Tales From the Presentation Doctor’s Casebook #1
Case date: 23/08/16 – Subject A
The patient came to me because of their concern relating to gesticulation. “Dear Presentation Doctor, I’m worried that I wave my hands around too much when I speak. What should I do about it?”
Dear “A”, you are not alone. Many people are unsure about what to do with their hands when presenting and feel that they gesticulate too much.
Before deciding what to do about this, I recommend that you start by verifying that you have a problem.
Is This a Genuine Problem?
First ask yourself the question: “How do I know that I wave my hands around too much? Is it just a “feeling,” or is there any impartial evidence? Has anyone ever told you that you do this?
Most people I ask this question of answer “No, it’s just a feeling.”
Of course, it might be that everyone is too scared to tell you, so if you are still in any doubt, I recommend that you ask for honest feedback. If you are a member of a networking group, this should be easy to get. Usually you will have to give a short one or two-minute intro to yourself and your business at each meeting.
Arrive early and ask a few people you trust to watch your presentation closely so that they can give you some constructive feedback afterwards. Even better, ask one of them to video your elevator pitch using their smart phone and to share it with you afterwards.
I know that most people don’t enjoy watching a recording of themselves but, if you are serious about improving, you have to push past your initial discomfort. It’s actually more about unfamiliarity than discomfort and you’ll quickly get over it.
If the feedback and/or the video shows no problem with your gestures then you can stop worrying and let go of your concern.
Treating the Cause Rather than the Symptom
This type of worry is usually a result of focusing too much on yourself instead of the audience. Author James Redfield sums this up succinctly in the phrase “Where attention goes, energy flows.”
In the context of public speaking, we should be directing our attention outwards, towards our audience, and not inwards. When we start paying more attention to the people in front of us, we automatically pay less attention to what’s going on inside of us. Our worries and nerves are forgotten for as long as we maintain that external focus.
The case for using more hand-gestures not fewer
A study by behavioural researcher Vanessa Van Edwards compared the most popular versus the least popular TED speakers in terms of their gesture use. The results are fascinating and surprising.
- The least popular TED Talkers used an average of 272 hand gestures during the 18-minute talk.
- The most popular TED Talkers used an average of 465 hand gestures – that’s almost double!
In this case I was confident that my patient didn’t have a problem and was just oversensitive to her own gestures. When she realised that what she was doing was well within the “normal” range, she said “Now I can stop worrying about how I wave my hands about, and start paying more attention to my audience and how they are responding.”