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Hands Down Brilliant (Body Language)

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

What to do with your hands when presenting.
Body Language Basics

What To Do With Your Hands When Presenting As a public speaking coach, the one thing I hear most often from clients is, “I don’t know what to do with my hands when presenting!” or "Where should I put my hands when I speak?" While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how to use your arms and hands, understand that when it comes to public speaking, your body language plays a significant role in how your message is perceived by the audience. For example, if you keep your hands in your pockets you may come across as overly cavalier or casual. You may also appear to be hiding something. If you clasp your hands in front of you, you may look nervous. So, what do you do with your hands?

Here are some tips on where to put your hands while speaking:

  1. Starting Position: I always advise my clients to start with their arms and hands resting in a relaxed way at their sides, palms facing inwards (facing thights). Avoid clasping your hands in front of you or adopting the school ma’am position (hands clasped at your waist and elbows out). If you are being filmed, you may elect to have your hands touching one another at the midway point of your body so that your full arms are in frame. If a camera catches your body from the waist up and you have your arms at your sides, you will appear quite stiff (almost military). I always coach my speakers to stand strongly with their feet pointing forwards, legs hip distance apart, with a strong but relaxed posture.

  2. First gesture: As you begin speaking, you could adopt the supplication pose. It is the position that you’ll notice is most used for depicting Jesus. Imagine giving your audience a hug. Your arms are open, palms facing slightly up. The gesture is embracing and open and makes your audience instinctively trust you.

  3. Natural Gestures: Use your hands to emphasize and illustrate your points. Natural gestures can make your speech more engaging and help convey your message effectively. For example, if you’re talking about the size of something, you can use your hands to indicate its size.

  4. Gesture in Front of Your Body: When making gestures, it’s generally more effective to gesture in front of your body, within the “gesture box.” This area is between your shoulders and waist, and it’s where most of your gestures should be focused. Gesturing in this zone helps keep your movements within the audience’s field of vision and prevents distracting gestures.

  5. Avoid Fidgeting: While some hand movement is good, excessive fidgeting can be distracting. Avoid habits like tapping your fingers, removing imaginary lint, playing with jewelry, or constantly adjusting your clothing. These habits can divert attention from your message. My golden rule is that less is more. Some people have a naturally more expressive style and gesticulate wildly. I’m thinking about the YouTube personality Mr. Ballen here. His gestures are wildly over-the-top but they are part of his brand. If I were coaching him, I’d coach him to calm these down but he has done just fine without my advice so perhaps it’s just as well he isn’t a client.

  6. Use Open Hand Gestures: Open hand gestures with your palms facing up or toward the audience can convey openness and sincerity. It’s a way of inviting the audience to engage with your message. For example, you can use open hand gestures when sharing ideas or solutions.

  7. Avoid Closed Gestures: Closed gestures, where your palms are facing down or toward your body, can sometimes be perceived as defensive or secretive. You will also appear closed off if you cross your arms over our chest or adopt the fig leaf position (hands clasped in front of your groin). It’s generally best to use open hand gestures to appear more open and confident.

  8. Practice and Rehearse: Pay attention to your hand movements during rehearsals. If you notice distracting or repetitive gestures, work on minimizing or replacing them with more purposeful and relevant gestures. It’s a good idea to record yourself and watch your hand movements and rehearse. I get my coaching clients to wear bright colored rubber gloves because this makes them more aware of their hands and stops them from making habitual, unconscious movements.

  9. Use Props Effectively: If you have props or visual aids, coordinate your hand gestures with them. For example, if you’re pointing to something on a slide, use your hand to guide the audience’s attention to the relevant point.

  10. Remember To Stay Relaxed: Don’t clench your fists or make tense movements. Keep your hands relaxed and fluid. Nervousness can sometimes lead to stiff or awkward hand gestures, so practicing relaxation techniques can help.

  11. Be Authentic: Above all, be authentic in your gestures. Your body language should reflect your natural style and personality. Authenticity helps you connect with your audience on a more genuine level.

Ultimately, where you put your hands while speaking should complement your message and help convey your ideas effectively. Practicing and becoming aware of your hand gestures can enhance your public speaking skills and make you a more engaging and persuasive speaker.

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Nice! I never know what to do with my hands. lol


Daniel Peterson
Daniel Peterson

Excellent article! Thank you

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