Amy Carroll » Speaking Tips » Hand Jive!

Hand Jive!

Question:   What in the world can I do with my hands on stage??  I taped my last event a few weeks ago (BTW, do you ever see a video of yourself that you like?!  I can’t stand to watch myself on video!) and my hands were all over the place.  I realized I always have a hand held microphone, but this time I had a wireless one.  It was my first time to use one.  I felt like my hands were such a distraction to the message.  I cringed as I watched the video.  I am an animated person in general, but this was way too much.  I am glad I taped it!  

Answer:  I’ve been dealing with the exact same thing recently.  Not only did I notice the problem in a video, when pressured to tell me something to work on after hearing me speak, my sweet husband told me that I looked like I was about to take flight!

Our team was coached on presentation skills a couple of years ago.  Our instructor told us that our arms should hang comfortably by our sidewith occasional gestures.  I don’t know about you but “comfortably at your side” is an oxymoron.  I’m having to practice in the mirror as I also work to internalize my message.  I also really concentrated on being aware of my hands as I spoke last week.  It’s going to take some doing to unlearn my habits of either clasping or waving my hands.  I think practice and focus will be the only answers.

Have any of you had this problem?  Any tips for us?

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  1. I didn’t realize clasping my hands in front of me wasn’t ok!! I thought that was an improvement over all the other stuff I was doing! Guess I have more to work on…

  2. I like the idea of holding a pencil and will try that next time. Last time I spoke, I became aware that my arms were “glued” to my sides and then while thinking about what I’m saying, I’m also thinking about how to get them unstuck! : ) Practice, practice. One thing that helps me is to think of the audience as a group of friends who already like me and that helps me be myself in speaking and in motion. Practice, practice. We certainly don’t all need to look alike and developing style is similar to writer’s voice.

  3. I hold a pen too. You can still talk with your hands to emphasize something, but it allows your hands to rest naturally while speaking. I liken it to that same feeling when you’re at a party — holding a drink helps me relax (Perrier with lemon, ladies!) It just makes me more comfortable to keep my hands busy holding a drink when meeting new people. Thanks!

  4. Wow, the message AND the comments are so helpful! I struggle with my hands too. I’m a hand-clasper, and I was told that anytime you clasp your hands or cross your arms, it’s a guarded expression. Keep the hands open. I love this: “Let your arms be a part of the dance and not steal the show.”

    Thanks Amy, for another great article…

    1. I like that “part of the dance” statement also. Adding to that, when able to, practice in front of a mirror before speaking and notice of you have repeated hand gestures that may seem out of place or “canned”. Think of talking to a friend, engaging them in the conversation or story, but not creating the need for them to duck as your arms or hands come around. If the gesture matches the story or statement, it is engaging…if it is obviously a gesture that you’ve come up with because you don’t know what else to do, it will be recognized(hopefully by you first) as calculated and seem performed instead of engaging.

  5. I started out in public speaking at the age of 12. My instructor told us to use our hands as a natural extension of our bodies. That means, don’t do the chicken wing thing or nervously flap in the wind. Hand gestures should be a dance, where the movements are graceful, flowing and meaningful (highlight meaningful). It does help to practice in a mirror. By the way, I think when we watch ourselves, we are generally appalled . It probably isn’t as big a deal as you perceive. But, to be more effective in front of a group, it is good not to distract from your words with hyper, nervous movement. You notice I’ve mentioned the nervous thing more than once. Most of the time, our hands express our nerves–even when we aren’t aware of them. Take a few deep breaths and let your arms be a part of the dance and not steal the show.

  6. Thanks for your openness, Amy. I enjoy all your posts. A friend recently told me that holding a pen or pencil helps keep gestures and postures more natural. I haven’t tried it yet, but certainly intend to soon.