'Communicate You' Blog

Body Language: Ultimate Guide Part 2

Communication Is Not Just Verbal You Know!

Believe it or not, more than fifty percent of your everyday communication takes place nonverbally. You are constantly sending nonverbal messages. When you speak in public, your listeners judge you based on what they see, as well as what they hear.

The aim of this blog series is to help you learn to use your entire body as an instrument of speech. As you read on, you’ll learn how nonverbal messages affect an audience and how to make your body speak as eloquently as your words. Step by step you’ll learn about body language in terms of energy, posture, gestures and eye contact.

This post, part 2 of 3, is all about gestures.

If you are new to the Body Language blog series get started with part 1 here

Body Langauge

What Are Gestures?

Here is the Toastmasters definition:

A gesture is a specific bodily movement that reinforces a verbal message or conveys a particular thought or emotion.

There are many variations. Gestures can be made with the head, shoulders, legs, feet, hands or arms. The use of gestures in communication varies from one culture to the next. In some cultures, such as those of Southern Europe and the Middle East, people use their hands freely and expressively when they speak. In other places, people use gestures less frequently.

Gestures Vary Around The World

The perceived meanings of gestures also differ around the world. For example, nodding one’s head up and down signifies agreement in Western cultures – but in some parts of India this gesture means the exact opposite!

Why Gesture?

All good speakers use gestures. But why should you?

  • To add clarity to your message and support your words
  • To strengthen the audience’s understanding of your verbal message
  • To convey your feelings and attitudes more clearly
  • To help dissipate nervous tension and allow you to relax
  • To stimulate audience participation and get them engaged

Types of Gestures

Here are the 4 main types of gestures and some simple ways to use them:

Descriptive gestures describe something or a situation

For example you could draw a comparison between something that’s really big and something that’s really small.

Emphatic gestures convey emotion

For example, you could put our fists together and make an angry face.

Body Language

Suggestive gestures depict mood

For example, you could stretch out your arms and say “I welcome you with open arms”.

Body Language

Prompting gestures prompt the audience to do something

For example, you could raise your hands as you say “raise your hand if you want to earn a million euro this year”.

Body Language

How Can You Gesture Effectively?

Gestures reflect a speaker’s personality. What works for one speaker won’t necessarily work for another. But no matter what your personality may be, every one of us has a natural impulse to punctuate and strengthen our words with gestures.

The trick is to be genuinely and spontaneously yourself when you gesture. If you impose artificial gestures onto your natural style, the audience will sense it and turn off.

Some people are naturally animated, while others are naturally reserved.

  • If you naturally use your hands freely when you converse informally, use them freely when you give a speech
  • If you’re by nature a reserved, low-key person, don’t change your personality just to suit public speaking situations

If you are struggling to find a way to gesture naturally during a speech, try speaking about 10 to 15 percent louder than usual (as mentioned in part 1, this will also help boost your energy levels).

Here are three important rules to follow when gesturing:

1) Suit the Action to the Word and the Occasion

Your visual messages must match your verbal messages when communicating the same thought or feeling. If you fail to match gestures with words, you will appear strained and artificial. To be effective every gesture you make must be reflective of your words. In this way your audience will note the effect rather than the gesture.

You must also make sure that your gestures fit the size and nature of your audience.

  • A large audience usually requires broader, slower gestures
  • For smaller crowds, the opposite is true

2) Deliver the Gesture On Time

A gesture’s timing is hugely important. The gesture must occur on the correct word – not before or after it. The most effective gestures are controlled. Instead of keeping your hands in constant motion, you should aim to hold your gestures for just a second or two.

3) Make the Gesture Convincing

A gesture performed half-heartedly suggests that the speaker lacks conviction. To be effective your gestures should be distinct and should never follow a set pattern. Well received gestures are vigorous enough to be convincing, yet slow enough and broad enough to be seen.

For example, hand gestures should be a total body movement that starts from the shoulder, moving the entire arm outward from the body freely and easily.

Body Language

Good Body Language Needs Gestures

As a speaker you should remember that much of your message is not just in your words, but also in your visual presentation. Whatever your vocal strengths and speaking skills, an ability to visually communicate ideas through gestures will enhance not just your presentation, but your overall effectiveness as a speaker.

What’s Next?

This post, part 2 of 3, covered the key components of gestures and how to use them effectively. The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is effective eye contact. Click here to access part 3 on body language.

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