What you do sends a message to your audience – even before you open your mouth.
I’ve trained thousands of people on how to take more responsibility for their body language. (Here’s my previous post on Body Language.) Among one of the more frequent questions I get is,
“When presenting, what do I do with my hands when I’m not gesturing?”
That question came up again last week as I worked with a dynamic group of senior leaders from a large multi-national company.
My answer, of course, depends on the situation and your comfort levels. For instance:
1. Let one arm rest loosely by your side while you gesture broadly with the other.
2. Allow both arms to rest by your sides if you’re going to lean in with your upper body to “confide” something to your audience.
3. My favorite suggestion is to “make a diamond or triangle” by lightly interlacing or touching your fingers of both hands. As performed by yours truly here:
What I don’t ever suggest however, especially for men, is to put your hands in your trousers’ pockets.
Gents: Do not put your hands in your pockets!
This invariably sends a negative message. You may be simply uncomfortable or nervous. But to your audience you probably look at best – too casual or maybe fidgety, at worst – cocky, or disrespectful.
The client who asked me about this – really took it to heart. He took the extra effort to send this illustrative email to his colleagues:
As he indicated, his email included that photo of me I posted up above. And here’s the contrasting “Hands in Pockets” look he referred to from when Irish Rugby player Ronan O’Gara met Queen Elizabeth back in 2009.
I didn’t live in Ireland when this took place so I missed the outcry his body language sparked. But a quick Google search found the media labeling him everything from a “lout,” to “disrespectful,” to a “disgrace.”
Turns out, according to subsequent interviews, O’Gara apparently was just very relaxed and went on to later smile and shake her hand politely. But that didn’t prevent the maelstrom his pockets hands ignited.
So! To avoid such pitfalls when you are next speaking before an audience, or perhaps lining up to meet with the Queen, please, please, remember that seemingly small details can have large consequence.
Thanks to my client for taking time to write such kind words and thanks to you for taking time to read!
Til next time, let me know what you do with your hands when presenting!