What Should You NOT Do With Your Hands When Giving A Speech?

What do you need to stop doing with your hands when giving a speech?
What do you need to stop doing with your hands when giving a speech?
Image Credit: Jeffrey

Those darn hands of yours – whatever are we going to do with them? During your speech they can either help you to make your point by boosting the importance of public speaking or they can get in your way and act as a distraction for your audience. As speakers we can often find a lot of information on what we are supposed to do with our hands when we are making gestures; however, up until now what has been missing has been a good discussion about just exactly what we should NOT be doing with our hands during a speech.

No Pointing

One of the realities of our speeches today is that we really have no idea who is going to be in our audience nor where they will be coming from. This means that the members of your audience may represent a culture that is different from yours. This becomes critically important when we talk about pointing. It turns out that what finger you use to point with can be misinterpreted by people from other cultures. I know that I’ve seen several Indian professors make presentations where they used their middle finger to point things out and I found it both hilarious and distracting. Instead of pointing with a finger, use your entire hand. Open your hand up and point at what you want people to see with your palm. You can’t go wrong this way.

Don’t Script Your Hands

One of the best things about hand gestures is that they always seem so natural to our audience. Like we were in the middle of saying something and all of a sudden we realized that we could do something with our hands to better show them what we meant. If while you are practicing your speech you rehearse what you want to do with your hands too much and try to do exactly the same gesture exactly the same way every time, then what’s going to happen is that you’ll fail. Your gestures will come across looking like they are stilted and unnatural and you’ll lose that connection with the audience.

Do Enough, Not Too Much

If you spend your entire speech wildly waving your hands in the air, then all you are going to end up doing is distracting your audience and the losing benefits of any gestures that you did make will have been lost. Instead, when you are done making a gesture take the time to return your hands to your sides and then just have them wait there until it’s time for you to make another gesture.

You Have Two Hands, Use Both

I like to call this the “motorcycle accident victim move”. All too often I’ll see my speaking students using just one hand to make all of the gestures in a speech. Very soon the audience starts to think that there must be something wrong with the other hand because they are never seeing it! Don’t do this. Instead vary which arm you use to make gestures – sometimes the left, sometimes the right. Even better is when you use both arms to make a gesture.

Covered Counting

As we’ve all been taught, it’s a good idea to work a sequence of things into your speech (“5 tips to lose weight”, “3 ways to refinance your house”, etc). While we are speaking a powerful gesture is to show our audience which step we are on by counting on our fingers. However, many speakers tend to cover up their fingers with their other hand when they are doing this. Don’t be like this. Instead, extend your arm towards the ceiling and then unfurl the number of fingers that represent where you are in your countdown.

What All Of This Means For You

The next speech that we give will involve both our words and our gestures. What this means is that as speakers we need to find ways to make our hands work for us and not against us in order to communicate the benefits of public speaking. It’s pretty easy to find people who will tell us what we should be doing with our hands, but what should we NOT be doing with our hands?

It turns out that there are a number of things that we should not be doing with our hands. Pointing means different things in different cultures and so we need to be careful here. If you try to script your gestures or just simply make too many gestures then you’re going to lose your audience. You have two hands and you need to remember to use both of them when making gestures. Finally, counting can be an important part of every speech we give and so we need to use our hands to clearly show our audience where we are in the countdown.

Different members of our audience learn in different ways. Some will use our words to understand our concepts while others will need to see our hand gestures to get our point. When we make a gesture, we need to ensure that we do it well and that we don’t make any distracting mistakes. Avoid making the errors that we’ve discussed and you’ll be on your way to delivering a speech with powerful gestures.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: If you check with your audience beforehand, do you think that you could still use your fingers to point?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let me be honest with you: I cannot sing. Nope, not a note. If I started singing, you’d start to leave the room. However, just because I can’t sing does not mean that you should not be considering adding a song or two to your next speech. We generally don’t think of speaking and singing as going together, but perhaps we should.