Gestures & body language

Body language and gestures either enhance or detract from what you are saying. It is one reason why we like to go and meet someone face to face rather than talk on the phone, for example. Then we can see, as well as hear, what the other person is trying to communicate. Good gestures will clarify and support your words, add emphasis and vitality, and function as visual aids. Poor gestures and confusing body language distract attention away from your message.

Your body is sending messages by the manner in which you walk, sit, stand, look and move your limbs. Walk into a room or to a lectern with your head high and look at everyone. Take care not to bump into furniture or trip over bags, or that may be what others will remember! Go all the way - do not creep along or stop when halfway there. Get the attention of the group by appearing relaxed and confident. Look as though you are pleased to be the centre of attention and think about your audience or listener and what they want from you. Smile.

Stand at ease with both feet on the ground, hip-width apart. This should ensure that your weight is distributed evenly. Imagine you are a great oak tree with roots firmly anchored in the ground as this will prevent you from waltzing, rocking or wandering about. Your shoulders should be relaxed, neither hunched up nor droopy, and your arms should hang naturally in front of you or by your sides. Allow space under your armpits. If you are uncertain about what to do with your hands, bend your arms at the elbows and link your fingers loosely at about waist level.

Look at the audience. Allow time to become composed. It may help you to imagine that you are going to walk while carrying a load of books on your head. Members of the audience like to look at you and form an opinion about you in the first few seconds, so what you say at the very beginning is less important than how you look. A smile helps relax your face and it helps the audience feel comfortable too.

During your speech you can gesture in order to help describe what you mean, to emphasize a point or to express your feelings and attitude. A gesture must seem natural and not contrived. It works if it helps people understand your message but fails if all they notice is the gesture. Your aim is to be yourself, to be natural, to amplify your behaviour a little but not to appear affected or over-dramatic.

I recommend that you do not hold or touch the lectern, have anything in your hands, have your hands in your pockets, chew gum, shuffle your feet, fidget with your hair, jewellery, clothing, or coins in your pocket.

Your gestures and body language are usually fine when you are interested in what you are saying, when you believe in what you are saying and when you are enthusiastic about sharing your 'message' with others.

© Rosarie Nolan 2007


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