, or when conveying a message, it helps him connect with the audience.  You will notice that he looks straight at people when doing this, which makes them feel directly addressed.



Obama uses this gesture often to emphasise the point in his message, frequently accompanied by words such as “believe” or “choose”. Obama believe choose



Obama Informal And even when speaking in more informal situations, he can be seen using his hands to create expression, and will often tilt his head to one side.


Something as simple as a nod, whilst addressing a crowd, can convey a sense of common understanding and create a connection with your audience.

You can use other hand gestures such as overlapping your hands to portray overlap in topics or opinions; you can wave your hand to demonstrate a wide range of things; or use just one finger to emphasise a single point.

So, regardless of the type of speech or presentation you are delivering, remember that if you just stand up, like a tin soldier, and deliver your memorised speech word-for-word, you risk losing your audience entirely.  You may have the correct content, but you have failed to connect to them at an emotional level.  


The tips listed below should assist you in enhancing your communication skills through the use of gesture. 

  • Gestures must be relevant to the phrases being used at the time, otherwise there is a danger of giving your audience conflicting messages. 
  • Gestures need to be relaxed and fluid, not jerky or mechanical. Their size will depend on the size of the venue. A good general rule to apply is that they should not be so big that they overwhelm your audience, but also not so small as to lose their effect. 
  • The whole body can be used, hence the term ‘body language’. Some ‘experts’ frown on speakers who move around during their delivery, however, provided a speaker is not constantly on the move, it can add to the presentation and help maintain audience interest. 
  • Gestures can be used to reinforce statistics, illustrate the size or shape of an object, show direction, or even enhance the emotion being portrayed. 
  • Beware of unwanted gestures such as the ‘fig-leaf stance’ (hands clasped in front at groin level) or the ‘Royal stance’ (hands clasped behind the back).
  • Don’t use repetitive, distracting gestures or mannerisms such as continual pointing, putting glasses on and taking them off, swaying from side to side, touching your nose or hair, or scratching your head. 
  • Facial gestures can be most effective. Animated facial expressions (if not overdone) can greatly enhance your speech and help get your audience ‘on side’. 
  • If the venue you are to speak at necessitates you using a microphone, be sure you know if it is directional in nature, handheld, or has any particular characteristics you should know about. Some microphones can impair your use of gestures. 
  • Consider replacing some of your words with gestures. It can be extremely effective, for example, raising your eyebrows or pointing to the door, but don’t try it when speaking to a radio audience! 
  • Try counting on your fingers as you enumerate important points in your speech. 
  • Eyes are the ‘windows of the soul’ and can convey messages ranging from despair to elation. They can also enable us to include all members of our audience in our speech by continually scanning the room. 

Don’t be afraid to use gestures. Practise them at every opportunity. Use it to enhance, but not dominate, your speech. Rehearse in front of a mirror. Work at it, and before long your audiences will be giving you positive feedback for your improved performances. 

Parts of this article have been reproduced from the Rostrum publication Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures, Volume 1.


Rostrum Clubs of WA

Rostrum Clubs of WA have over 16 clubs through Perth and Rural WA, which enable members to hone their presentation and meeting procedures skills. This along with expert training by accredited critics/tutors makes Rostrum Clubs of WA such a great environment for personal and professional development.

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