Have you ever been empty-handed in a conversation at a cocktail party? No drink or plate of undercooked canapés to hold? Did you suddenly become acutely aware of your hands? So much so, that you were not sure what to do with them? Me too. Thank heavens for beer and wine. And undercooked canapés.
When we are on stage, however, we do not have that luxury. We are up there on our own. Actually, we are up there with our hands and often at a loss as to where to put them. So we fidget and thus provide a perfect distraction that draws our audience’s attention away from our message.
One of the greatest TV personalities of all time was the legendary Johnny Carson. He hosted “The Tonight Show” for 30 years before handing over the reins to Jay Leno. Carson was engaging, witty and extremely quick on his feet. A consummate professional. But he probably broke every rule in the book when it comes using one’s hands in a speech. Have a look at this monologue from 1988:
Heeeeeere’s Johnny! With hands in his pockets; behind his back; clasped together; fiddling with his tie; scratching his nose and chin. And yet . . . it works! But that is because he was Johnny Carson. He had built up a reputation over many years of hard work and had millions of adoring fans. I have many years of hard work under my belt, but the reputation and millions of fans have not shown up yet. Maybe next week. I suspect that it is the same with you. (If, by chance, you DO have a great reputation and millions of fans, could you please put a link to my blog on your website? Thanks!)
So we need to use our hands differently when we do not need them to emphasize a point. How? Some advice from a very accomplished speaker, J. A. Gamache:
“Your hands are very useful in supporting your message. When not fulfilling this purpose, they should be allowed to hang down naturally at your sides. …
“Try the following experiment. Stand up. Close your eyes and imagine yourself very calm, and breathing deeply. Now where are your hands? Most people say their hands are relaxed, on either side of their body. This is the position they should be in when they’re not being used to punctuate your message. …
“The feeling of not knowing what to do with your hands will disappear … as you gain confidence in your public speaking skills. However, you should avoid letting the stiff postures of today become a bad habit to get rid of tomorrow.
“Until you feel comfortable in front of a group, make a conscious effort to think of something else than your hands when speaking in public. How? Be more demonstrative! Put more energy in your speech. Speak louder. In other words, stop being a spectator of your own speech and become its leading actor.
“During your next speech, challenge yourself to keep your hands at your sides when they’re not being used to support your message, and forget them! Instead, concentrate harder on what you’re saying and be more energetic. Soon the position of your hands won’t matter and your gestures will become more natural.”
Great advice. By learning when not to use our hands, our gestures will be much more effective when we do use them. Think of adding hand gestures to a speech the way a world class chef would add a fine spice to a meal: judiciously and to enhance the flavour of the meal; not to overpower it.
The article quoted above was reproduced from “Speaking in Public with J.A.”, a FREE electronic magazine authored by J.A. Gamache, International Inspirational Speaker. To subscribe to his FREE e-zine or to find out more about his presentations, visit: http://www.jagamache.com.