Thursday, January 27, 2011

What should I do with my hands when I'm not gesturing?

I often ask participants in my presentation or public speaking trainings where they think their hands belong when they are not gesturing. Most people immobilize their hands, gripping them together or grabbing both sides of the lectern. Some hold them together, lower than the waist, in what we call "fig leaf" and "reverse fig leaf" when they're behind your back. You know who you are. And others--mostly men--put their hands in their pockets, thinking this looks casual and solves the problem. In fact, they may be doing more harm than good.

Your hands will best serve you during a speech or presentation if they're available for your use at a moment's notice--and that means you should hold them at rest with your elbows bent, and fingers touching, but not gripping, those of the opposite hand. You can rest one hand on the other lightly, but don't grip.

This option helps you in three ways:
  1. Your hands and arms are now free to gesture up or down without having to travel a long way (distracting to you and your audience). If you're not immobilizing them, they're ready to move.
  2. On camera or when speaking behind a lectern, you'll need to be gesturing near your face if your hands are to be seen. Holding them at your waist keeps them closer to the place they need to be.
  3. You'll speak more fluently. If you grip your hands or otherwise hold them still, you're more likely to make a verbal error.
Once you practice this, it will help you look relaxed and natural, giving you the appearance of a calm, collected speaker. This technique also works for people with the opposite problem, those who gesture too much. Holding your hands at the ready can feel like a gesture and give your hands something to do other than flapping.

Related posts:  How gestures contribute to your message

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