One of the most common questions I get is “What do I do with my hands?”
To which I say: “Forget about your hands. If you’re engaging your audience with a strong message and energy, no one will notice your gestures.”
I understand why people are worried about gestures. Hands and arms have a full range of motion. You have lots of decisions to make! Should I clasp them in front of me? Should I put them in my pockets?
And when you’re standing in front of an audience, it’s easy to become self-conscious.
The basic rule for gestures is “Don’t distract”. People twiddle their fingers or windmill their arms. They put their thumbs in their pockets or fondle their laser pointers. All are distracting “no nos.” The standard advice is to make big confident gestures. Reach out and make yourself look big.
But you can have perfect gestures and still stink if you have no energy, fail to address audience concerns, or tell no stories.
And you can be a great speaker despite imperfect gestures.
Consider Pat Conroy, author of two of my favorite books, “Prince of Tides” and “The Lords of Discipline”. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, go! He’s amazing.
I heard him speak several years ago at the Atlanta Historical Society. Conroy spoke with great passion and told riveting stories. His speaking style was what I call “animated bar conversation.” It was like he was having an intense conversation over a beer. The audience was captivated.
But he did do one thing that might have been a distraction if he hadn’t otherwise been so good. On the day that I heard him speak, his eyeglasses kept falling down his nose. He had to adjust them every 15 or 20 seconds.
After the speech, everyone was buzzing, laughing and retelling Conroy’s stories.
No one said, “Did you notice his eyeglasses?” I only noticed them because at the time of the speech, I had been writing my first book and happened to be on the chapter on gestures.
The point is that when you do the big things right like stories and energy, no one notices little things like gestures.
There is one thing that you can do with your hands to become more engaging —gesture with more energy. I tell clients to “work up a sweat.” Energy in your body translates to energy in your voice and face.
I was working with a woman recently who needed to speak with more energy. While she spoke, her hands and arms hung motionless at her side.
“I have always been told that my hands are distracting,” she said.
But when she energized her body with big powerful gestures, her voice and face became far more animated.
Now if she would add great stories and a strong focus on audience challenges, she would connect like Pat Conroy.Joey Asher is President of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. He has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org