Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hands in pockets while speaking? New & old-school solutions

When it's a communications director who hires me to train her executives or CEO in public speaking, I always ask what she especially would like me to advise the trainee, something she has been trying to get across. My favorite answer ever: "Hands in pockets, please!"

It's a speaking habit affected mostly by male speakers, in my experience. Typically, the arguments in favor of this stance in a presentation are that it's a "studied casual" look, something that exudes a relaxed, confident air. It also solves the problem many speakers anticipate of what they should do with their hands. But while this may work for models in the Sears catalog or on cool 1960s record albums, it doesn't work well for speakers.

I use a different argument against hands in pockets, typically citing Michael Erard's book Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.  Few speakers realize that gestures are critical to them and their audiences. Gestures help the audience comprehend what you're saying, even when the gesture isn't precisely matched to what you're saying. But they also help the speaker's brain download to his mouth to produce the words he wants to say. If you immobilize your hands--by gripping the lectern, or putting them in your pockets--you are more likely to stumble in your speech, saying um, uh, or habadahhabadahhabadah when you really want to say something more eloquent.

I've found that a convincing argument, but my friend and former colleague Steve Tally just shared another, old-school (and pretty foolproof) method of curing this habit. His grandfather, the Rev. Sanford Ferguson, was pastor of the Tulip Church of God in Bloomfield, Indiana, and, it must be told, a big fan of hands-in-pockets while speaking in public. His wife, Glenda Ferguson, disagreed--a woman after my own heart.

Mrs. Ferguson, it turned out, had a better tool than most public speaking coaches do. She just sewed shut her husband's pockets. End of story.

Missing your needle and thread, or had this done to you? Read "What should I do with my hands when presenting?" for more useful alternatives.

Clip to Evernote
Use the Evernote clip button, above, to save this post in an Evernote notebook or start an Evernote account.(If it doesn't work for you, try using a 'modern' browser, like Chrome or Firefox.) Go here to subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, my free email newsletter that looks at a different speaking topic in depth each month...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.