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Lesson 6 – Acting It Out – Using Gestures, Facial Expressions, and Purposeful Movement (Preview)

In this lesson, you learn to:

  • Use gestures to paint the story-picture with your hands, fingers, arms, legs, etc.
  • Incorporate facial expressions to drive humor to the extreme
  • Integrate purposeful movement to enhance your story and engage the audience

Gestures, facial expressions, and purposeful movement. Why are these crucial from a humor perspective? Many of the lessons on humor require the audience to have a crystal-clear image of what is happening in the story. What’s the most effective way to get there? Develop and deliver your story so they feel they are “right there, witnessing the event.”

What are gestures and why are they important?

Gestures, including body language, is an important tool in delivering stories and humor. When speakers communicate with an audience, they’re not limited to just “words.” It’s a clever combination of words, verbal delivery, and gestures/body language. Audiences are captivated by movements and gestures. If you use your body to “paint the picture” as you simultaneously use the right words, the audience will keep up with the visual images you are creating in your funny story, or better follow your humor set-up. Gestures can include:

  • Holding up fingers
  • Pointing
  • Waving
  • Cupping hands
  • Gesturing with hands in a specific direction
  • Creating a shape with hands
  • Making a sign (E.g. “okay” or “thumbs up”)
  • Rubbing head
  • Holding chin in “thought” pose
  • Clapping
  • Slapping your face
  • Stick out your tongue
  • And many more!

One very important thing about gestures is to practice, practice, practice out loud until the gestures come naturally. If you practice your gestures too much or try to remember them, you may end up with gestures that are out of synch…they take place a split-second too early. This can have a detrimental effect.

 The following is a video excerpt demonstrating gestures in action. Note that I am using gestures throughout the segment.

 What are facial expressions and why are they effective in driving humor to the highest level?

When used correctly, facial expressions match the mood of the story scene and elevate its effect. Facial expressions are essential to making you and your story more believable.

Facial expressions can include a:

  • Scowl
  • Frown
  • Forced smile
  • Wink
  • Closed eyes
  • Blinking eyes
  • Furrowed brows
  • Tent shape eyebrows
  • And many more!

The following is a brief video excerpt demonstrating facial expressions and gestures in action. Note the hand gestures I make when “turning the key,” as well as when Mary screams and Michael responds!

What is purposeful movement and why do we need to include it as a storytelling and humor tool?

Purposeful movement can include:

  • Walking to your left on the stage (The left, from the speaker’s view, is typically used to indicate “later” or the “future.” An easy way to remember this is “left is later.”)
  • Walking to your right on the stage (The right, from the speaker’s view, is typically used to indicate “earlier” or the “past.”)
  • Walking forward a few steps forward can indicate that you are saying something important, positive, or want to “draw in” the audience.
  • Stepping backwards (away from the audience) can indicate that you are saying something negative, are apprehensive, “removing yourself” from the situation, etc.

Why is purposeful movement so important? It enhances the visual details relating to funny stories and helps you set up humor. For me, the most important aspect is that it allows me to choreograph my speech to use the full extent of the stage and engage different sections of the audience. Every audience member is a customer that deserves my attention. If there is a wide stage, choreographed purposeful movement allows me to move from one part of the stage to another. This allows me to deliver my humor “punch-lines” in different quadrants and make the audience members feel that I am having one-on-one conversations with them.

The following is a brief video excerpt demonstrating purposeful movement in action. Note how I go from one side of the room to the other.

Another success strategy relating to gestures, facial expressions, and purposeful movement relates to audience size. As your audience size increases in different events (45 people, 200 people, 1000+ people, etc.) you need to make your gestures and facial expressions larger to maximize effectiveness. As the stage size increases and/or is very wide, your purposeful movement needs additional consideration and coordination.


  1. Write out a brief story, making it as concise and visual as possible. You may use one from a previous lesson.
  2. Read the story out loud and identify the following on paper:
  3. [GESTURES – Use square brackets to insert notes relating to sentences where you can use gestures. Describe what gestures you will practice]
  4. [FACIAL EXPRESSIONS – Use square brackets to insert notes relating to sentences where you can use facial expressions. Describe what expressions you will practice]
  5. [PURPOSEFUL MOVEMENT – Use square brackets to insert notes relating to sentences where you can use purposeful movement. Describe what movements you will practice]

You know what I’m going to say next, right? Practice, practice, practice! As I’ve said many times before, they key to looking and sounding natural when you tell your story is practice!

Copyright © MMXIX by David R. Hill

Lesson tags: act out, animation, comedy, dave hill, dave hill speaks, dialogue, funny, funny motivational speaker, gestures
Back to: Finding the Funny: How to Create and Deliver Humor in any Speech or Presentation
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