Earlier this year, in a presentation skills training session, I was asked a common question: “What should I do with my hands?”
It’s interesting how presenters – or people in general, come to that – can feel awkward standing with their arms hanging loose from the shoulders, hands at their sides. However, hands jingling loose change in a pocket, hands behind the back, arms crossed . . . none of these lead us to think the presenter is particularly relaxed.
The people who can stand in a balanced way, arms by their sides, with their eyes and faces alert, welcoming and focused seems to me to exude confidence. These are the people who are able to use their hands to gesture with fluency and ease, when they chose to, because they are also content to leave their hands at rest when they are not needed for emphasis.
Some people use their hands a great deal but it doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable because they don’t appear so.
Others look as if they’ve been told: “You look too wooden – move your arms about a bit!” You’ve seen them – a good example is television reporters with repetitive tub-thumping movements that have no real connection to what they are saying.
Some people hardly use their hands at all, but their stillness suits them well.
So the short answer to the questions “What should I do with my hands?” usually is “Whatever makes you feel comfortable.” Some people like to use their hands to gesture frequently. Others want to keep them still. I suspect that audiences react most favourably when the speaker looks relaxed and appears comfortable with what they are doing.