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Business presentation skills: I don't know what to do with my hands!

leonsergent communications - Prise de parole en public/Public Speaking

Hand gestures are just as important, and sometimes even more so, than any words you use to convey messages to an audience. Many participants in our training workshops in business or scientific presentations and our candidates in individual coaching tell us that they do not always know what to do with their hands. You are neither the only ones nor the first to struggle with this. Here are the most common mistakes.

  1. Clasped Hands
    Hands clasped in prayer, hands clasped in front of the pubic area, or fingers crossed in exhortation are habits that should be reviewed. It sounds like you're praying for a good reaction, protecting yourself from a backlash, or begging your audience to be kind to you! Strategically, these may not be messages you want to convey.
  2. Arms Crossed.
    While standing your arms across your arms adds a bit of comfort from time to time, some members of your audience might perceive that you're closed to their opinions and feelings. Others might see it as a nonchalant and lackluster attitude that reflects disinterestedness, which is the original mistake in any communication strategy.
  3. Hands Behind Your Back.
    Some members of your audience might think you have something to hide. Can you run the risk of conveying the impression that you are not telling them everything?
  4. Hands In Pockets.
    Aloofness or disrespect? In both cases, you are demonstrating that you are an inexperienced beginner. If, on top of that, you have the bad habit of fiddling with coins or keys that are in your pockets, it's a distraction that can cause annoyance to your listeners. And if this was your strategy to make you look like an iconoclast or a creative, this could backfire.
  5. Holding An Object
    Are you holding a pen, a hand-held remote or a piece of paper? Three problems: 1) You will tend to play with the pen or the controller, this is distracting, 2) If you experience nervousness, the sheet of paper will be seen to amplify your tremors and 3) In any case, it is one less hand at your disposal to make congruent gestures.
  6. Hands To Face
    Fingers running over your cheeks, chin, near your mouth, or even in your mouth can distract your listeners to the point where some will wonder if you have an itch or a chronic medical condition! If your gestures are a distraction, perhaps you could show a little more restraint and discipline?
  7. Making a Fist
    A clenched fist or fists could be perceived as signs of aggression or belligerence, especially if brandished in the air. Do you want your listeners to feel that you are standing up to them or provoking them?
  8. The Pointing Finger.
    In general, pointing the finger at a listener is a faux pas because it could make a participant feel uncomfortable. This person may feel targeted or even attacked publicly. And if that person decided to reciprocate, the conversation might take a turn you didn't want.

There are three guiding principles when it comes to hand position in public speaking. First, if the hands are clasped and therefore fixed, presenters cannot accompany their words with congruent gestures and deprive themselves of appreciable visual support. Then, if the hands are not visible, this could be interpreted as a lack of candor or a way of concealing part of the message. Lastly, when not in use, hands belong on your sides.

In the next blog, some ideas to try to develop a natural way to use gestures in your talks.

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