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Hands Down, Gestures Work. Capice?

Italians are famous for using gestures. As they speak about food, or love, or even laundry detergent, they exude a sense of energy, passion and excitement through their hand movement. It is believed that centuries ago, gesturing was a way to compete for attention in overpopulated cities like Naples. Large physical movements were a strategy for getting noticed and marking one’s territory in the crowded arenas. These gestures became part of the Italian culture and were handed down from generation to generation. Researchers actually believe that over the past few hundred years there have been fewer changes to Italian hand gestures than to the Italian language.

In presentations, gestures play an important role. They can help the presenter illustrate his story resulting in a presentation that is more interesting and memorable. Gesturing also contributes to an individual’s overall presence by making one appear physically larger. And for nervous presenters, gesturing can funnel some of that extra adrenaline in a positive way so it is less likely to show up in jingling pocket coins or clicking Bic pens.

If your 23andMe hasn’t uncovered any Italian blood – not to worry! We can all learn how to use gesturing in a way to reap its many benefits.

Use gestures like the Italians do!

There are over 250 common hand gestures used in Italy. Each gesture has a meaning. Italians are not just moving their hands for emphasis, but they are in fact illustrating what they are saying through their hands. A speaker's gestures in a presentation should do the same. Are there three critical factors? Then lift your hand with the three fingers. Do you want to stop the madness? Extend your arms with flat palms. Are you telling a story about someone who is ringing a bell? Ring an imaginary bell.

Go big or go home.

Nervous presenters often stiffen up when facing their audience. It is almost as if they are thinking “the more I move, the more they will noticed me.”.Or perhaps it is defense mechanism: “The less I move, the less likely it will be that I will trip and fall on my face, triggering pointing and boisterous laughter.” The first rule is to stop playing that story in your head. The second rule it to get moving. When coaching someone to better use gestures, I often ask them to exaggerate the motions as I videotape them. Of course, they feel ridiculous, but when viewing the tape they see that their exaggerated motions do not look exaggerated at all!

Do what comes naturally.

I use another strategy when coaching people to become comfortable using gestures. I sometimes leave the videotape running between rehearsals as we have a side conversation. I then show them what their natural gestures look like so that they compare those gestures to the gestures they use when presenting. Often, they are amazed at how much they use their hands and they quickly see how much more effective they are at communicating when they use them.

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