Hands… those two things you never know what to do with and that make you feel incredibly self-conscious. In order to grasp the best ways in which to use your hands, we first need to take a look at what NOT to do when speaking in public.
- Don’t have a defensive posture. Typically, people tend to compensate for their lack of confidence by adopting a defensive posture. This essentially means crossing your arms or hands in front of you and closing yourself off from your audience. While you may feel more comfortable doing this, it has a very negative effect and ultimately suggests that you are unwelcoming and hostile.
- Don’t put your hands behind your back. While many people think that this makes them look serious and important, this posture hints at a very military-like attitude which you’ll want to avoid in most contexts. On top of this, gesturing becomes very clumsy because your hands will have to go from your back to your front every single time, making it very distracting.
- Don’t put your hands in your pockets. This is incredibly annoying and I’m always amazed how many people actually do it. It looks extremely casual and suggests that you’re not fully into what you’re saying, that you don’t really care about your audience or what they think. This is a very tricky habit to get out of, so if you really don’t feel comportable, try just putting one hand in your pocket and letting the other hand by your side.
- Don’t make massive gestures. On a subconscious level, it seems to me that people tend to think that the bigger the audience the bigger their gestures should be. On the contrary. You need to have very clean and controlled gestures.
- Stop fiddling. I see this all the time, in men and women alike. Men typically to fiddle with their cuffs, their suit jacket button or their facial hair whereas women tend to play with their hair, earrings or some detail on their clothing. Remember, the audience notices all of this and it becomes extremely distracting. So if you want your audience to listen to you rather than play “what is he going to do next”, stop fiddling.
Alright, so now you have a better idea of what not to do… but, having read these no-goes, you may be wondering what you can actually do with your hands. Whatever your level, remember that these tips will take a lot of practice. You’ll have to sacrifice feeling fairly uncomfortable every now and again until it feels natural enough for you to stop actively thinking about it. All the following hand placement options should allow you to gesture very comfortably all while having precise movements.
Hand placement options:
- Let your hands fall to your sides
Don’t be afraid to simply leave your hands by your sides. People tend to dislike this because it makes them feel uncomfortably exposed. Nevertheless, do try this whenever you get the chance: getting used to it will undoubtedly help you in the future.
- Gently hold your hands above the belt
If you really don’t want to feel too exposed, I suggest gently holding your hands together with your palms facing inwards or upwards. For this you will need to have your hands above the belt and no higher than your belly button.
- Have your hands touch above the belt
This is a variation of the previous option. Here, instead of having your hands together, you want to touch them very slightly. This is my personal favourite for it allows you to maintain a good posture while not closing yourself off to your audience.
- The glass of water
I named this one the “glass of water” position because you essentially hold one arm up as if you were talking while holding a glass of water near your abdomen. Your thumb should lie snuggly on the middle phalanx of the index finger and the other arm should remain comfortably on the side.