When standing at the front of a room, suffering from nerves, one's hands seem like unwelcome and awkward appendages. To make matters worse, many presenters remember some misguided advice they've heard somewhere along the way -- 'don't talk with your hands.' Thus, hands are frequently found stuffed in pockets, gripping a podium or playing with their owner's hair, glasses or jewelry.
In fact, hand gestures are like punctuation in a sentence. They help clarify what you're saying and add emphasis to your message. They are an expressive complement to your vocal delivery.
And just like you would use commas and exclamation points purposefully to make a sentence clearer, so should you use hand gestures with intention rather than randomly.
Here are some suggestions on how to use your hands for maximum effect:
:: Videotape yourself making a presentation so you can get an accurate assessment of how and how much you gesture.
:: Avoid repetitive gestures [such as stabbing the air with your finger or using air quotes] which distract your audience rather than focus them.
:: Aim for open, expressive gestures where hands are out beyond your chest. Try not to keep your arms tightly pinned to your body.
:: Don't point. Pointing looks too much like scolding and is inappropriate in a business presentation.
:: Intentionally use your hands to illustrate what you're saying -- show how big or vast something is; hold up fingers to represent a number; demonstrate relative sizes or heights or depths.
:: For a comfortable hand position when not gesturing, steeple fingers and turn to point towards audience or grasp hands together lightly [be careful not to grip].
:: Above all be guided by what's comfortable for you. Strive for natural. If you are an enthusiastic speaker who frequently uses your hands for emphasis don't try and subdue them. This will only look inauthentic. Similarly, if you are a more controlled and quiet speaker, be satisfied with minimal gestures but make the ones you do use powerful.
flickr/Hands In Pockets C.C. 2.0