But what do I do with my hands?!

Picture the scene. 

You’ve prepared an absolutely cracking talk. You know it’s going to go down well with your audience. You stand up in front of people to deliver it and… oh my godwhat is going on with my hands? 

The Hand Question is the number one worry voiced by delegates on our training courses and for a very good reason. Your hands help you to tell the story, emphasise your key points and direct the audience’s attention towards you. In the normal course of life, this happens naturally and we’re barely even aware we’re doing it.

But the second we’re in a stressful situation, all normal behaviour goes out of the window and our hands end up in all sorts of peculiar places:

  • Clamped to our side, seemingly having lost all power of movement
  • Gripped at the back a la Prince Charles
  • Whirling around like a crazed windmill
  • Wringing, fidgeting and raking through our hair like we’ve lost something in there

So now, as well as giving a lacklustre performance, you’re in imminent danger of looking like a right eejit. This is, I suspect, not the outcome you’re after.

The good news is that it’s perfectly fixable, but it’s another of those situations where you’re going to have to put in the effort in order to look effortless. So here are some, ahem, handy tips.

The first thing to realise is that you don’t want your hands to be constantly in motion. Use them sparingly, when they’re going to be of most use to you in drawing attention to key moments. Get used to bringing your hands back to home base in between points. This might be loosely by your side or lightly held in front of you around waist height. Then, when you have something important to say, your hands get to join in.

For the most part, keep your movements reasonably small, imagining a circle between chin and navel. This allows you to have a much better impact when you break out of the circle for those really big moments that you need the audience to remember. Your hands go wide, you inhabit that space and people get that this is the Big Message.

Be aware of gestures that could look aggressive – some people do a hell of a lot of pointing and finger wagging to the extent that the audience feels likes they’re getting a bit of a telling off. For the most part, you’re deploy open, palm upwards gestures. Against a background that feels welcoming and friendly, a judiciously inserted point will then appear dramatic and powerful.

You’re looking to develop a repertoire of movements that you can draw on to match the pace, style and tone of each part of your presentation, so try not to get too hooked on a particular gesture. Someone has clearly told Boris that shaking a clenched fist can make him look powerful and determined. Well maybe if he didn’t repeat the gesture in every announcement, leading us to feel like we’re being manipulated. A good test is whether someone could do an impression of you – if so, work on breaking it up a bit. 

The goal is to get to the point where you’re not even thinking about it, but as with many things in presenting, you have to practise before the hands becomes a smoothly integrated part of your talk. At this point, people won’t notice your hands. Just your overall fabulousness.