Have You Ever Wondered What to Do With Your Hands When You Are Speaking?

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE - Hall of Fame Professional Keynote Speaker, Executive Speech Coach
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE – Hall of Fame Professional Keynote Speaker and Executive Speech Coach

Have you ever wondered what to do with your hands when you are speaking? I want to share what speaking guru Jerry Weissman says about this… I agree!

For many years I have been a big fan of Jerry’s. He is a Silicon Valley coach, know for helping many of the companies in the area receive the venture capital they needed to get on the map. As far as I am concerned Jerry and Dianna Booher have written the best books on speaking skills! There are those who think Patricia Fripp has created the best audio and video instruction on the subject…  In any case, this is a great article from Jerry. Enjoy… and thank you Jerry Weissman.

What to Do With Your Hands When Speaking
by Jerry Weissman

The most frequently asked question of presentation coaches is “What do I do with my hands?” In past writings, I have cautioned against choreography; I’ve seen far too many presenters attempt to illustrate their narrative with specific gestures and wind up tying themselves into pretzel knots. Instead, use your hands and arms as you do naturally, to illustrate what you are saying. However, I do recommend one gesture: to extend your hand and arm periodically, bridging the gap between you and your audience (as AT&T used to say, “Reach Out”), with your hand in handshake position.

Ronald Reagan provides an alternative point of view. Throughout his career, The Great Communicator rarely used any gestures. A DVD called Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator contains clips from more than 100 public appearances during his eight years as president. In all the clips, he made an expansive gesture with his hands and arms only once.

Reagan had followed this style since his formative years as a presenter. Between the twilight of his days as an actor and the start of his political career as the Governor of California, he spent eight years as a spokesman for General Electric Corporation, which gave him opportunities to present in many venues. One of them was as the host of GE Theater, an anthology series of television dramas. In one 1954 episode I recently watched, he delivered his introduction standing, framed by stage lights, in front a blank wall of a movie studio. Attired in a smartly tailored tweed coat sprouting a natty pocket kerchief, he had his right arm propped on a stage light and his left hand in his trouser pocket. During the entire introduction, neither arm ever budged.

You might call this the “Look, Ma, no hands!” approach. The style worked — wonders — for Reagan. Would it work for you? The answer, as always, is to do what comes naturally to you.

Jerry Weissman Winning StrategiesAn unnatural approach is to treat gesturing as performing, which is what speakers who consciously choose the Reagan approach — or any other — are doing. One (wrong) way to look at it is as a choice between “Anchorperson” or “Weatherperson.” (Thanks to my friend Jeff Paine for sharing this concept.) As we all know from television news programs, Anchorpersons sit stock still at a desk, rarely using their hands; while Weatherpersons wave their hands and arms about broadly to indicate weather patterns on a map. This division parallels the Ronald Reagan no-hands style vis-à-vis the gesture-to-illustrate style, but it does so in the context of performance.

If you are reading this post, it is highly unlikely that you are a performer or that you were auditioned for your position or that you were hired because of your acting skills. You were hired on the basis of the personality you presented during your interview and vetting process; and that personality was your natural style.

Heed the advice of Irving Berlin’s song in the classic musical, Annie Get Your Gun, “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly.”

Darren LaCroix and Patricia Fripp Public Speaking CampMy article “How to Relax For Your Talk”  shows you how to physically warm up before your presentation so your on-stage movements will flow more naturally.

As an executive speech coach my clients include corporate leaders, celebrity speakers, well-known sports and media personalities, and sales teams. You can learn many of the public speaking secrets I share with my executive speech coaching clients when you join me and fellow speech coach, Darren LaCroix, June 28th – 30th, 2013 in Las Vegas, NV for How to Create and Deliver Powerful Presentations and Get Coached to Speak Champ Camp seminar and workshop.

For more information on upcoming workshops and seminars that are open to the public visit: https://fripp.com/public-speaking-events/