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Students say this to me all the time, "I don't know what to do with my hands while I'm speaking." and I say to them, "Do nothing, simply nothing." If your hands rest comfortably by your sides, or on the conference table when you're speaking in front of an audience, you portray a sense of calm and confidence. That's not to say that you shouldn't gesture. Just don't be like some speakers I have seen who constantly wave their hands in the air as if they're parking a plane on the tarmac. It gets to be distracting. Your hands should be kinesthetic exclamation marks.
Gesture when it's necessary, when your words match your emotions and when your hands can deliver more energy to your audience. There's no need to overprescribe this. Think of gesturing when you're talking about you or others in the room, when you refer to a place far away like Japan or right here in the U.S. You may want to gesture when you explain a project timeline that starts today and goes out a year. "Can you tell me where six months is?" "Well, somewhere in the middle." The beauty of some gestures is that when you repeat them, your audience will know what you mean.
"What country did we just talk about?" "That's right, Japan." Some gestures allow you to add emotion to your words. A thick file described with a gesture is more notable and so is a steep increase. Gestures can describe the process of data collection like this or simple numbers for your audience to remember. Gestures can do three things for you. They can deliver energy. They can accentuate your point and help your audience remember. Now, since I'm demonstrating the affect of gestures, let me also share my least favorite ones as well.
Hand wringing. Holding the basketball or the basket. Hands in the pockets, extensively or one hand in the pocket jiggling with change. Spider in the mirror. At ease. The good old fig leaf. And the "you are grounded". The mother of them all, though, is tagged by author and speaker Tim Kegel and it's the T-rex, elbows glued to the ribs making any gesture just too tiny and ineffective.
So remember, what do you do with your hands? Nothing at all. And finally, a side note on notes. Notes can help you remember your points, but they can also take away from the authentic nature of your message. Have notes around but don't carry them up there and wave them like a white flag of surrender. Printing out your slide deck and laying it on the table for you to glance at is helpful visual. Just be careful that it doesn't take away from your connection with the group. Another common distraction can be your clicker.
Choose a small discrete one that cannot become a pointing tool or a nervous hand toy. Gestures can either accentuate your message or distract from it. Use ones that come naturally to you. If you're not comfortable gesturing or you gesture too much, add a few planted ones that match your words and remember to practice them in day-to-day conversations.
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