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Body Language: Ultimate Guide Part 2

Believe it or not, more than fifty percent of 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.

Communication is Not Just Verbal You Know!

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 four important elements of body language:

  1. Energy
  2. Posture
  3. Gestures
  4. Eye contact

This post is all about gestures.

If you are new to the body language series you can catchup with part 1 here

3) 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 as a communications tool also varies extensively from one culture to the next.

Body Language

Gestures Around The World

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 parts of the world, people use gestures more sparingly.

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 it means the exact opposite!

Why Gesture?

All good speakers apply gestures. 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

The 4 Types of Gestures

Below is a list of the main types and some simple ways to apply them.

  1. Descriptive gestures describe something or a situation. Example: drawing a comparison between something that’s big and something that’s small
  2. Emphatic gestures convey emotion. Example: putting your fists together and making an angry face
  3. Suggestive gestures depict mood. Example: stretching out your arms and saying “I welcome you with open arms”
  4. Prompting gestures prompt the audience to do something. Example: raising your hand as saying “raise your hand if you want to be a millionaire”

Body Language

Making Gestures Matter

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

Here are three important rules to follow when gesturing:

1) Suit the Action to 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.

Body Language

Now What?

This post covered the key components of gestures and how to use them effectively when you speak. The final piece of the puzzle is using effective eye contact. 

Click here to access part 3 on body language now.