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Learn to express yourself with gestures

Your hand and arm gestures can be valuable aids in helping you improve the visual image you present to others.

Learn to use gestures to express yourself with energy and animation. Use them to reflect your interest and enthusiasm, to rivet the listener's attention, to create mental pictures in the minds of your audience — be it an audience of one or 100.

Never force your gestures just for the sake of gesturing. Because thoughts precede any natural body language, gestures must flow naturally from the ideas that you are communicating. As the words come, so should the appropriate gesture. Any gesture out of sync with what you're saying make the message less believable.

Attempts to learn a particular set of gestures are usually doomed to failure because the results appear robotic, stilted and insincere. Gestures must be clear, never confusing or meaningless. The more honestly you let your gestures flow, the more believable you become.

Every verb is an excellent opportunity to make a supportive gesture. For example: "Let's pull together." Adjectives or descriptive words and phrases provide other opportunities for gesturing. For example: "There is a huge new development in . . ."

Your hand gestures reflect the clarity of your thought. Excessive or pointless gestures may mean you need to tighten up your thinking. Gesturing constantly, much like a symphony conductor, will cause your audience to watch your hands and miss your words.

If you need somewhere to put your hands, put them in your side pockets. This is a gesture that relaxes your stance and quickly creates an air of jaunty self-confidence. It's particularly good for informal occasions and presentations. Just don't twiddle with anything inside your pockets or you'll ruin the effect.

To improve your gestural vocabulary, it helps to first relax. Rotate your shoulders up, around and down-a couple of times. Let you arms hang naturally at your sides. Shake your hands and let them fall naturally with the palms open and fingers slightly curved. Stand in front of a mirror — better yet a video camera — and watch yourself in action as you state a simple phrase out loud.

This exercise can be very revealing and make you more aware of your gestures, including nervous habits. Learn to control and gradually eliminate distracting or annoying movements.

If you are in a position that requires you to speak before a group, experiment with different gestures and decide which ones best convey your message.

After working with several simple phrases, advance to a full paragraph taken from written material you can relate to or use in your work. Make your practice more fun and play charades with family and friends.

With time you can expand your gestural vocabulary to enhance your verbal message along with your visual image.

Judith Rasband is the director of the Conselle Institute of Image Management. © 2005 Conselle L.C. Send e-mail to and faxes to 801-226-6122.