“When presenting, what do I do with my hands when I’m not gesturing?”
That question came up again last week as I worked with a dynamic group of senior leaders from a large multi-national company.
My answer, of course, depends on the situation and your comfort levels. For instance:
1. Let one arm rest loosely by your side while you gesture broadly with the other.
2. Allow both arms to rest by your sides if you’re going to lean in with your upper body to “confide” something to your audience.
3. My favorite suggestion is to “make a diamond or triangle” by lightly interlacing or touching your fingers of both hands. As performed by yours truly here:
What I don’t ever suggest however, especially for men, is to put your hands in your trousers’ pockets.
Gents: Do not put your hands in your pockets!
This invariably sends a negative message. You may be simply uncomfortable or nervous. But to your audience you probably look at best – too casual or maybe fidgety, at worst – cocky, or disrespectful.
The client who asked me about this – really took it to heart. He took the extra effort to send this illustrative email to his colleagues:
As he indicated, his email included that photo of me I posted up above. And here’s the contrasting “Hands in Pockets” look he referred to from when Irish Rugby player Ronan O’Gara met Queen Elizabeth back in 2009.
Turns out, according to subsequent interviews, O’Gara apparently was just very relaxed and went on to later smile and shake her hand politely. But that didn’t prevent the maelstrom his pockets hands ignited.
So! To avoid such pitfalls when you are next speaking before an audience, or perhaps lining up to meet with the Queen, please, please, remember that seemingly small details can have large consequence.
Thanks to my client for taking time to write such kind words and thanks to you for taking time to read!
Til next time, let me know what you do with your hands when presenting!
I was fortunate to work with the HR department of one of the world’s largest beverage companies this past week.
They were preparing to launch an employee recognition program that is AMAZING!
Simply put, each employee- from top to bottom – will receive 100 points every six months that are redeemable for vouchers like movies, shopping, travel, sky-diving, etc.
That’s not so amazing, you may be thinking. Lots of places do that. That’s just a rewards card. BUT! In this program, you don’t get to redeem your own points. You award them to a peer whom you see doing something that personifies the company BRAND.
It’s Cool. It’s “Pay It Forward” codified by a company.
Unfortunately, due to proprietary reasons, I can’t give you the details. Yet. As soon as this pilot program is successfully ticking along, I plan to absolutely seek a thumbs up from them to tell you – and anybody else who will listen – about this great motivating idea!
What I can tell you is that although this new program was the result of years of internal surveys and had already been socialized in smaller groups, my HR team knew how incredibly pivotal their presentations would be on the official day of the launch. They wanted to leave nothing to chance.
They know we’re all a bit skeptical of change. Especially something that feels “too good to be true” like this program almost does.
Therefore, it was imperative that this plan was announced with a great amount of passion, conviction and genuine connection to the employees in their audiences.
We spent a great deal of time discussing the mindset and backgrounds of the audiences, refining the goals and intent the team had for how their presentation should be received, and of course, an equally great deal of time rehearsing and coaching around the content and delivery of the presentation.
Here, then, is the email I received soon after our session, for which I am grateful:
Many thanks for the session on Monday – I really enjoyed it and just wished that we had longer with you!
We did a full rehearsal yesterday and it was amazing how different our delivery was after our time with you. I’m feeling more relaxed about tomorrow than I expected to after you gave my confidence a lift. So thank you!”
It was a pleasure and an honor to work with people who are truly committed to innovating ways to inspire and motivate others.
And for you out there: Where are you on this spectrum? Are you a naysayer? An innovator? An encourager? Or perhaps even a “Lifter of the uplifter?”
Thanks for the opportunity, folks. Because even the uplifters need a boost now and again. Maybe especially. Here’s to them.
Developing an outstanding presentation takes time and organization.
It’s a combination of crafting compelling content designed to connect with your audience’s hopes, dreams and alleviate fears and then delivering with the right blend of para-lingual and body language techniques.
(Next time, I’ll write about content creation, so stay tuned.)
I’m often asked how to help get rid of nervousness for a presentation. My number one piece of advice is: “Practice!”
And by practice, I mean three things:
1) Speak aloud. Don’t quietly memorize your script to yourself. Do practice aloud and in full volume. Also do not be boring. Do not be monotone. Along with volume, pay attention to the emotion that is behind each word or phrase and make sure to add pitch, inflection, tone and/or pacing to help convey each meaning. Consider emotions like surprise, enthusiasm, frustration, disappointment, imagination, hope and many more. There are so many great ways to play with the sound of your voice. Practicing aloud is where you can begin to hear the difference.
2) Stand and use gestures and expressions. Along with aloud, I also urge you to stand up. Standing up allows your lungs to better be filled with air which provides you the breath support you need to project. Standing is the more commanding and authoritative way to present. If you’re one who wants to appear folksy and approachable, I would probably still encourage you to consider standing instead. Command that room. (Oh, and get away from that dang podium. You don’t need it and it’s just a barrier between you and the real humans in the audience.) Standing also allows you to incorporate important hand gestures. Make broad gestures – even incorporating the whole body at times. Don’t flail your arms at the elbow like a seal. And please, please, please – tell your face that you are delivering some emotion too. Engage your eyes. Hold a smile. Take a pause and really look at the eyes of your audience. Engage!
3) Get in front of a mirror (or while recording video). All of this practice will be more effective if you see how others see you. Stand up and deliver in front of a mirror. Look at yourself. Do you look like you care about your audience? Are you smiling broadly when you are talking about how proud you are about this quarter’s earnings? Are you leaning in when you are encouraging your team that you know they can boost the numbers to reach projections? If you can hit record on your phone or have someone else record you, better still. There’s nothing like watching yourself played back, to help correct areas where you may be flat.
Okay! Those are my top three tips for practicing.
I’m also asked, “How many times should I practice?”
“As many times as you need to do get extremely comfortable with the material.”
You must be solid on your introduction and closing. You should also know the middle well enough to not have to look over your shoulder to read your slide deck – Grr! The more comfortable you are with the presentation, the more comfortable you will be with your audience so you can react and respond in real time with them.
And remember, as with any presentation, it IS all about THEM.
Here’s to great practicing.
P.S. Last word on nerves: While you may never be perfectly calm when speaking before a large crowd, if you discipline yourself to regularly apply careful preparation and practice, you can transfer that extra adrenaline into energy that will make the delivery of your rehearsed script a powerful – and engaging – performance!
For the first time in the twenty years that I have been leading communications training programs, I got push-back that:
Practice Makes Perfect.”
I was in Singapore just over a week ago working with a group of twenty managers from all over the region (photo above is me obviously after the training). I was recording each participant as he or she delivered a message. An executive questioned my practice recommendation saying:
I don’t know. I think I lose the true emotion of what I am trying to say. I think the spontaneity is gone.”
I welcome all challenges. Good dialogue helps us learn more about each other’s perspectives. It also compels me to reflect and reconsider my approaches and opinions. So, we put it to the test. I doubled back to the participant who had just completed his first round video recording and had him give it a second go on-camera.
He edited his content from his previous attempt which made his wording tighter, more concise.
The group agreed that his second time was stronger. But what about his “emotional spontaneity”?
Did he give up some of his initial extemporaneous expressions for those of a more contrived nature? My loyal adversary watched the recordings a couple days later (I give all my participants copies of their video clips to keep) and emailed me that to him, there was a natural and emphatic “blink in the eyes” that you couldn’t have repeated on command with the same impact.
Without debating the impact derived from a single blink, let’s broaden the topic to consider overall impact from a lengthy speech. What are the benefits of practice? Here are some of my reasons:
(This, of course, presumes you have actually written a script or an outline or something on which you can practice. We can’t make that same presumption with Palin.)
2. You will get rid of FILLERS. This is connected to Reason Number 1, but I list it separately to remind you that fillers are killers. When we don’t know precisely what we want to say next, many of us unconsciously add “uhh”, “you know”, “uhm”, “eh” or any other number of distracting – and unprofessional – utterances. These interrupt the smooth flow of our messages and can be completely disruptive to a highly expectant audience. I was told of a performance professional who once counted a whopping 37 of these during a presentation made by someone who had eschewed his urging to practice. Speaking with fillers is a sure-sign that you are a rookie and will undermine whatever it is you’re trying to say.
3. You will be more CONFIDENT. Whenever anyone asks me the best way to reduce nervous butterflies, I encourage them to practice more. When you know what you are going to say, in the order that you are going to say it and have practiced doing so OUTLOUD several times, you WILL gain confidence.
4. Knowing your structure gives you FREEDOM. The confidence you have in knowing what you are going to say, allows you the freedom to be in the moment with your audience. I don’t advocate strict and unwavering memorization of a text. I encourage you to know it well enough that you can relax and have a genuine conversation with your audience. Think about the actor who explores a well-known role. Presentation delivery should be like a pianist playing a concert. You know the piece so well, you are in the moment. You know what emotions your words are conveying. Don’t be a robot. Experience what you are saying with them. Watch their faces for verbal cues and give a little more or edit a bit depending.
5. Your Audience will APPRECIATE your professionalism. When you are comfortable and confident, your audience will be more so too. Nobody wants to watch someone ramble. You’re wasting their time.
6. Your MESSAGE will be MORE clearly understood. As with Reason Number 5, it’s frustrating for an audience to have to try and follow someone who doesn’t have a clear path. Audiences have other things on their minds. It’s up to you to make sure you’re easily understood and remembered. Don’t forget to tell them what’s in it for them!
Okay! There are six reasons why it’s beneficial to practice your next presentation. To help round out this topic, next time, I will outline some helpful tips for HOW to PRACTICE.
I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences with practice. When you did it to perfection and when you didn’t. What happened? What could have happened??
One quick follow-up from my loyal opposition: he has since emailed me that he is going to change his approach and try to practice more. I love that we’re engaging deeper on this issue. That’s how progress is made! He added in his last email that he’s “not a good repeater. Even if I do the same presentation several times, I use different words.”
That’s okay. As I mentioned above, you do not have to memorize your entire presentation word for word – to repeat it exactly the same way every time. I do encourage you to have your introduction and your final closing lines pretty close to memorized. That ensures your message is solidly delivered. But again, the confidence you have from practicing your overall structure, will allow you the freedom to act within that structure.
The more your practice, the more you can really explore!
What happens to your presentation after it’s over? Does it fade away like the memory it has become? Or can you find ways to repurpose it to help add value to your organization, your audience, and your own unique brand?
It all depends on you!
Yesterday, Lulu and I went to our first polo match. In the Chianti hills between Siena and Arezzo, we nibbled on Tuscan-style snacks like Bufala mozzarella and prosciutto served to us by the Villa Sesta Club staff.
As we looked out on the field, we learned that each of the four players on a team has four separate horses to use for each of the four “chukkers” or periods that take place in the fast-paced game.
Four horses each? No wonder it takes a lot of money to play this sport. But, in spite of the apparent wealth, it wasn’t a snooty crowd like I’d imagined from that scene in Pretty Woman –which is about my only previous exposure to polo.
By example, our hosts, equestrian and country-inn Il Pozzo owner Carla Veneri and her dentist boyfriend Federico (plus their dog Amelie) couldn’t be more down-to-earth and laid back.
The exciting game, plus the great food and sun-filled Tuscan sky, made for a, as our very-British-sounding announcer said so well, “Splendid Sunday afternoon.”
So! I could carry the day in my mind, or I could take photos and share my experience – along with my lesson not to prejudge a group before meeting its members – with others. It’s the same with your work.
YouTube. If your presentation isn’t proprietary in nature, have someone record it and put the video on your company’s YouTube channel. Or put it on your own. You or your organization do have a channel, right? If not, it’s super easy to set-up!
Newsletter or Blog. Adapt the transcript of your presentation into a piece for a company newsletter or blog. If you have your own blog, post it there. This way, you can reach employees or potential clients or whoever wasn’t able to attend in person.
Publications. Yes, you heard me! Depending on your content, you can tweak your presentation and submit a query letter to a variety of trade magazines and/or business journals. The Wall Street Journal and WIRED magazine, for example, both offer member-blogs. Why not?
When you consider the variety of ways that you and your hard work can continue to be amplified – by repurposing and promoting your message – you are making yourself more valuable and relevant to your company. That’s another valuable lesson.
As our polo announcer would say, “Simply splendid, indeed!”
Now you’re not up on stage or at a lectern presenting, but you’re engaging one-on-one with members. Yikes! A good Q&A session will not only further demonstrate your command of your topic, but it will also let your audience connect with you as a real person.
A bad Q&A session is one where the presenter breaks down, gets into a side-bar discussion or disagreement with an audience member and generally loses the credibility hopefully gained during the presentation. Don’t let this happen to you!
Like speech preparation, you can also prepare for your Q&A. And that leads me to my first handy tip!
Gina’s quick Q&A tips
Prepare. After you have finished your presentation. Write down as many questions about it as you can. You know the topic. What’s the worst thing you can think of? How would you answer that? Have a friend or partner listen to your speech and ask you questions so you can practice your answers in real time.
Listen. During the Q&A session, listen to the speaker’s full question. This gives you time to absorb and plan your answer. It also ensures you don’t miss the point if the speaker takes an abrupt right turn. Look into the person’s eyes. Lightly nod or smile depending on what they’re saying. Be polite! However, if you have a person going on and on – and you’ll know it when you feel it – it is also perfectly polite to gently interrupt and remind them you want to make sure and answer as many questions as possible, so please “make your point.”
Repeat the question. Depending on the size of the room, whether audience members have access to a microphone, and even the speaking pattern of the participant, it’s helpful to repeat back their question. This lets the listener know you understood and also helps others stay engaged. It also buys you a little extra time if you need it.
Use a thought trigger. Sometimes the words don’t want to come out. Try this: Restate the person’s question as the intro to your answer. Or begin with a superlative like, “the most difficult aspect of this is…” or “the most important thing to remember is…” or “that’s a great question…” We call this answer technique “triggering” because it prompts your brain to sort out your already prepared message and extract it.
Say “I Don’t Know.” If you really don’t know the answer, it’s better to say that forthrightly than to B@#)$@ an answer! But, promise to get the information and follow-up later. And do this. Get the person’s contact information if it’s just between you and him. Or make sure the answer is distributed to all the attendees in some fashion, via e-mail or minutes or whatever.
Stay in control. Remain polite and calm above all things. If you get a difficult or hostile question, that appears genuine, try and answer the person but also take a moment to disarm the speaker. Try to find a common bond like, “Since we’re all associates in X company, I know we share a desire to XX.” If the speaker follows up with another question that’s just mean-spirited, reassure them that you’ll happily talk with them directly after the session is over and remind them you need to take as many questions as possible. Show shared concern, and move on!
Some of these tips are similar to those I give clients during my media training programs. Your audience can be a lot like journalists. They’re informed and they may be provocative. Get prepared and you’ll be ready!
If you’d like more than just a quick tip-list, contact me. I can help you really refine your question answering skills.
I knew it was a lot. But until I researched this article, I didn’t know just how much! Another great reason why you better invest time practicing your presentation: you will be transmitting to your audience in many more ways than simply through the words you have written.
I’ve broken down the categories for you and provided a few thoughts on each:
Clothing and appearance. Dress appropriately to the occasion. Understated and classic is a sure bet. Do not wear something distracting unless it’s quite intentional. Ladies, those large, dangly earrings probably don’t work (unless you’re here in Italy, then no one will notice). Gentlemen, same thing for that tie with any kind of cartoon print.
Locomotion. How do you fill the space? Are you pacing wildly back and forth? Coming out from behind the podium? Your movements here will tell your audience a bit about your experience and confidence – therefore your credibility.
Posture. You might think I’ll urge you to stand up tall and straight here. Sure. But you’re not a Sequoia. Also consider leaning in to your audience at important moments; shrugging your shoulders if there’s a confusing issue at hand; Squatting down low to tell a secret. Don’t act affected, but don’t be a stick either.
Gesture. Here in Italy hand gesturing has been elevated to an art-form! But for everywhere else, it can be an important way to emphasize points too. Turn on the video camera and record you practicing your speech. Watch for the moments where you naturally gesture or could add one for emphasis. Practice opening your arms smoothly and broadly. Don’t jerk those arms or fly them around aimlessly!
Facial expressions. I have seen so many business professionals lose opportunities because they were expressionless cigar-store Indians as they spoke. If you are trying to motivate or persuade your audience, smile! If your quarterly earnings are less than projected, your face might show concern. Remember, your audience is made up of humans, not wooden mannequins. Don’t you be one.
Eye contact. Don’t simply scan the audience. Take moments to really focus. I have clients practice eye-contact by looking at an “audience” of chairs in which I place large photos of professional looking people. I ask the client to look directly at each “person” for four seconds. Depending on my client, I sneak a photo of Marilyn Monroe or (young) Elvis into the back row. When their eyes come across the famous faces, it’s incredible to see their eyes light up. That’s connecting.
Touch. During your presentation, you’re probably not near enough to touch anyone. But if you do have audience interaction, be aware a friendly handshake or a light hand on a shoulder or elbow are perceived as friendly and caring. Obviously touching is only appropriate when – appropriate!
Paralanguage. This is the scientific term for what I call the “spice” of communication. These are my favorite: pitch, pacing, volume, inflection, emphasis and tone. Please, please! Play around with these. Take one of your sentences and vary the pitch. Start fast and slow down when you want to emphasize a point. Try raising and then lowering your volume. Emphasize a different word. Listen to how each of these subtleties dramatically changes your sentence.
Just like the right combination of spices in food – if you flavor your speech with a variety of non-verbal and paralanguage techniques, your presentation will be more delicious. Everyone remembers a great meal!