There are so many rules when making a presentation…

There are so many rules offered to people attempting to make an excellent speech or presentation, it clouds the mind.  In fact, there are so many rules, it’s tough for a speaker to keep their mind squarely on their topic. 

  • Stand up straight
  • Vary your pitch
  • Make eye contact
  • Use humor
  • Watch your body language
  • Enunciate clearly
  • Wear appropriate clothes
  • Use a power pose
  • Project your voice
  • Move around the stage
  • …you get the idea. 

It makes a person wonder how anybody can keep their mind focused on speech content when their mind is shouting orders like a drill sergeant. 

Beginning Speakers

It’s true, beginning speakers face an uphill battle.  But, if patient, and with practice, the light bulb will eventually be switched on.  All the tips and suggestions will flow like a well-oiled machine.  Over time, and with great patience and perseverance, you will conquer your fears and become the speaker you hope to be.  You may not be the best, but you definitely won’t be the worst.  You will be just…you.  The really successful speakers have that innate ability to present themselves, as they really are: a human being, who makes mistakes, slips on a word pronunciation here and there, or trips while walking on stage. 

Extraordinary Speakers

But, there are a few extraordinary speakers who seemingly, with little effort, transform their talks into amazing moments.  What sets them apart from the others?  What makes them and their thoughts irresistible to the masses?  I am going to share one of their secrets with you now.  Do I have your attention?  Good!  Write this word down.  GESTURES!  And the next time you watch a TED talkor a political speech, take a moment to look closely at the speaker’s hand movements. Is the motion slow or energetic? Is it subtle or expansive? And how are the hands mostly moving – vertically or horizontally?

The Influence of Non-verbal cues

It is well known that non-verbal cues can have more of an influence on the way a message is received than the actual words spoken. Studies have shown that a deeper voice increases perceptions of authority, for instance – and this even appears to influence a CEO’s earnings and how long they stay with a company.

A series of recent studies from the University of Vienna has examined the way that people talk with their hands – with remarkable results. Even when all other factors have been taken into account, your hand gestures signal important elements of your personality like extroversion and dominance. They can even change people’s perceptions of your physical height – making you appear a few inches taller or shorter.

Extroversion, for instance, appeared to be linked more to hand movements overall, punctuated with only brief periods of stillness.

Perceptions of authority, meanwhile, appeared to come from the scale of vertical movements – whether your hand sweeps from the level of the lectern, say, to shoulder height. People who regularly make these kinds of expansive gestures tend to be rated as being less agreeable, but more dominant.  

The exact psychological mechanism is not clear. Since previous research had shown that taller people are naturally considered to be better leaders, it’s possible that movements create a kind of visual illusion to increase your perceived height, and this then contributes to perceptions of greater dominance.

We know that if people are in high-status positions, they are seen as being taller.  For example, people often overestimate Tom Cruise’s height, and although that could be due to clever camera work, it could also come from the way he projects his confidence.

The most successful TED talk videos contain almost twice as many hand gestures. Hundreds of TED talks were analyzed to understand why some talks go viral while others sink with very little interest.  It was determined that the most successful videos contained almost twice as many hand gestures (465 compared to 272). And in line with other research, the number of expansive gestures also predicted viewers’ ratings of the speakers’ charisma and competence.

Add a touch of gesture to your presentation

So, add another item to your long list of things to do on stage during a speech.  Keep those arms moving.  But don’t move them erratically just to keep them moving.  Move them in response to the emotions and passion of the speaking moment that you feel in your heart and soul as you say the words.  Record yourself and see how much this touch of gestures will add to your presentation.  Consider this to be another important tool in your arsenal of weapons designed to make you a better speaker that people will long remember.

<A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE                                                                                                   COMMUNICATION NEWS >

BILL PATTI Founder & President at YourVoiceProfessor
Bill is an award-winning radio and TV announcer, voice-over talent, and
college professor … (Read full bio)