Isaac Castillo is leading a 3-part series about public speaking skills and nonverbal communication for evaluators. Isaac has taught public speaking and debate at the high school and college levels, and he was an All American debater before entering the evaluation field.

He writes, “When presenting in person, many people focus intently on what they will say and on the slides or other content that they will present visually.  However, there is an equally important component of in-person presentations that can greatly improve your affect on the audience:  nonverbal communication and body language.   In this three part blog series, we will cover how you can make the most of your movement, your hands, and your eyes to improve your presentation.” I hope you enjoy learning some of Isaac’s strategies.  — Ann Emery


Part 1: Getting Handy in Your Presentation

Isaac Castillo, Getting Handy in Your Presentation

“What do I do with my hands?” is usually one of the first questions novice speakers ask when working with me.  My answer:   “Use them, but use them constructively.”   

Your hands can be a compliment to your words in many ways, but if you have too much going on with your hands you can distract your audience.  The key is to find a happy medium, don’t use your hands too much, but use them enough (and correctly) to improve your presentation.   Here are some quick tips to get you started:

First, if you are worried about what to do with your hands, try this:  keep your arms slightly bent, with your hands slightly open at your sides.  Fight the urge to do ‘something’ with your hands and embrace doing ‘nothing’ with them.  You should relax your arms and hands and let them hang – do not try to force your hands into unnatural or uncomfortable positions.   Much like when you are walking, your arms and hands should be relaxed and by your side – and they will naturally flow with your movement.

Second, don’t force the gestures with your hands.   As human beings naturally learn to talk, they also naturally learn how to use their hands to emphasize points.   So do what comes naturally – with one exception – if you are a ‘hand-talker’ then you need to reign it in.  Too much hand-talking only distracts from your message as the audience focuses on the fury of fingers rather that what is coming out of your mouth.

Additional Resources:  Toastmasters has produced a very useful document on how to use gestures in a presentation:

Tips for Beginners:   The mirror never lies.  Try telling a story to yourself in front of a full length mirror to determine how you naturally use gestures.   Some of us naturally use our hands (or even use them too much) while others lock our hands to our sides (or behind the back, or in ‘fig leaf’ position).   Figure out what you naturally do and work on correcting the gestures for more formal speaking.   It will be uncomfortable at first to ‘watch’ yourself speak in front of a mirror – but it will greatly help you understand what your audience sees when you present.

Tips for Veterans:   Anything below the waist is wasted!  Once you have mastered using the right amount of gestures, then focus on keeping all of your gestures above your waist.   When presenting to a group, only the first few rows will be able to see your body below the waist – so you need to get your gestures up higher to make sure everyone sees them.   Just make sure to keep your gestures below your head – not because people need to see your beautiful face, but because gestures in front of your face stifle your voice and lower your volume.

Tips for Experts:   A gesture can be worth a hundred words.  There are some concepts that can take dozens or hundreds of words to explain, that can be simply communicated with a gesture or movement.  Try to use a specific gesture or movement in each of your presentations that saves you dozens or hundreds of words.

— Isaac Castillo, @isaac_outcomes