Don’t Hand it to Your Audience

What do you do with your hands as you continue harnessing your physical power on the platform? I get that one a lot. Your maker endowed you with two wonderful visual aids – and what you do, and don’t do, with them says a lot about your confidence and credibility as a presenter.

This month, we’ll summarize ‘Gesturing ‘Worst Practices’ – it should be interesting and mildly amusing trip, unless it sounds like I’m talking about you. Next month, we’ll move on to ‘Best Practices’. Sound like a plan to you?

A Physiology Primer

Keep these physiological concepts in mind as we move from Worst Practices to Best Practices.

1. That excess nervous energy your level of Presentation Anxiety produces finds a warm and happy place to hide in your hands. That’s why nervous presenters often get the shakes. Trembling or fidgety hands or fingers are telltale signs of nervousness.

2. The eyes of the audience are usually drawn to movement. When your hands are moving, the audience is compelled to look at them. If your hands are moving and sending out a non-verbal message of ‘I’m nervous’, the audience can’t help but notice.

3. Gestures can add visual value and punch to your message, or detract from it. Presenters with ineffective or distracting gestures don’t consciously plan them that way. They result from unconscious bad habits combined with that surging nervous energy that isn’t channeled more productively.

10 Worst Practices

That all said, here’s what you shouldn’t do with your hands:

1. Not gesturing – humans generally gesture when they talk. Just watch a casual stand up conversation from a bit of a distance. Since presenting is talking, not gesturing looks odd and unnatural. The longer you go without some kind of gesture, the more conspicuous and distracting it becomes.

2. Gesturing too much – the opposite extreme can also distract and annoy your audience. Such a distraction gets in the way of your message and quickly erodes your image of credibility.

3. Overdoing the same gesture – even if the gesture itself is not done too much, using the same one all the time can really impact your audience. That same point, jab or chop can dominate their attention to the point that they begin counting them. Remember that professor in college who used the same gesture over and over again … and the daily lottery some enterprising student ran to see who guessed the correct number of times?

4. Fidgety movements – an entire family of unproductive hand or finger movements that add nothing to your message or image and only project nervousness.

5. Putting your hands together – they’re like ‘vel’ and ‘cro’. Once you put them together, its difficult to get them apart. While this may make you feel more comfortable psychology, it doesn’t project power or confidence. And it may look like you’re praying for help or about to break into ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider …’

6. Counting on your fingers – trite and corny. Your audience doesn’t need you to be that obtuse. They can get it when you use a more subtle transition from point #1 to point #2 than holding up two fingers.

7. Holding your hands behind your back – this renders these natural visual aids powerless and looks like you’re hiding something. You are.

8. Holding your hands together in front … in the ‘fig leaf’ position – remember that the eyes of your audience are drawn to your hands and movement. Is that where you want them to look? … I didn’t think so.

9. Both hands in your pockets – often an unconscious action to remove the fidgety hand movements from sight. Unfortunately, It looks exactly like that. If you continue the fidgets, it makes your pockets look like you brought your pet hamsters with you to the presentation. Or, you start jingling the change in your pocket, which they can hear.

10. One hand in your pocket – while projecting a more relaxed and casual non-verbal message, you just lost one half of your visual aids. So, a little goes a long way.

So there you are – if these Gesturing Worst Practices sounded too much like you, ask yourself why you do those things. If you’re not real happy with your answer, your audience won’t be either. And be sure to read ‘Communicate Confidently!’ next month to find out what to do about them.