The secret of successful hand gestures

Updated: Nov 2, 2018

What do we do with our hands during a speech?

Well, I’ve seen people do some strange things with their hands. In fact, I’ve seen them do every strange thing you can imagine – and some things you can’t imagine!

The fig leaf

This was popular with Adam and Eve, but fell out of favour shortly after the garden of Eden debacle. This is when we have our hands clenched across the genital area. It’s an unconscious method of protection during a speech. (It’s okay, no one is going to make a grab for your genitals during your presentation. If someone does, let me know, and I’ll warn everyone accordingly.)

Arms folded

Yes, I once saw someone conduct an entire speech with their arms folded. Perhaps they’d had an accident with superglue shortly before taking to the stage. Who knows?

Folded arms are a way of creating a barrier between ourselves and our audience.

Hands in pockets

Likewise, I’ve seen someone deliver an entire speech with their hands in their trouser pockets. I can only wonder what the audience was thinking…

Hand clenching

This is common, and another way that we create a barrier between ourselves and the audience. A variation is ‘steepling’ (think of Sherlock Holmes in deep thought).

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So what do we do with our hands?

The default position is hands at our sides. If you have problems doing this, focus on feeling for the seams of your pants. You may also stitch something into your clothing as a reminder to reposition your hands at your sides.

Now, I’m not saying here to stand there like Mr Bean with your hands stuck to your sides! What I am saying is keep your hands there until you’re ready to use them to support your message.

The open palm

When we raise our hands, keep them in an open position with palms towards the audience. It’s no accident that this same gesture is shown in many religious paintings and iconography. It’s an open, non-threatening position that has been recognised as such for millennia.

We see our politicians do it all the time when they wave. They use an open palm gesture towards the audience. Type ‘politician waving’ into Google and see what images appear. (The Queen of England is an exception to the rule, but that’s due to tradition.) Interestingly, Prince’s William and Harry both use the open-handed wave.

Doing this may not come naturally at first, but it will come. Use open hands to support your message.

If you have a bad habit with your hands, practice will help you to take control of them.

What’s that old saying?

Practice makes perfect!

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