What To Do With Your Hands During Presentations

Research has shown that presenters are judged as more effective and competent when they make hand gestures as compared to speakers who keep their hands still, according to 99u.

Skeptical? Consider this…

When reviewed by Vanessa Van Edwards, the least-watched TED talks had an average of 124,000 views and used an average of 272 hand gestures. The top-ranked TED talks, however, had an average of 7.4 million views and 465 hand gestures during the same length of time, according to The Washington Post.

Why do hand gestures impact the effectiveness of speakers?

Studies show that the movements we make with our hands constitute a second language, adding information that’s absent from our words.  

So how can you make sure your hand gestures add the appropriate information to your spoken message? Check out the tips and tricks below to ensure you communicate effectively with your hands during your presentations and public speaking opportunities. 

Hand Gesture Suggestions

1. Be natural

First and foremost, don’t force hand gestures that don’t feel natural. If you want to enhance your communication style by increasing your intentional usage of hand gestures, practice extensively before using new hand gestures in front of an audience. If you use hand gestures that seem inauthentic or over the top, your audience will likely be distracted by your hands, instead of captivated by your communication style.

Aim to practice no less than seven times before trying new hand gestures in front of an audience. Any less that seven times will likely be insufficient so commit the time to hone your craft effectively to ensure you get the most out of your enhanced communication.

2. Visualize numbers

Visualizing numbers with your hands is one of the easiest gestures to add to your repertoire of communication tools. For example, if you’re going to present three main ideas to the audience, show the number three with your hand when introducing the structure of your talk.

If a quantity exceeds ten, visualizing the number with your hands will obviously be a challenge so don’t worry about using your hands in those scenarios. You only need to use your hands to communicate numbers of ten or less, however communicating quantities of five or less with your hands will feel the most natural for most speakers since only one hand is needed. 

3.  Open your palms

Using open palm gestures is a simple way to put your audience at ease during your presentation. Humans around the world use open palm gestures to demonstrate a lack of threat. When police surround a suspect, the best thing to do is to display empty palms to show a lack of weapons. This type of open palm gesture is so deeply engrained in the human psyche that it translates even in public speaking situations.

In his TED talk, Allan Pease shares the results of a case study that examined the persuasive impact of the palm. The study concluded that the palm up speaker had up to 40% more retention of the deal than the palm down speaker.

Watch Allan Pease’s TED talk below to learn more about open palm hand gestures.

4. Stay in strike zone

The strike zone, as defined by baseball, is the most natural area for you to show hand gestures during your presentations. The strike zone ranges approximately from your hips to right below your shoulders.

Sometimes your gestures will go outside of this area and that is okay, however generally speaking, you should aim to keep your gestures within the strike zone as this is the most natural area for gesturing. If your gestures wander outside of the strike zone habitually, you run the risk of distracting your audience with your gestures.

5. Don’t point

Whatever you do, don’t point. Just don’t do it. Pointing communicates aggression and will make your audience feel uncomfortable. If you find yourself pointing a lot during your presentation, find an alternate gesture to replace your habitual pointing. It is best to opt for open palm gestures or gestures that more accurately communicate the meaning of your message. And if you absolutely must point, point at your slides or a physical object but avoid pointing at people. 

6. Remember to relax

Every now and then, take a break from your hand gestures and let your hands relax naturally at your side. Taking a break from your gestures will ensure that your most meaningful gestures retain their full impact.

For example, if you know you want to gesture during your most important points, give your hand gestures a break in the moments immediately before your key takeaways. This brief break immediately before you present your most critical concepts will help you emphasize your main points with greater force.


What you do with your hands during your presentations matters. A lot.

Your hand gestures are a second language that communicates powerful messages to your audience. Practice your hand gestures before your next presentation to make sure you are taking advantage of the power of your hands.

Additional resources:

The Ace Up Your Sleeve: 6 Proven Methods of Persuasion

33 Nonverbal Communication Tips, in 140 characters or less

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