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Public Speaking: 6 Things NOT To Do With Your Hands

by Ken Bradford

We never think about what to do with our hands until we stand in front of a crowd.

By then, it’s too late to figure out. First impressions are complete.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no wrong hand positions, just positions used at the wrong time.

For example, holding both palms over your crotch and smiling may be quite appropriate for your first visit to a nudist colony, but less than effective in front of a panel of urologists.

Every rule has an exception, but the following are six of the poorest choices for making a strong connection with audiences and those you wish to persuade.

1. Adjusting pants or skirt as you stand to speak. You want listeners, focusing on the message, not the messenger. Where the eye goes the mind flows.

2. Hands in pockets. Unless you are waiting for a bus, most any other gesture could better display your interest in the topic and the occasion.

3. The Padre. Clasping both hands together while resting them comfortably on your sternum. From this anchor point you can compress imaginary popcorn balls or switch to touching all ten fingertips together in a pray position, which makes me recall the idiom, “Here’s the church ... here’s the steeple ... look inside at all the people!”

4. At Ease. Military personnel recognize the hands-behind-the-back with legs spread wide look, as the “At Ease” position. But non-military viewers watching a speaker with hands behind his back for more than a few minutes suspect he’s either hiding something or wearing handcuffs.

5. Broken Arm. Holding the elbow with the opposite arm across your body while keeping the clutched arm straight. If there’s no cause for medical attention, just let go.

6. Lightly gripping both thighs. The urge to hold onto something is real, but save this look for the waterslide.

Our hands are extremities of our thoughts. Although silent, they speak volumes about our inner state.

Image credit: Thumbs in pockets and twirling fingers from “The Public Speaker”
by Will H. Brown 1915


Ken Bradford, author of Fearless & Persuasive Speaking, A Communication Guide For Leaders, facilitates a nationwide leadership program for non-profit trade associations. Members nominate participants to attend the annual speaking training. www.
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