Gesture from right to left in your talk [Video]

Here’s a tip you might like, because it’s used by elite professional speakers. Three points about the tip are that it’s:

  • Subtle
  • Counter-intuitive
  • Yet surprisingly effective!

Let me show you how it works

In your talk, suppose you’re discussing the passage of time, or the steps in a process, or items in a list. At times like those, you might often gesture with a sideways movement of one or both arms (or hands, or with your whole body – depending on factors like the size of the room, how much emphasis you want to add, and so on).

If you don’t think about what you’re doing – and you don’t practise on video beforehand – you’ll likely gesture from your left to right, because that’s what feels natural to you.

Take a look at this 5-second example to see what that type of gesture looks like:

Note: If you’d like to replay the clip, please use this link to open it on another tab, because when embedded in a blog post, YouTube doesn’t support replaying a clip from the same point. (Or, you can press F5 to refresh the page, and then click the video below again.)


 

How did that look to you? To me, because from our viewpoint the speaker’s movement went from right to left, it seemed counter-intuitive.

So if you do that when you speak, your gestures will subtly distract people and detract from your message (rather than making your talk clearer and more convincing). Of course, that’s hardly the effect you’re aiming for!

(I’m assuming your listeners’ own language reads left-to-right, like English. If you’re presenting to people whose language reads right-to-left – or vertically – please gesture to suit them.)

Compare that first video with this 2nd one. Here, the same speaker’s talking about 2 strategies, but this time he gestures from our left instead of his own:

 

If you want to replay the 2nd clip, please use this link. Or again, press F5 and then click the video screenshot.

Don’t you think that looks better? I certainly do.

Like other tips (such as addressing people singly rather than as a crowd, or flipping a photo of a person so they face the middle of your slide), it’s quite a subtle point. But used together, tips like that can make a huge difference to your effectiveness as a speaker.

So when you gesture from side to side, do use your listeners’ viewpoint, not your own.

Your turn

I’d love to hear from you, either in the comment box below or to @RemotePoss on Twitter:

  • Have you noticed speakers gesturing from the left or right?
  • What other remarks or tips can you share on this topic?


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4 thoughts on “Gesture from right to left in your talk [Video]

  1. Thank you so much for posting this tip! I have noticed recently it is a tip that is mastered by the high level speakers. I have noticed those speakers when they gesture from their right to left, it is something that got my attention and I thought “whoa! He/she is gesturing in a way that is easy for me to read!”

    I’ve tried it, and it’s still something I have to consciously think about, but I’m hoping it will pay off in big dividends down the road!

    • I appreciate you joining the conversation, Vivien.

      Luckily for me, this comes pretty naturally when I’m speaking. Not sure if it has anything to do with me being left-handed? Left-handers might be more aware of which hand they’re using, and which way they’re gesturing, because of course the vast majority of people use the other hand most of the time. (That’s just my guess about 1 factor that might play a part!)

      Mind you, I might focus too much on people’s left- or right-handedness. When I was researching this post, I watched this Nancy Duarte video about story and at first thought she was left-handed, because she used that hand most. But later in the clip, she uses her right hand more, and it turns out she simply uses whichever hand’s not holding her remote clicker!

  2. Great and timely column, Craig. I have just recently learned this. I think I saw it first in Darren Lacroix’s DVD “Your stage, your story.” He calls it the “aerobics instructor” move, since that’s what they do. Then I personally saw it in a point I’m emphasizing in my contest speech, “Your intuition is your ammunition” I was punctuating the key words left hand then right hand. I used that as a model speech in a contest from another club, and one of the comments from an evaluator contestant was about that. Needless to say, I’m conscious now of going right-to-left.

    I’m also paying more attention to my position on the stage being logical, stage-right to stage-left: to stage-left is later in time than right, stage-left is better than right, etc. For so long I was cemented to one spot on the stage, then I was (Darren’s words again) a “wanderer.” Now I hope I move with a purpose… and generally right-to-left.

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