Is it okay to use your hands when presenting?
I often get clients who want to improve their presentation skills and for some reason struggle with what to do with their hands. In casual conversations, this is typically a non-issue, but when they are on stage suddenly their arms and hands become appendages that are disconnected from their bodies. Of course, the problem is their nerves which trigger self-consciousness which leads to awkwardness. Learning to deal with nervousness is another topic. Today we are simply going to talk about whether it is okay to use your hands and how to do that skillfully.
To gesture or not to gesture, that is the question. The answer is yes and no. Either proposition can be right or wrong. When people are nervous and their hand movements become involuntary actions disconnected from what they are trying to convey, they become distractions. When we see someone whose nervousness is magnified by flailing limbs that seem out of control, it catches our attention and doesn’t feel right from a visceral standpoint.
It is not because they are using their hands that it is distracting, it’s because their hands are on their own run that is the problem. However, in casual conversation it is natural to see people express themselves with their entire body. Hands play a huge role in expression.
Therefore, when you get on stage you come across as nervous when your hands are flapping around on their own, as well as when they are stiff to your side. What is important, is not simply whether it is good or bad to use your hands, but are your gestures born of disconnected nervous energy or intentional expressions powered by confidence. It is natural to use your hands to express yourself.
Studies have shown the most engaging speakers are the ones who use their entire body, including their hands. The Science of People measured the hand movements of speakers and their ability to keep their audience’s attention and found those who use gestures throughout their talks received higher ratings. The highest rated speakers use more than twice as many gestures. Speakers need to use their entire body to transfer energy and connect with their audience. It is difficult to connect if you are stiff.
However, setting does make a difference. For example, if you are on a big stage and your audience is far away, just like the increased projection of your voice is required, you need to maximize the use of your entire body to bring the energy across. If you are recording a video and the camera shot is tight, not so much because everything on camera tends to be exaggerated. A talking head video with your hands waving in front can look over dramatic and significantly detract from your message.
So, remember your movements must be scaled for the platform. If your platform is small, like a boardroom, be sure to use your hands. This will keep their attention, however scale your movement the way you scale your voice. Just like you would speak much louder in an auditorium, reserve you bigger movements for a larger platform.
In summary, yes, you should use your hands. Use them to direct your audience’s attention, to point out something important, to show how high, how low, wide or narrow, to touch your heart, to convey intensity by clinching your fist, to wave and more. The key is to use your hands with confidence and intention. Intentional gestures are good; involuntary anxious movements are not. If you would like personal coaching to enhance your presentation skills, contact me.
• Kim Welcome is the CEO of Influential Voice. A communication trainer and coach, she assists businesses and professionals to achieve their goals by helping them to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 242-225-9013.