Don’t Let Your Gestures Distract Your Audience

“What do I do with my hands when I speak?” This is a question nervous speakers and presenters regularly ask. The answer is, you don’t do anything with them, at least not consciously. If you prepare and practice your talk, your gestures will be smooth and complement your words.

Have you ever watched a speaker whose presentation appeared natural and effortless? Were you aware of their hand movements? Probably not. On the other hand, have you ever been distracted by a nervous speaker who irritated you by wringing their hands, twisting their ring, waving or flapping their arms? You can probably remember that speaker but not their words.

Get to grips with your hand gestures and transform them into meaningful movements if you want people to remember your words and not your distracting gestures.

Prepare your speech or presentation well before the date of delivery. Write it out and read it silently to yourself several times. Don’t try to memorize the words but focus on internalizing the message you want to get across to your audience. Then practice saying it aloud without using your notes. You may not remember every word, unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, but you will remember the structure and the ideas and many of the words. If you don’t, go back and repeat it silently to yourself again until you do.

If you prepare and practice in this way, when you deliver your speech, your focus will be on your audience where it should be, and not on yourself and your delivery. Internalizing your talk frees you to connect with your listeners, and your gestures will be natural and in tune with your words rather than out of tune.

The best way to notice your gestures is to ask for feedback from someone you trust to be objective or, even better, to record yourself. Watch the recording and note any repeated arm and hand movements that distract you from your words. Then watch it again with the sound off and see how many more you can spot. It’s not pleasant viewing but it’s very effective at ridding speakers of bad habits. It’s amazing what we do when we don’t know we’re doing it.

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Moira Beaton is a Communication and Public Speaking Coach and Trainer guaranteed to help you be yourself and become memorable. Contact her at and

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