Why Your Choreographed Gestures Don’t Work

I was watching a recording of a keynote speaker recently. and he was good. I felt engaged with his content, he was enjoyable to listen to, and I was getting something out of the experience. Then, in one moment, my assessment shifted.

To underscore a point, he spread his hands wide in what was obviously a choreographed gesture. The movement wasn’t in the same nonverbal language as anything else he had done, and the way it was timed with what he said just screamed,  “Someone told me to do this with my hands on this word.” 

When this happens, we’re distracted from the message. Something incongruous has happened, and our brains catch it immediately. It erodes our connection with and trust in the speaker because they don’t seem genuine. 

Does this mean you should never plan your gestures ahead of time? Not necessarily. Instead, think about all of your movement as being integrated with the words you’re saying. Notice what gestures come naturally to you, and stay within that gestural vocabulary. 

And if someone (who I’m sure means well) suggests that you use a certain gesture at a certain time, take that advice cautiously. Video yourself doing that section with the suggested gesture, and see what you think. Does it feel ”like you”? Is there any part of your brain that’s saying, “Oh, I would never do this?” If so, find a gesture that’s more in your own style instead.


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