What should I do with my hands during a presentation?

Whether you are presenting, telling a story or just talking, how you use hands (or don’t use them) is important. An analysis of TED talks found that the most popular TED talkers were using 465 hand gestures over 18 minutes – compared to the least popular using just 272. Other research shows that gestures – more than actions themselves – impact our understanding of meaning. Put simply, you need to unleash the power of gestures when you present.

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Your hands give you away (4 things not to do)

We have all seen somebody standing in front of a large group of people, trying to remain calm and hide their nervousness, and their hands giving them away. We can see they’re nervous and uncomfortable. When presenting, don’t:

  1. Keep them in your pockets. This will usually come across to your audience as too casual and is often perceived by people at as you trying to hide your hands because of nervousness. Like it or not, it is best to keep your hands out in the open for the world to see.
  2. Keep them in behind you. Hiding them behind your back can this makes you look distant and reserved or even uninterested in the people you are talking to.
  3. Place them on your hips. A stance with both hands on the hips will, more than likely, seem aggressive or authoritarian and definitely will not win you any friends in your audience.
  4. Hold them together. You’ll look as if you are defending yourself and come across as unconfident and vulnerable. Crossing them can achieve the same result too.

4 Things to do with your hands when presenting

When you are presenting, the focus should be on you. Therefore, use everything in your arsenal to ensure your audience is interested and informed. By using your body to help emphasize your words, your presentation becomes more dynamic, and your audience is more likely to remember your message. Use your hands and arms; don’t leave them at your sides. Be aware of your body and how it can help you.

Open up

If you maintain a closed stance, the audience may suspect you are hiding something and won’t trust you. Remember not to cross your arms or to keep them too close together. You are not a T-Rex, so don’t keep your elbows glued to your ribs. Claim the space and show your hands.

Use broad gestures

These should fit with what you are saying and not be used randomly. You know what you are going to say, so now decide how you are going to say it. Your body is an extension of your voice, so it is important to use confident gestures while you are practicing your presentation. With practice, the gestures will become more natural and a part of your dynamic speaking style. Use your hands to emphasize, to contrast or even to convey emotions in your story.

Show an open palm

By keeping your hands open and showing the audience your open palms, you are showing you have nothing to hide. The audience are more likely to feel they can trust you, and that you are sincere in your message.

The Palm Sideways

This is like holding your hand as though you were going to shake another person’s hand. This gesture is used to impress upon the audience the point you are making. You are opening up your message and showing them what is inside. You can also use this to point … without using your finger.

Videos

And keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to be flamboyant and bounce around. You just need to be authentically you! This Target Training video from James Culver on storytelling  is a great example of how smaller and gentle movements can be natural and still reinforce the message.

What to do with your hands when you’re presenting

Two excellent and short video displaying tips and tricks.

 

4 essential tips

From the 2014 Toastmasters International world champion of public speaking Dananjaya Hettiarachchi.  You may feel that Hettiarachchi is a little theatrical for a business scenario, but the 4 tips are directly transferable!

Body language

This video is longer (just under 14 minutes) but comprehensive.  It covers all areas of body language when presenting and is definitely worth watching.

If you’d like more tips on presenting in general…

We have 37 blog posts related to presenting on our blog. Two further eBooks on presentations are available to download in the sidebar: “Presentation Models” and “Presenting with IMPACT.” Or, one of our seminars on this topic might be just what you need: