Let your hands go free!

Have you ever thought, when giving a presentation; “What should I do with my hands?”.

It’s something I get asked often. And to be honest…..I have been known to throw in the odd ‘Jazz Hands’ when speaking.

But I am comfortable with big hand movements. Many are not.

Last week, after watching himself present on video, one of my course participants announced:

“I didn’t realise I had such flouncy hands”!

Personally, I hadn’t registered the ‘flouncy’ element.  But I get the concern about overdoing the jazz hands.

No one wants to come across as ‘over the top’, too passionate, or just a bit stagey and weird! And when you are at the front of the room, even the smallest of hand movements can feel contrived – IF you think about it for too long.

So, what do you do? Embrace the jazz hands, or not?

Well first things first. Using body language (which includes hand gestures, of course) is a helpful communication tool. And this is for several reasons:

  1. The meaning of body language often precedes the spoken word.

If someone is nodding at us, we feel their agreement before we hear their words. Same thing when someone shakes their head. We sense their disagreement – before they open their mouth.

  1. Hand gestures can help people understand what you are saying.

Check out this recent study by academics from the University of California and University of Georgia. It shows how hand gestures used by university lecturers help students mentally organise new information.

  1. It’s a very natural way to communicate.

Sitting in a Wellington restaurant on Friday, I looked around the room to see every table (that wasn’t on their phones) throwing in some big hands, left, right and centre. And looking comfortable doing it! When we’re relaxed and we don’t think about it, we use our hands all the time to help us communicate.

So, my advice is start off by focusing on hand gestures that you would naturally use, and that will help get your message across.

And the reality is that most of us do this anyway, all the time.

Think about the hand gestures we use in our day-to-day interaction, such as:

  • “Counting to three” to get that Xbox turned off,
  • using our hand over our heart to emphasis meaning,
  • using our two hands to compare different approaches to our team,
  • or, to signal to a driver that you are unhappy with them.

(Actually, on second thoughts – scrap that last one)!

All of those are useful and natural hand gestures that help communicate our point.

So, the truth is that once you get talking, 9 times out of 10 your hands will swing into action without too much thought.  You just need to make sure they are free to do so, which means extracting your hands from:

  • Your pockets.
  • Behind your back.
  • Hanging onto your notes for dear life.

So, my answer to “what should I do with my hands”?

Set those hands free and let them do what they want to do. They’ll take care of themselves.

Stop presenting. Start talking.


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