Your speech is all written out, you’ve picked out the perfect outfit to wear, and you feel confident in what you’re about to say. But then you start to worry because you realize you’re not sure what to do with your hands. Don’t let that worry keep you from doing your best on stage, because I’m going to show you what to do to solve that problem.
So, what to do with your hands during a speech? Observe what others do. Use descriptive hand movements without coming off as awkward or stiff. Keep both hands above your waistline, and avoid any hand movements that may seem aggressive. If you’re uncertain, just let your arms fall naturally at your sides.
Hand gestures and body language are just as important to your audience as the words you have to say. And if you are still unsure of what exactly to do with your hands, I am going to give you a helpful guide to stay on track.
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What to do with Your Hands During a Speech
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to not panic and start overthinking it. If you put too much thought into what your hands are supposed to be doing, your movements and posture can start to look forced and unnatural. This may make your audience feel somewhat uncomfortable. And that is a situation you must absolutely avoid.
Remember, you want to give your hands a place and a purpose while you are speaking. Effective hand movements can increase the value of your words. I will go as far as to say that what you are doing physically onstage is just as important as your speech itself.
There are a few simple things I will recommend that you can try with your hands during a presentation. I am also going to include a few things that you should avoid doing, in order to keep you on the right track. After all, what not to do is just as important as what you should do.
Using a Reference is a Good Starting Point
For a moment, put yourself in the role of being an audience member instead of a speaker. Imagine how it looks to you from that side of the stage.
Can you think of the last time that you attended a speech? Try to close your eyes and remember the details. Do you remember what the speaker was doing with their hands? And if you haven’t attended a speech recently as an audience member, you can look up a popular speech on YouTube. If you can, try watching the speech of someone that you admire or look up to.
What hand movements or gestures stick out to you as you watch someone else give a presentation? Are there any movements that seem to help drive the point home, or even add to what is being said? Do you see anything that maybe you would like to try yourself? Analyze what this speaker is doing with their hands as you ask yourself what you should do with your hands during a speech.
But remember that what works for someone else may not work for you. The point of this is not to outright copy the gestures of other speakers, but to learn from them. Then, you will be able to take what you’ve learned to better your own techniques.
Being able to observe other speakers and the hand movements they make will be a big help to you during your learning process.
You Should Practice Descriptive Hand Movements
To be honest, many students aren’t sure of what I mean by “descriptive hand movements” at first. But this is really a simple way to do something constructive with your hands during a speech. It can also serve as a way to clarify the purpose of what you’re saying to your audience.
Think of descriptive hand movements as elaborating on what you’re saying with the use of your hands.
Here are a few examples to help give you some more clarity:
- Are you just about to talk about something that has to do with the number three? As you do, show three fingers to your audience.
- If you’re describing something as big, hold your hands far apart from each other.
- When you’re talking about directions such as right or left, gesture to that side with the appropriate hand.
- If you are using the words “up” or “down” to describe something that went in that direction, feel free to gesture up or down. However, don’t put your hands toward your groin if you are gesturing at a downward angle.
Just like anything else, practice makes perfect when it comes to using descriptive hand gestures during a speech. Don’t try this method out for the first time when you are already on stage. If you are already taking time to practice your speeches, you should be practicing your hand movements ahead of time. This way, you know what you should do with your hands during a speech before you even take the stage.
You should also always keep it simple when it comes to descriptive hand gestures. If you’re trying to make a gesture for every single sentence or word, you are overthinking it. More isn’t always better, and a few good gestures are much better than many bad ones.
Another common thing that speakers do with their hands it to hold them out with open palms facing upward. This can symbolize honesty and respect.
Don’t Force it, or You’ll Risk Looking Awkward
No matter what you are doing with your hands on stage, there should be a natural flow and balance to your movements. But when you start to force your hand or body gestures, you may come off feeling and looking awkward, uncoordinated, or even unprofessional. Seeing this may even make your audience members feel ill at ease. You could even make them feel distracted away from the words that you are speaking.
My advice is always this: if it doesn’t feel right, just don’t do it. Chances are, it will end up not looking right, as well.
And if you are making random hand movements that don’t have anything to do with what you say, you should probably rethink your strategy. If that’s the case, your audience members may be distracted by trying to figure out what you are trying to convey with your hands. Then, they are not truly listening to your speech.
Make sure to be yourself when you are on the stage. If you do something with your hands that seems out of character for your personality, this could make you look less than authentic.
What you do with your hands during a speech shouldn’t be taking away from your message. If it does, then you could risk ruining your entire presentation. And you don’t want people walking away from your presentation gossiping about what you were doing with your hands the entire time.
Don’t do the Wrong Thing With Your Hands
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what the right thing is to do with your hands, then make note of some of the things you absolutely shouldn’t do. Some of these things can be perceived as inappropriate or even aggressive.
- Keep your hands above your waistline as much as you can, and never put them close to your groin area. You don’t want your audience’s eyes drawn to this region of your body as you speak. Many may see it as inappropriate. This also means that you should be keeping your hands out of your pockets while you speak.
- Pointing directly into the audience or at specific audience members can be perceived as being aggressive. Avoid this.
- Don’t grip onto the pulpit or podium while you are speaking. It may come off as looking very awkward.
- Don’t fidget with your hands or your bracelet, necklace, or other jewelry. It can be distracting and come off as unprofessional.
- Avoid doing the same repetitive hand movements over and over.
- Try to keep from touching your face and neck, unless something about your presentation otherwise calls for this. You should also never touch your nose since this can be seen in many cultures as a sign that someone is lying.
- Crossing your arms over your chest can be seen as defensive, so you should also try to avoid doing this.
- Never bite your nails. It goes almost without saying that you should always keep your hands and fingers out of your mouth while you are onstage!
If you keep yourself from doing any of the above, you will be taking a step in the right direction. And if you have a problem with habitually doing any of the things I have listed, take steps to correct the problem before it continues.
Don’t beat yourself up if you have done any of the above with your hands while giving a speech in the past. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Train yourself to do better for the future.
Don’t be Afraid to let Your Arms Fall at Your Sides
Maybe you know what not to do with your hands, but you are still lost on the concept of appropriate descriptive gestures. That is okay! I have many students that struggle with this when they are just starting to speak in public.
If you don’t know what to do with your hands during your speech, then it is best to let them fall naturally at your sides. When you choose to do this, make sure you appear relaxed at all times. Otherwise, keeping your arms stiff will be distracting for your audience. It could also send an unprofessional message.
And I’ve said it before, but it’s important to say it again: above all, make sure to relax. If you are not relaxed, your audience will pick up on it.
What is the Rest of Your Body Saying?
Most people who speak in public don’t realize how important total-body language is when you are on stage. It’s not just your hands that you have to be mindful of. What are you doing with your feet? Where are you standing? And are you using proper posture or not?
Here are a few tips to know what you should do with your overall body language during a speech:
Stand up straight!
There are very few things that affect your image like poor posture. Standing with poor posture for too long will also affect your back and shoulders. You don’t want to be walking away from your speech with a stiff back.
Standing still in one spot may come off a little awkward
If space permits, you should move around on the stage or presentation area. But don’t move too fast; your audience will be confused at why you are running around the stage. When you do move around, take big strides in order to show you are moving with confidence.
Tilt your head
If you’re taking a question from an audience member, try tilting your head to the one side. This indicates that you are listening intently to the person who is speaking.
Mind your facial expressions
You risk offending or confusing audience members if you are trying to speak in a positive manner, but your facial expressions express disgust, distaste, exhaustion, or even disinterest.
Make eye contact with your audience members, as this can be seen as a sign of respect. They may also feel like you are trying to talk directly to them. But don’t hold the eye contact for too long, or you can risk making them uncomfortable.
Carry yourself in a confident manner
When you appear to be confident, audience members are more likely to trust what you have to say. And if you’re not sure how to speak onstage with confidence, this article of mine might be able to help you.
As you can tell, your visual presence is about much more than your hands. This is why I recommend taping yourself or looking into a full-body mirror when you are rehearsing.
I also recommend that you dress appropriately for every speech, practice proper grooming, and make sure your shoes are tied. It would be incredibly embarrassing for you to start walking around onstage, only to trip over a loose shoelace.
The sight of what the speaker is doing while onstage is very important to the audience. When you are aware of and in control of everything going on with your hands, face, and body onstage, then you are taking steps toward being a better public speaker.
It Will Take Time to Master These Methods
One of the most damaging things you can do to yourself as a public speaker is to compare yourself to speakers who have been doing this a lot longer than you have. It is okay if you are a beginner and you haven’t yet mastered what to do with your hands during a speech. Everyone has to start somewhere, and that is why I have created this guide.
And maybe you are not a beginner, but you are trying to improve your methods. I believe that it is better to start working on your technique later on than to never try at all. If you recognize that you have made mistakes in the past, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes onstage at some point. Learn from it, and commit to doing better.
So, what do you do with your hands during a speech? Hopefully, you will be able to answer that question a lot better after the advice I’ve given you today. Practice descriptive hand gestures, and making sure your body language is giving off the right message. And keep in mind what you should not be doing so that you don’t send the wrong message or offend anyone.
You should always remember to be mindful of these suggested tips when you are rehearsing your speeches. After all, practice absolutely does make perfect.
If you need any more assistance with speaking in public, be sure to browse through my site to check out my other articles. I have covered a variety of public speaking topics, including six methods you can use to improve your public speaking skills.
How do you talk with your hands? Descriptive gestures are one of the best techniques you could use to talk with your hands. Descriptive gestures are hand signals that coincide with the words that you are currently speaking. They are meant to add meaning and value to your speech.
Is there a word to describe speaking with your hands? You may be thinking of the word “gesticulate”, which refers to talking with your hands. This term comes from the Latin word “gesticulus” which simply means, “to mimic.”
How do I improve my body language while I am onstage? Try recording yourself rehearsing your speech, and later watch back the recording to see if you are doing anything incorrectly that you might want to fix. You could also ask a trusted friend or mentor to observe you speaking, and they can point out anything they might notice.