Updated: Jun 11, 2019
Is it really that important what you do with your hands when you speak in public?
Whenever I’m coaching people to be confident when they speak in public, they frequently have an issue or concern they have about their body language. They often tell me, “I don’t know what to do with my hands”, or “I just feel like I'm standing there with everyone looking at me”, or they tell me they know that they fidget but somehow can’t help it. The vulnerability of standing in front of other people (while they are all sitting down) causes many of us to become self-conscious about our body language.
First of all, it’s no great surprise that the feeling of being singled out and separated from the pack with all eyes on us can cause for us to feel nervous. And the impact of our body language is certainly not something we should overlook. Exactly how much of your influence is brought to bear by your body language is a hotly debated topic, but without getting into that here, let me confirm to you that your body language speaks volumes. The audience very quickly picks up whether a person is nervous or confident, so it’s understandable that we get worried about it.
BUT… You may also have heard of the sayings
Both quotes speak to the fact that what you focus on grows - if you focus on avoiding something negative it grows out of all proportion; if you focus on something positive, it too expands.
So, obvious as this sounds, shouldn’t you really try and focus on something positive?
Take the example of trying to eat healthily. The more we complain and criticise about ourselves eating chocolate, the more we crave chocolate. The more we aim to fix, control, or force a certain type of behaviour on ourselves the more it occurs. It’s a bit like trying to force an inflatable ball under the surface of the water; it disappears from view where you apply the pressure, but it simply pops up somewhere else.
It’s exactly the same with trying to “control” your body language. Imagine that instead of trying to force yourself to stand still or hyper-focusing on what your hands are doing, you simply stop worrying about it. If instead you were to focus on the needs of the audience, you would stop being so self-conscious.
(As a side note: should you really be keeping your hands still when you speak? Many presentation skills trainers will insist on it, but I don’t. I find that those sorts of rules are very constraining. Sure, waving your arms can be a little distracting, but it is also the actions of the person who is alive and in full communication. In my opinion, when your self-expression is at its peak, you’re probably gonna wave your arms a bit - and good for you!)
We just have to stop worrying about doing everything right and looking good. To help you on your way, I would love to share a few of thousands of photos of me not looking great while speaking!
How about this!!
In fact, if anyone anywhere has a photograph of me where I look super-poised and glamorous while speaking, I would LOVE to see it!
Stop having to look good and start being real, and you will never worry about your public speaking performance again.
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