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How to Use Hand Gestures When Public Speaking

When you’re speaking in front of an audience of any size, one fundamental thing can make them think you are nervous, inexperienced or underprepared. 

Your hand gestures. 

You may have your voice under control, but your body language is equally important in portraying yourself as a confident and competent speaker. 

You may not have considered the significance of your hand gestures before - but they can speak volumes. 

Are yours portraying the right message when you’re delivering a keynote or presentation?

People don’t just remember what they hear; they remember what they see. And your hand gestures can increase the value of verbal messages by 65%

Here are my top tips on how to use hand gestures when public speaking.

Have open palms.

In our hunter-gatherer days, the biggest threat we faced was other human beings. And we are still programmed to feel threatened by certain movements. One of these movements is

closed palms. 

Think about it. If I was speaking to you from a stage and I started gesturing with closed palms, you might mistake them for fists! This instantly puts you on alert, so you begin to doubt what I am saying and see me as a threat. 

Pointing is also a big no-no, as it singles people out and makes them feel uncomfortable and defensive. 

When delivering a speech or presentation, you want to appear friendly and approachable. Open palms will help you to do this. 

Remembering to keep your palms open also helps you to avoid clasping or wringing your hands. Either will immediately make you seem nervous. 

Keep your gestures wide.

The best way to convey confidence when public speaking is to take up space.

When you keep your hands close to your body it is usually a sign of trying to make yourself as small as possible…because you are nervous.


Bigger movements are always the most effective, and that is because of the strength they help you to project.

Keeping your hands - and your arms - wide, in an almost hug-style gesture, is a great way to confidently open a presentation. Open body language helps your audience to trust and engage in what you have to say. 

When gesturing wide, make sure you avoid having floppy hands. Gesturing like this makes it seem like you aren’t speaking with conviction. 

Whatever you do, don’t put your hands in your pockets. This is a defensive move and a way to make yourself smaller, which shows a lack of confidence.

Keep things natural. 

We unconsciously use hand gestures all the time when speaking in small groups or one-on-one because they help us tell stories with more energy and impact. 

When you’re practising your next presentation or speech, think about the gestures you use in more casual conversations. 

By using some of them in your presentation, you instantly build a connection and friendly rapport with the people you are speaking to. 

Choose when you gesture.

Finally, ensure that your gestures are intentional. If you are waving your hands around with every word you say, your movements will quickly lose impact. 

Use hand gestures to:

  • Signify the key points you want your audience to remember 

  • Enhance a story 

  • Demonstrate movement 

You should also make sure that your gestures match the point you are making. For example, if you are presenting good results in a board meeting, gesture upwards to make your point more memorable. 

In between gestures, stand with open palms around your sternum. This area is called the truth plane and is regarded as the most vulnerable area of the body. By holding your hands here, you appear trustworthy and approachable to your audience.

This is also your centre of gravity, so keeping your hands in this area will help you to feel more grounded when you speak - which also increases your confidence. 

Check out these bonus tips!

I hope this blog has helped you understand how and when to use hand gestures when public speaking. 

Ultimately, the more open, wide, and intentional your hand gestures are, the more impact your speech or presentation will have on your audience. Gestures are one of the first places a speaker will crumble, so perfecting them will help you to stand out.


I always recommend videoing yourself practising your presentation. Not only will you see where you are making mistakes or where your content needs to be clearer, but you can also analyse your use of gestures to figure out what feels most natural to you. 

If you would like to learn more about using hand gestures to portray specific emotions, check out this YouTube video.

And if you would like to work on your speaking skills so you are ready to gesture with flair in your next presentation, my bespoke 1:1 training sessions could help. We can work together on either a short-term or recurring monthly basis to help you perfect your presentation content and delivery. 

Get in touch by emailing

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