public speaking pointers

What Do I Do With My Hands?


The question I hear frequently from audiences is “What do I do with my hands?” It’s amazing. We communicate daily and never think about our hands until we stand up. As soon as we become public speakers it’s as if we discover theses long appendages scraping the floor.

Body language is more than half the message so how you use your hands is important. And gestures are a vital part of the message. Consider this: Have you ever seen an enthusiastic person stand at attention as they share their exciting news? Nobody stands stiffly when they’re expressing emotion. How do you gesture in a way that’s effective yet not over the top?

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when they gesture:

Don’t Do This

Figleaf Position. This is where you clasp your hands in front of you. It looks sedate-not powerful.

Wooden Soldier. This presenter has both hands at the sides. If you start with this position, move out of it quickly or else you’ll look stiff and unapproachable.

At Ease. Both hands are held behind the back in military fashion. If you maintain this position people will soon wonder if you have hands. Why are you hiding them?

Hands in Pockets. I don’t see this posture as often. The word must have gotten out. If you keep both hands in your pockets, you’ll lose energy and expressiveness.

The Juggler. Here is where your hands are in perpetual motion and never come to a stop. The impression is nervousness and it’s also distracting to watch.

Pointing Finger. Beware of pointing at the audience. A pointing finger can be perceived as accusatory, or chastising. Instead, use an open handed gesture to refer to an audience member. It’s warmer and more neutral.

Fidgeting. Overall fidgeting communicates nervousness. It’s your body telling you to move your hands. So stop holding back Gesture, but do so effectively.

Do This:

Above the Waist. As soon as possible, bring your hands above the waist. Hands below the waist are perceived as tentative. Your power space is between your waist and your face. Keep your gestures in this box. When Bill Clinton was running for president, he used wide, sweeping gestures that made him look untrustworthy. His coaches told him to gesture within the box. It became known as the Clinton box.

Find a Rest Position. When you start flailing and over gesticulating, it’s time to come to a stop. Find a resting position. It may be one hand on top of the over with your elbows at your waist. Think of the resting position as home base. You can continue to return to it when you’re hands are moving too much or you need to take a pause.

Hold the Ball. A powerful position is to hold your hands above the waist as if you’re holding a basketball. Steve Jobs used this gesture.

Count Off. When you have 3 or more agenda items, you can tick off the points on your fingers as if you’re going through a list.

Palms Up. To convey honesty, hold your hands waist high and turn your palms up. (Don’t shrug your shoulders or you’ll look unsure).

Palms Down. Keep your palms waist high and turn your palms down so that the tops of your hands are visible. Now make a downward movement. This conveys authority and can be good for quieting a crowd. President Obama used this gesture.

Steepling. Position your hands at waist level and bring your hands together with just the fingertips touching. This posture communicates confidence but can also convey authority. Use this gesture sparingly. It can be meant to intimidate or establish dominance.

Consider Culture. Body language has different meanings in certain cultures. For example, if you’re speaking in Brazil, do not use the A-OK hand gesture. It’s considered an obscenity. Realize that not all cultures value gesturing as much as in the U.S.  The Mediterranean and Hispanic cultures are expressive and use a lot of gestures. In Asia, Skandinavia and Germanic cultures, they use fewer hand movements.  When I was first starting out in my business, I had a sales call at the United Nations. The person interviewing me was from Germany. When I gestured her eyes would look at my hands. I’d make another gesture, and she would be riveted on my hands. Very quickly, I put my hands in my lap. For her, gesturing was a distraction.

Why Use Gestures? There is research that demonstrates the impact of gestures. Harvard Business Review interviewed Professor Josef Cornelissen of Erasmus University.

Erasmus University conducted a study whereby they asked experienced investors to watch a video of entrepreneurs pitching a medical device. They hired actors to play the entrepreneurs. The result was that the Venture Capitalists were more interested in the presenters who used gestures to explain the idea than when they used anecdotes, metaphors and other rhetoric.

This flies in the face of current emphasis on storytelling. What they researchers discovered was that gesturing made the product more concrete, helping investors to understand the product. Gesturing also conveys excitement and passion is a quality that investors value. However, too much gesturing can work against the presenter, making it look like pantomime. Use a few strategic gestures to add impact and influence to your presentations.

If gestures don’t come naturally to you. Practice some of the gestures mentioned above.

Practice but be natural. Use these tips and gesture often and you’ll win over the audience hands down.

Guest Blog Post: 5 Ways to Create an Exciting Learning Experience to Keep Your learners Engaged

Eager to keep your students engaged? Rest assured that with the utilization of the latest learning tools, you are going to be able to achieve this target. Guest Blogger, Kamy Anderson is an ed-tech enthusiast with a passion for writing on emerging technologies in the areas of corporate training and education.

5 Mission-Critical Steps for Public Speaking Success

Vernice Armour, the first African American woman combat pilot, wrote an article in Speaker Magazine entitled, "The Gutsy Move". In the article, she relates what she learned in her military career and shared 5 mission-critical steps to realizing your goals. In reading these steps, I realized they had a lot of application to success in public speaking and presentations. Here are Ms. Armour's 5 tips:

1. Establish clarity with your flight plan.

The first thing I ask my coaching clients is, "What is your intention? Why are you doing this?" And from there, we set a clear outcome. This is another way of saying, "Start with the end in mind." Too many speakers start working in PowerPoint. Your intention comes before your structure.

2. Create courage with pre-flight.

The biggest fear is public speaking. The first step in assuaging that fear is to prepare. The formula for successful speaking is 90% preparation and only 10% delivery. Preparation mitigates the unknown zone. The more you know about your topic, your audience, and the venue, the more confident you will feel. Use a presentation checklist to keep you on track.

3. Power up for takeoff.

Just like any pilot fires up the engines, a public speaker needs to get ready to speak. That involves mental conditioning, practicing out loud, timing and recording yourself. A speech coach will help you get ready to be your best. If you can't hire a speech coach, you can practice your speech at a toastmasters meeting, or in front of friends and colleagues.

4. Embrace execution.

Once you've prepared, the big moment comes when you're in the spotlight. Have the confidence that you already know your message and speak from the heart. Forget all about the perfect hand gesture or the ideal entrance. Be authentic and the audience will embrace you and your message. If you forget one of your points, the audience will not know. You can always say it a different way.

Interact with your audience through polling questions, exercises, games and technology. You'll lose your self-consciousness when you are dialoguing, connecting, and sharing the platform.

5. Review, recharge, re-attack.

It ain't over 'til it's over. Joking aside, your presentation doesn't end when you hear the applause. The next step is to collect feedback, review your performance, and re-work or apply the lessons learned to your next speech. Provide a paper feedback form before you finish speaking or ask people to respond online, but they must answer the survey while you're in the room. Most people will not fill it out post-presentation.

When you're a fighter pilot, you do fly into the line of fire. You can breathe a sigh of relief as a public speaker because the line of fire is only in your mind. Follow these five steps to make the most of your speaking mission.