Gestures and Movement

Learning Objectives

  • Reflect on the significance of gestures in public speaking.
  • Reflect on the significance of movement in public speaking.


Gestures are what you do with your hands to emphasize words. An inexperienced speaker may not know what to do with their hands, and might find that their hands seem to have a mind of their own. Just as we rehearse our words for the best effect possible, we also need to think about and practice gestures that will convey the meanings and emotions that we intend. The best gestures to use are ones that are natural and that emphasize what you’re saying. Be careful not to repeat the same gesture too many times, however, as that can be tiring for an audience. Make sure your hands are out of your pockets and available for use during the speech. If you find making a natural gesture difficult, try putting notecards in one of your hands and using the other to gesture with.

For example: Dananjaya Hettiarachchi on Body Language

In this short video, public speaking expert Dananjaya Hettiarachchi offers tips about using gestures and movement effectively.

You can view the transcript for “4 essential body language tips from a world champion public speaker” here (opens in new window).


For some speakers, moving in the space they are speaking in can feel intimidating. However, having some movement in your speech can provide variety for the audience and keep their attention. The amount of movement depends on the size of the space you’re speaking in. If you’re speaking in front of a room, such as a classroom, consider having three spots to land on: the middle and both sides. Always start and end the speech in the center position. When you walk to one side of the room or the other, plant your feet and stay still for a few minutes. Resist the urge to pace! Pacing makes the audience feel nervous and is distracting. Movement should always be purposeful and to help to engage the audience, not to take away from the speech. Watch for other nervous habits such as shifting weight from side to side, tapping a leg or a foot, etc. If you have a nervous habit, moving to different parts of the room throughout the speech will actually help you. Don’t be afraid to try it. The most confident speakers use the space they are in and aren’t afraid to be near their audience.

To Watch: David JP Phillips

In this TEDx talk, public speaking coach David JP Phillips discusses the importance of body language and vocal tone and rate in getting your message across. Although it would be impossible (and counterproductive) to try to adopt all 110 techniques (!), Phillips does a great job of demonstrating how important even apparently small decisions about body language can be. Above all, Phillips’s speech shows the need to rehearse not just the words of your speech, but also the cadence and gestures of delivery.

You can view the transcript for “The 110 techniques of communication and public speaking | David JP Phillips | TEDxZagreb” here (opens in new window).

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