We recently watched CBS Sunday Morning and were struck by the hand gestures of host Jane Pauley. She joined her hands in what we call “steeple on its side” or “inverted steeple.” Pauley’s gestures drew focus and seemed contrived... A mainstream news program had Donald Trump talking about an important matter while clutching himself tightly with crossed arms over his chest... And TV’s Judge Judy is known for her exaggerated gestures and finger pointing. She understands the venue and what attracts her audience. Do these public figures heed Shakespeare’s admonition to “suit the action to the word, the word to the action...?” You be the judge.
We often see speakers opt for no gestures-- like stiffly holding their arms close to their bodies. This reduces their ability to express themselves, and even breathe properly. Our hands and brains are connected. Fluid intelligence is the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems. The marker for fluid intelligence is how much one uses their hands to describe a process, because gesture and speech in concert stimulate mental imagery. Gestures indicate your intelligence and deliver visual cues to your audience.
Start with your hands dangling loosely at your sides-- whether you’re standing or sitting. Within seconds you will feel the urge to describe your content with gestures. Be self-aware, especially in today’s virtual sessions. Rehearse watching yourself until you appear natural in the medium. Even when presenting to an audience of thousands, your gestures will drive your message.