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What Do I Do With My Hands?

Anyone in the military knows exactly what to do with their hands; they stand at attention with their hands at their sides, they stand at ease with their hands behind their back specifically with the right hand crossed over the left, they salute a superior or the flag with their right hand. Presenters also need to know what to do with their arms and hands and like the military, there are a few helpful positions that will contribute to a more interesting presentation.

First, let me be clear.I don't want you to look like a soldier when you're presenting.I want your gestures to be natural, interesting and NOT distracting.They should enhance your message and be intentional.Now you ask, "Do I really have to plan my gestures?"Yes, and here's why.According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA, when your body language, tone of voice and words are not congruent, body language will dominate 55% of the message.You do not want your audiences paying more attention to your gestures than to your overall message.

I want you to be more aware of the options you have when you're presenting and decide which gestures would augment your message.You'll have to break some old habits. With awareness and practice, more interesting gestures will replace distracting ones.

Three Basic Zones

Zone 1 - Above your waist.This is the zone from which most presentersgesture.The problem is that some presenters rarely leave this zone.They often look as though they have "Barbie doll" arms.Elbows are constantly bent and either in front of the body or out to the side. Armpits are usually closed with elbows close to the rib cage.It's in Zone 1 where presenters can look nervous or closed.Their hands are clasped, vital organs are protected and palms are usually facing inward.

Zone 2 ' At your sides.This is your "default position".When all else fails, just drop your arms.Obviously, you wouldn't give your entire presentation with your arms down, but there are times when less is more and no gesture is required.It may feel uncomfortable, but you will look open and relaxed to the audience.You want to demonstrate that you are unafraid, ready and open to their challenges.Start any gesture from this position then return to it without a "cheerleader" slap on your thigh.,_Chairman_%26_CEO,_Mission_Hills_Group.jpg

Zone 3 ' Away from your body.Whenever you broaden a gesture and show palms to the audience, you begin to build trust.While a wide gesture may feel awkward and overly dramatic, it looks open and confident.Think of clergy at the beginning of a sermon.They open their arms to the congregation with palms forward and hold it while they say, "Good Morning".Practice in front of a mirror to prove to yourself that, indeed, you do look inviting and bold.

Sometimes you need to combine two zones.For example, when you're presenting a slide, you're in both Zone 2 and 3.

Regardless in which zone a gesture falls, you need to use your gestures to help the audience visualize your message.For example, if you are comparing good and bad news, you might gesture with your right arm out to the side to discuss bad news and your left arm to the opposite side to discuss good news.You could use a lifting motion with both hands to describe an improvement in performance or rain drop motion downward to describe falling performance.

Finally, be graceful with your gestures.Hold a gesture throughout an entire sentence versus emphasizing every word or "beating the drum" as I call it.The audience will listen more carefully as your extended gesture connects them to your message.

If you want additional coaching to ensure your gestures are congruent and enhance your next presentation, contact me at 773 252 7056 or or visit my website


Categories: Delivery Skills
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