The Power of Gestures

Effective speakers understand the power of gestures. Good gestures can add emphasis to an important point. They can be used to help explain a complicated concept. They can turn a speech into drama.

As I have said previously, we should not overdue gestures. Instead, we should incorporate them in our presentations the way a world class chef would add a fine spice to a meal: to enhance the flavour; not to overpower it.

For a great example of how gestures can be used to increase the effectiveness of a presentation, watch this fascinating TED Talk by Bonnie Bassler, a molecular biologist at Princeton University. In the video, she is speaking about a very exciting discovery in the field of bacteriology.

Bassler is incredibly expressive with her hands, even while holding a remote the entire time. In fact, I think that there were times during her presentation when she could have cut back on the gestures, thereby adding more punch to those times when she did use them.

Nevertheless, her gestures help the audience visualize the different concepts about which she is speaking. I particularly like the gestures that she uses when describing the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid and its symbiotic relationship with a bioluminescent bacteria known as Vibrio fischeri (5:00 – 7:00).

You can tell that Bassler is passionate about her work. The passion comes through in her voice, in her facial expressions and, yes, in her gestures.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Delivery, TED and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Power of Gestures

  1. Faisal... says:

    I like the way she praises and gives credit to her gang. The audience loved her.

  2. John Watkis says:

    Hi John,

    Good post. This is a great example of how gestures should be done. I could be wrong, but my guess is that she would use the same hand gestures if she were describing bacteria to you in a one-on-one conversation. Her gestures are come across as being natural, not staged.

    I did, however, find myself feeling overwhelmed by her pacing. There were many opportunities for her to allow for laughter, reflection and suspense, but she just zipped right on through.

    Overall, it was great information. Thanks for posting it.

    • John Zimmer says:

      John, thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you that Bassler would likely be the same in a one-on-one conversation. I think that it is just the way that she is and that it is natural for her to gesture like that. Her pace was fast, as you say. She could probably have cut down some of the description a little bit to allow for laughter, etc. as you suggest and still come in under the TED limit of 18 minutes. Still, a great talk. Thanks again for adding to the conversation. John

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.