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5 "Don'ts" of Hand Gestures!

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

In Ebright, we always emphasize the idea of the usage of hand and palm gestures to the student because these gestures are important and no other species has appendages with such a remarkable range of capabilities. And yet if you asked most people about the non-verbals (body language) of the hands, they would be hard pressed to tell you all the things the hands reveal. In public speaking, you are always talking with your hands! Unfortunately, your hands might be saying the wrong things.

According to a study published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal: If you don’t use your hands when presenting, or if you use awkward hand movements, your audience will label you as cold and aloof. On the contrary, if you use proper hand gestures, they will perceive you as engaging and charismatic. I think by now it is obvious that hand and palm gestures do make a big difference to the public speaker depending on how they use it.

In order to help our young speakers to utilize their hand and palm gestures well, there are 5 general rules that can be applied when you are talking with your hands!

Note: This is just a general list that can be taken as a guidance. There are exceptions to all these rules too.

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What you do and don’t do with your hands determine how you are perceived by your audience!

1. You should not leave hands idle!

Imagine watching a speaker for an hour just moving his lips with no hand movement. That would be weird, if not plain freaky!

When you move your hands to explain what you are talking about, you will help your audience understand your points but if you don’t use your hands, your audience will lose focus and will judge you as a less charismatic leader or even merely a poor speaker, and they will not understand as much of your presentation.

Therefore, make sure you use your hands when you speak. Get comfortable using your hands to drive home each point you make to your audience.

2. You should not stick BOTH of your hands inside the pockets of your pants! Not stylish at all!

Notice that I said no to both hands. Because in some cases putting one hand in a pocket looks great and will invoke a sense of confidence but it does not work for everyone.

Usually, the one hand in pocket approach is used when you’re trying to intimidate certain people in order to let them feel comfortable when approached by you. If you’re trying to sell something to a person by using an intimidating way, the one hand in pocket approach will definitely be a top up point. However, it does not mean everybody can master this skill, if it is used in a bad way, things can turn out negatively. To be save, it is better to just keep both hands out of pockets and talk with your hands.

You may place one hand in your pocket because that can demonstrate that you are relaxed and comfortable while still having authority. However, both hands in your front or back pocket will always indicate a lack of professionalism. So avoid putting both hands in your pockets at all times.

3. You should not cross arms all the time!

As a speaker, open body language makes you more approachable and closed body language makes you less approachable. It is something natural when you see someone crossed their arms, the first impression that comes to you is that person might be upset or not in a good mood. It is often worrying to see people with crossed arms, and most likely, so are you. You will not like listening or even talk to a person like that right?

Now as a speaker, you need to be aware of how your body language affects others reactions and remove anything that might distract them from your message. Try not to fold your arms even if you are thinking or waiting for a speaker. If you catch yourself with folded arms, just open them up, and soon you will pick up a habit of maintaining open body language. Well, self-conscious is important !

4. You should not wring your hands! Your hands aren’t wet, so keep still and not wring it!

Wringing your hands gives the impression that you are nervous, hesitant and worried about the words you are saying. Even if your palms are sweating, definitely no wringing!

There are many forms of wringing:

I. Clasped hands wringing

That’s when you hold hands together palm-to-palm and move them back and forth.

II. Cupped hands wringing

That’s when you cup your hands inside of each other palm-to-back, and you move them nervously.

III. Intertwined finger wringing

That’s when you twist your fingers and rub your hands back and forth.

Instead of hand-wringing, you can use “hand steepling.” Steepling hands are perceived as confident, calm, and smart. Just like any other technique, don’t overuse it. Hands steepling is the action where all the fingers of both hands touches the tips of one another. Most leaders used ‘hand steepling’! However, steepling your fingers is just an intermediate state for you until your hands begin moving naturally again with the conversation.

5. You should not put all your focus on hand gestures which eventually makes it look fake!

The worst thing you can do with your hands is to fake gesture because when you’re totally focusing on your hand gestures, you will tend to fake your gestures when you couldn’t do a relaxed one. Your audience is starving nowadays for authenticity and any attempt you make to faking anything will backfire. It is always recommended that student can practice fake gesturing in private to get comfortable with new movements. However, when it’s performance time, let go and be authentic. Be honest to your audience like how you want them to honestly response to you. If the gestures are practiced enough in private practices, the gestures would come out naturally and authentically when they are speaking publicly.

So, what to do now?

I know it is a comprehensive list of what not to do. But then what you should do? Here is a list of three things to do to improve your gestures when presenting:

I. Awareness: Pay attention to what you are doing with your hands.

II. Replacement: Any time you notice a gesture that you don’t like pull your hands to your side and replace it with another gesture.

III. Let it go: Once your hands are to your side, go to your topic. If you are telling a story, re-live it. If you are talking about a computer code, then visualize the code, and if you are talking about neurons, visualize the neurons in front of you as you talk about them.

Always remember, you are always talking with your hands. You have to teach your hands to talk the right thing. Your hand gestures can turn off your audience, or they can bring them closer. Five negative gestures impact your credibility and influence. So, make some changes now!


What do you think about this blog post? Do leave a comment and we will reply below. You are also encouraged to start a conversation in the comment section!

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