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“What should I do with my hands?” (and other presentation dilemmas)

I am often asked this question and it is interesting, because if you think about the last time you were in an audience – I’ll bet that the presenter’s hands are not what you remember most: it’s whether you felt moved, involved, or interested in what they were saying.

And really the hands ‘issue’ is a symptom of not feeling confident, particularly when you want to come across with credibility, authority and influence.

So here are a few of my ‘top tips’ to help you next time you stand up and speak in public or give a presentation:

1. Slow everything down

The adrenaline of presenting or speaking in public usually means we speed up our delivery, our breathing and our speech.  Time goes much quicker when you are presenting that when you are listening in the audience.  Remember to:

– use pauses in your speaking to add impact to your delivery, but also calm your speed

– slow your breathing by taking deep breaths

2. Gestures and movement

If you slow down your breathing and speaking, you can add energy to your presentation with gestures and movement.  A few pointers:

– try to ‘open’ your body language by opening your chest, keeping your arms and legs uncrossed and symmetrical

– have your hands in a relaxed place (by your side, held in front of you – wherever feels natural) and then use them to gesture as you speak before returning to the ‘holding’ position, just as you would in 1-to-1 conversation.  Use your arms as well as hands to gesture, and you can also gesture with your head by nodding agreement.

– use movement to keep the energy up.  You can do this by walking around (not pacing up and down but by using your movement to connect with the audience) and also by ‘stage marking’, where you use the space around you as a reference to what you are describing.

– get the audience moving, if you can.  Involve them physically, by having them pass things around, raise hands to answer your questions, even talking to you or each other.

– use facial movement, through your expressions to convey emotion – particularly if you are relating a story

It can be useful to rehearse your gestures and movement as part of your preparation, so you are almost choreographing your presentation as you practice what you are going to say.

3. Keep Connecting

This is the key to powerful presenting and getting the audience ‘with you’.  Here’s how you can establish and keep your connection going throughout your presentation:

– master your facial warmth – we are usually very serious when we’re nervous, so you need to be aware of your face and relax it.  Smiling is the best way to relax your face – so try to smile at someone in the audience

– eye contact is very important, but don’t just scan the audience like a searchlight.  The trick is to make eye contact with as many people as you can (keep the contact with one person for around 4 secs before moving to someone else) around the audience and remember to keep the warmth going through your eyes.

– don’t read slides and turn your back on your audience – again, a symptom of nerves, but try to avoid doing it.

While delivery is important, your audience is not going to be judging you on it – they are there to be inspired, informed or entertained by the message you have to share with them.  And while you don’t want your message ‘lost in delivery’, you shouldn’t lose your passion or authenticity by worrying too much about your hands.

Caroline Hopkins is an NLP Master Practitioner specialising in presentation skills coaching and training, who works with clients in the North West of England and London to master their confidence and their skills. Click here to find out more about her 1-to-1 coaching and workshops.

To find out more about the next Presentation Mastery one-day workshop, click here for dates and details.

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Help! I’ve Got A Presentation Coming Up

3 Easy Steps to transform all your presentations


I realise that for many people, presentations are a source of stress and worry, but it doesn’t need to be this way because there are a few ‘tricks of the trade’ that will really help you to plan, prepare and rehearse so that you can be confident on the day that you will present well.

By the end of this short eBook (just 12 pages), you will have useful tips and ideas to help you prepare, create content and be mentally prepared to stand up and give a confident presentation.

The free eBook covers topics such as:

  • Some useful questions to help you create good content… quickly!
  • An nlp technique to mentally prepare
  • How to use your voice, movement and words together
  • What to do your hands and how to stand
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