All of us want to appear confident; at a job interview we must excel in to pay off student loans; at a blind date after the last one ended badly; on stage at a symposium or speaking before an audience.
Confidence makes a good impression. It draws people's attention. Self-assurance can make you unstoppable. Even false confidence can have a positive impact if you practice it.
Some people learn this the hard way. Maybe you never spoke up in class, or have always been more articulate on paper. Perhaps the idea of speaking in public makes you tongue-tied. You may have found that as this went on, people stopped asking what you think about things.
Sometimes, the most confident of us are nervous - and it shows. Some of us cannot stand still. Sometimes, our hands won’t stop fidgeting. But there are ways you can put your nervous energy to use.
1. Use Your Hands to Express Ideas
Instead of nervously fiddling when the focus is on you, you can make your hands speak to your audience.
When you are talking about ideas, about relations between two things, and so on, use your hands to illustrate. Pay conscious attention to it. You will find a better use for your nervous energy. Your audience will engage with you favorably when they can 'see' what you are talking about. For instance, when linking marketing budget to ROI, motion to your right when you speak about marketing budget and to your left when you talk about ROI. It is a way of making the subject come alive for the audience.
Whether or not you feel confident as you speak, you will have done your job. You will not even need props to hold the audience's attention.
It may be a delicate example to use, but Adolf Hitler would spend hours practicing the hand gestures to use in his speeches. The man was a mad criminal, but he was well-known as an effective orator. The point is that leaders use specific patterns of hand gestures to make an impact.
There is some fascinating research you can find online that shows the most popular TED speakers used nearly twice the number of hand gestures in an 18-minute talk than those who were less popular.
Certain hand gestures are more commanding and authoritative. Leaders tend to use these a lot.
2. The Direction of Your Hand Gestures are Important
The direction in which you move your hands sends subconscious signals to people. You may not even be aware when you are sending the wrong message to your colleagues.
When you hold your hand up with your palm facing out, it screams 'stop’, and other people will see it as a defensive posture. Your colleagues may see it as a sign you do not want feedback or collaboration. It is a gesture that doesn’t belong in the workplace.
If you are conscious about it, you can avoid the body language that harms your intentions. Instead, you can learn to move your palms positively and with more confidence (when you talk to your boss about a raise, for example).
A good gesture to adopt is one that shows openness. Spread your hands before you, wrists upwards, palms facing out towards the other person. It is an unconscious gesture that makes the other person trust you.
Here's another tip. Your hands should be out of your pockets if you are in the middle of a serious conversation with someone. Hands in the pocket suggest you are not feeling very communicative.
3. Keep within the box.
In other words, look natural. While you use hand gestures, it is important not to overdo it. You do not want to appear like you are putting on a show. That will alienate the audience, and turn them against you. The key is to make your movements as fluid as possible and restrict your movements to within a 'box.'
It can seem challenging at first, but practice makes perfect. How do you look natural? Here are some tips:
Don't fidget with your lower limbs too much. It can be distracting.
Try to use only as much space as your body occupies. Don't spread your arms and legs out or walk around too much. It is all right to walk around if you have a purpose to do so. Your most successful movements will be with your upper body, not your lower body.
Keep within the box. Imagine a box that frames the space from the top of your chest to your pelvic bone. Try to keep your arms and hands within this box when you speak. If you look at pictures of Hitler rehearsing his speeches, you will see he went out of the box quite often. Such dramatic hand gestures may work in inciting a nation of disgruntled and disillusioned people to rise against the regime, but not in the boardroom in the modern world. It is one box you do not want to think outside of!
4. Use Effective Tried-and-Tested Gestures
Here are some persuasive hand gestures you should be using in your public speaking. Knowing they work and are natural will give you confidence as you speak.
Listing: When you list things or say a number, use your hands to illustrate. The action will give your audience an area to anchor their attentions. It will also push your speech forward along its natural momentum without giving you time to think about your nervousness.
Size: When talking about something small, pinch your thumb and forefinger together in a simple gesture to indicate smallness. It is an artless and relatable hand gesture.
The peaked fingers: The gesture of talking with the tips of your fingers touching and your palms making a triangle is a sign of authority. Notice its resemblance to praying? It is a sign that priests and lawyers often use. Use it sparingly though, or you can end up looking too smug and arrogant!
The reverse of this gesture is the inverted triangle. It is most commonly a 'listening' gesture. It suggests that you are paying attention. Again, use it appropriately.
Here is a little exercise for you. Can you think of ways that you can use everyday hand gestures - within the box - to indicate the following ideas:
"I'm pushing this out of the way."
"I'm about to say something important, listen up!"
When you're talking about stages – (Eg. low, medium and high).
A gesture accompanying the statement, "This one's important"!
A gesture that indicates a small part of something
You can practice these little gestures carefully, a few at a time, and don't try to use them when they’re not needed.
Here's a final tip. When you point at someone to grab attention, try not to do it with your finger since that can be aggressive. Instead, hold out your hand, palm up, to point and include someone in the conversation.
I suggest finding a little nook of your own to practice these gestures before you try them out on an audience. Use the mirror if you like. Which ones are you likely to use the most? Join the conversation below!
Want to have an impact in a conversation? Why not use your hands to supplement your words!