What should I do with my hands?

[Quick Note: This is NOT sponsored post, but does contain an Amazon affiliate link to a book I like.]

In school, there’s a lot of emphasis on the words we use to communicate. You put in tons of work on getting the text and words exactly right.

Then when you go to deliver the message in an orally, you feel uncertain with translating the information into a new vocal format.

Again…you focus on words. You are tempted to read your presentation or speech. Your body language and delivery isn’t even a consideration.

Well, that’s until you are standing in front of everyone and you start acting weird.

  • You aren’t yourself.
  • You don’t move like a human anymore.
  • Maybe you withdraw inside…and appear robotic on the outside.
  • Or perhaps you do the opposite…and look really cartoon-ish as you try to overcompensate for your nerves.

You’re standing there….thinking to yourself,

       “Stop! Just stop doing that with your body. Be normal! ……What is normal?!”

       “Calm down. Breath. Start with your hands.”

       “What should I do with my hands?”

I’m glad you asked!

Nerves and excitement can turn anyone into an alternative version of themselves. Your hands can get put in weird places…positions…and can ultimately be distracting.

If people are noticing your hands, then there’s probably something wrong with what you’re doing with them. (Ideally, they’re not realizing how your hand movement is helping you to be a clear communicator.)

In a rehearsal for a theatrical performance with actors, I would tell them to do what they naturally feel inclined to do.

If an actor makes a strange hand gesture, I’ll let them know and offer a suggestion.Then over the rehearsal process, the actors get to know the content and they internalize the movements and connect intentional movement. (Blah, blah, blah….).

But, you’re not an actor! You’re a regular person who is feeling unnatural and looking for some public speaking tips. So, here’s what I’ve got for you!

1. Keep your hands OUT of your POCKETS

Vanessa Van Edwards is a wonderful researcher of human behavior, TED Talk speaker, and author. I have recently purchased one of her Creative Live courses and am reading her latest book, Captivate. (I have an autographed copy!) I highly recommend it!

Anyway, she shared some interesting research on body language, which basically said you can actually feel more confident when you have the right body language.

Your brain releases dopamine (something that makes you feel happy) when you have open and large (taking up more space) body language.

When you put your hands into your pockets, people actually started to have a negative change in their mood. (More anxiety…something you don’t want MORE of when you’re speaking in front of a crowd).

2. Use hands to support your message

It’s okay to talk with your hands! It’s actually helpful…as long as your hand movements support what you’re saying.

Your hands can help by showing contrast, differences, sizes, numbering points, touching your heart to show emotion, etc.

Your amazingly expressive hands can also emphasize what’s important. It will tell the listener…”this is important, pay attention”.

3. Don’t let your hands close off your body

One big body language & theater basic is to “stay open”.

Opening your body means not putting something (a podium/lectern, chair, human, or even your arms) between you and your audience. When you are open, you are telling your audience they can trust you, that you are confident, warm, and there to connect with them.

Crossing your arms, holding your hands clasped in front of you, or holding your chin are common ways that people “close off their body”.

If you choose to cross your arms or clasp your hands…do it with purpose. Make it a choice rather than out of habit.

4. Let your hands hang comfortably at your side when not in “active” use

Have a home base position. When you hands are in between points…they can return to your side until they’re called back into action!

To create a natural and confident pose, the smartie Vanessa Van Edwards again nailed it on the head! She said you should have space between your sides and arms. shoulders back and down. You arms and hands should be loose. Your chin should be slightly up.(She calls this her launch stance.)

Remember no clenching your fists or fiddling with your nails.

5. Try opening hands and palms

Point at things with your whole hand, so that your wrists & palms of your hands can been seen.

First, this is more warm and inviting than pointing with one finger.

Second, showing your wrists conveys trust-ability. Your body language is basically saying, “See I’m not hiding anything up my sleeves.”

I was a tour guide for 18 months when I was in my early 20’s at a busy historical site. I gave tons of tours to guests who came from all around the world.

Part of my training was to NEVER EVER point with one finger.

We always used a 2 finger point or an open hand. In some cultures a one finger point is highly offensive. It seemed weird at first, but it eventually became very natural. It can for you too, with a little practice!

6. Keep your hands where your audience can see them

Again, this is a way to use body language to support your message. Showing your hands helps the audience to trust you.

  • Don’t put them behind your back.
  • Don’t hide them behind a podium.
  • Don’t put them in a backpack

7. No fiddling with your fingers, wringing your hands, clothes, hair, etc

You know this one…but I’m just going to say it anyway….don’t fiddle with stuff. This includes your hands.

Fidgeting can be the end of an audience listening to a speaker. You don’t want to distract them from what your saying by your nervous habits.

Remember, your hands are your friends. They are their to help you be a better communicator.

Practice using your hands with these suggestions and you’ll develop new speaking hand habits!

Action step:

  1. Tell a story today! You can tell it either to yourself (standing up) or to a friend.
  2. Practice good hand movements.

Have fun! [Insert Jazz hands….here] And, if you’d like an easy and fascinating book to read, check out Vanessa’s book, Captivate.


*** This post is NOT sponsored. All opinions are my own. It does, however, contain an Amazon affiliate link to Vanessa’s book, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase using this link.