How to Use Hand Gestures in Public Speaking

Everything You Need to Know About Hand Gestures

Has someone ever told you, “You talk with your hands”? They’re referring to your body language — things like facial expressions, eye movement, and posture — which includes hand gestures. 

Gestures are pretty important for everyday speech, and they can help elevate the way you communicate. You can easily practice hand gestures and evaluate your own body language through Yoodli, an AI speech coach. Using AI technology, Yoodli analyzes your video for your body language, including facial expressions like smiling, to help you improve your speech.

Being mindful of the hand gestures you use can help, too. Let’s take a closer look at this aspect of body language.

What Are Hand Gestures?

Hand gestures refer to the way you move your hands. Simple hand movements can express your inner emotions, thoughts, and even information. They’re fundamental to communication and can vary based on what part of the world you’re in. 

Because body language is such a huge facet of effective communication, speakers need to ensure they’re actively using appropriate body language (including hand gestures). To learn more about body language, check out Yoodli’s informative course on the importance of body language, taught by communications coach Rosemary Ravinal. 

Everything You Should Know About Hand Gestures
“The Importance of Body Language,” taught by communications coach Rosemary Ravinal, is only one of Yoodli’s many informative courses.

Why Are Hand Gestures Important?

Hand gestures are essential to compelling communication. Sometimes, when people are nervous, they might forget to move their hands entirely. Unfortunately, this can seem a bit awkward for audiences. 

Using various hand gestures can help an audience understand both you and your speech better. Whether or not you know it, you’ll be influencing the way they interpret your words through your gestures. 

It’s more natural to move when speaking — not so much that it’s distracting, though. 

Dave Bricker elaborates on body language in public speaking in his “Power of Pause” Yoodli series, which you can watch below. 

Dave Bricker explains body language in public speaking in his “The Power of Pause” Yoodli course.

Types of Hand Gestures 

Hand gestures can vary pretty wildly, but there are a few types of gestures you should keep in mind next time you’re speaking. 

Here are five hand gestures to practice and use the next time you’re speaking.

1. Listing with fingers

This type of gesture is ideal for situations where you’re counting down, listing things, or using a number from 1 through 10. By doing so, you’re emphasizing your point visually, and people are more likely to remember what you’re saying in the moment. For example, if you’re saying something like, “You’re faced with four choices,” hold up four fingers to illustrate this. 

2. Stretching your arms outward

When you stretch out your arms on either side with your palms facing up, you’re usually trying to make a grand gesture of some sort. With this one, you can change it up a bit by slightly turning your palms out toward the audience as opposed to up — whatever feels most comfortable to you.

3. Rubbing your palms together

Chances are, you’ve seen this hand gesture before. Usually, people who rub their palms together are talking about something positive. You could also use this hand gesture in situations where you’re transitioning. For example, you might rub your palms together before saying, “Alright, let’s head out to lunch!” or even before introducing another speaker. 

4. Describing size

Whenever you’re describing size or the gravity of something, indicate that through your body language with hand gestures. For example, when speaking on large things — such as exponential growth in page views — stretch your hands out and sweep them upwards to indicate that growth. On the other end of things, you can use your thumb and pointer finger to illustrate small things. For example, if you were to say, “It’ll take a little bit of work,” you’d use this small hand gesture to emphasize the word “little.”  

5. Pointing

Although it’s on our list, keep in mind that you should use this one pretty sparingly. Pointing at people can come off a bit aggressive and even accusatory. Still, it’s a great attention-getter. You could use this hand gesture to emphasize the importance of something, such as when saying, “You’ll want to remember this one.” 

Are there hand gestures you should avoid?

For the most part, hand gestures can be innocent and there aren’t many gestures you should actively try to avoid. 

However, there are a few you probably shouldn’t use, including: 

  • Scratching the top of your head, which indicates confusion and can make the audience lose trust in you as well as what you’re speaking about
  • Clapping and slapping, while sometimes used to emphasize something you say, both of these can be jarring, distracting, and even irritating to your audience
  • Swatting hand gestures, which can come off as arrogant 

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you’ll want to make sure to incorporate hand gestures into your everyday communication, as well as any formal talks or speeches that you give. 

Hand gestures may only be a small component of giving a good speech, but nonetheless, they’re critical to keeping your audience engaged and getting your point across. 

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