Non-verbal communication, or body language, is an important part of presentation skills and how you gesture is an essential component of that body language. At the very least, your gestures should match your words and not distract the audience. And with a little practice, they can help you convey confidence and make it easier for the audience to understand your message.
Here are ten mistakes to avoid when using gestures:
1. Not using gestures at all. If you keep your hands locked at your sides, you will look nervous and your presentation will lack the visual element to accompany and enhance your words. The audience should be able to see what you are saying, in addition to hearing it.
2. Keeping your hands in your pockets. This position leads down the slippery slope to slouching and a sloppier posture. And you also may unconsciously start playing with the keys or change in your pocket (yes, I've seen – and heard – it happen!).
3. Fidgeting with your hands. Be aware of what your hands are doing, such as grasping each other tightly, fiddling with your watch or jewelry, etc. One of my public speaking coaching clients rolled and unrolled his shirt sleeves while he presented (we solved that problem in the short term by having him wear short sleeves).
4. Playing with "stuff." If you must hold something, such as your notes or the PowerPoint remote, be conscious of how you are holding it. Too often the item becomes something for you to play with unconsciously, or in the cause of notes, a crutch that prevents you from looking at the audience.
5. Holding your hands behind your back. This gesture usually resembles that of a child reciting a poem at a school assembly. When not gesturing, your hands should be in the "neutral position," hanging loosely at your sides and ready to come up to gesture.
6. Pointing at the audience. Yes, your mother was right – it's not polite to point. Replace it with another gesture; for example, try an open-handed gesture instead.
7. Folding your arms across your chest. Even if you are only doing this because you feel cold, this gesture will most likely be interpreted as your closing yourself off from the audience. Instead, keep your gestures open to the audience.
8. Gripping the podium. This gesture is usually accompanied by the "deer in the headlights" look. If you're using a podium, place your hands lightly on the top of it or in a relaxed hold on the edges.
9. Using stilted gestures. Your gestures should be natural and flow smoothly rather than looking forced or robotic.
10. Using overly rehearsed gestures. I once saw a speaker fall to his knees during his speech, which struck the audience as melodramatic and insincere.
If you eliminate these ten mistakes from your presentation, you'll come across as more confident and sincere and you'll be able to communicate more effectively. Your gestures will reinforce your message to the audience rather than distract from it.