I was chatting away with a friend recently and I was telling him the sweating process which I was going through to figure out a topic to share with you in this post. Maybe it is time to revisit the days of sharing a mini-series on a topic, what do you think? Is there any topic you would like to hear more of or a question you would like me to answer?

For now, let us jump into the mail for today.

Sometimes it is just nice to kick back and remember some events from the past. I don’t know about you, but just remembering where you came from in the journey of life is an interesting process for me. Maybe that is why when I write these things, sometimes you see me telling you about when I was a farmer boy. This is another opportunity for me to share one of my memories.

Instead of the boy farmer, this was when I graduated from my MSc. Or I should say during my graduation process, I needed to present my work to the entire group. In my opinion, I would score the presentation a 6 (on a scale of 1 – 10), though I was quite highly graded by my professor. Anyway, I was thinking about a particular feedback which I got after the presentation. My supervisor remarked that it was a good thing nobody was close enough to me or else I would be sued for grievous bodily harm. Don’t mind me for using lawyer speak – that simply means getting sued for hitting someone with the stick I was using as a pointer.

Dwelling on this thought had me wondering about not only the effect of hand gestures on storytelling but also how to do it effectively. I wanted to share some of my thoughts around this simple and yet sometimes forgotten topic – the use of hands.

Gesturing Gain

While the famous formula for showing the importance of body language (55/38/7) is specifically applicable for when sharing feelings and/or likes. My point is that it doesn’t apply to every conversation you have, but still words without gestures has less effectivity.

What then do I gain from using gestures, Ikenna? Well, the better question is what does your audience gain from your gestures while speaking?

The first part is that moving your body while speaking conveys enthusiasm to your audience. By sharing this enthusiasm with them, they get energy from your presentation and this makes people more able to relate with your message. In my own case as shared above, the energy coming from me waving a long stick probably also made them sit up and listen – who knows what he will do with this stick if I don’t listen. On a serious note though, by putting life into your words using these gestures, the audience also live your presentation with you.

The second benefit of using hand gestures is that people learn broadly based on three methods – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic means. In simple words, Kinesthetic learners receive information using their feelings, Auditory learners need to hear it, Read/write learners prefer to read information and Visual learners want to see it. To quickly grasp more of this, here is a simplified video.

Here’s a simple exercise for you – which sentence can be attributed to the different VARK modalities? And which of them do you see in yourself?

  • I can definitely see the benefit of your proposal and how it aligns with our vision.
  • Hearing this proposal, I am certain it will be successful.
  • The benefits of your proposal were clearly itemized
  • I feel your proposal will result in a 100% increase in our productivity

In telling stories, you want to appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners, that much is certain. Especially since you cannot analyse your audience to know which modality in which they belong, you need to be broad in your delivery. Using gestures you can touch on all the different learners. Even without writing, you can move your hand to show a number as an example giving a Read/write person something to read while helping the Visuals see the number. The same number which you show is also tangible for the Kinesthetic learners and hearing your voice communicates with the Auditory learners.

A third benefit of using gestures is the power of emphasis. Imagine having a chat around the dinner table and everybody has their hands under the table and straight faces. How do you think the conversation would flow? Words work hand in hand with your body in communication, helping to show your audience where to pay more attention or a location in your story.

So long as you’re not waving a stick like a Kung Fu master looking to battle with your audience, your gestures help them to live in and with your story.

Don’ts of Hand Gestures

Having finished talking of some of the benefits of using hand gestures, I want to share a few things which you just shouldn’t do with your hands.

Imagine a speaker standing there with his/her hands (hidden) behind the back. The key here is in the word hidden, it gives your audience the impression that you are distant and not really interested in the topic which you’re presenting.

Another hidden hands syndrome is putting your hands in your pockets while speaking. Someone listening to you would see a speaker who is hiding their nervousness. In The Storyteller’s Student, I talk about shakism which comes from a fear of speaking. When this fear starts, one may attempt to hide the nervousness and shaking hands by putting them into the pockets.

Have you ever noticed how judgmental it can be when someone is wagging their finger at you? In much the same way, the way your hand and fingers move on stage could send the wrong signal to your audience. Finger pointing is accusatory and palms down suggests that the audience is beneath you.

As you can imagine, there are much more – but I am not even sure you have managed to read up to this point. If so, I will pick up in the next email about how to use gestures for full positive effect.

Coming back to my story in the beginning, I don’t use a stick anymore as a pointer, so you need not be afraid if I am presenting near you. I still wave my hands around a lot, but now you will think I am a conductor in front of an orchestra. Because, as a speaker – you are creating a work of art with your message.

Is your story already part of the symphony?