Talk to the hand


By Matt Britton



Professional actor and award winning theatre director Matt shares his five tips for bringing power and performance to your presentation to help you be a crowd pleaser. Matt facilitates our Presenting with ImpACT masterclass.




Shakespeare is difficult. Fact. At least when you are hearing the words fresh to the ear in the theatre. You might be able to tease out the meaning if you’ve studied the text beforehand. But if you’re ‘to be-ing or not to be-ing’ for the first time, even the sharpest mind can end up in knots.
















A good night out with the bard rests on how well the actor can transport you through time and place for a couple of hours. The best take the complexities of Shakespeare and make them easily accessible with passion and presence.



In a business setting, we are sometimes tasked with enthusing colleagues with complex ideas, through an upfront presentation, a public address or chairing a meeting. Adopting the right physical and vocal characteristics is key to ensuring your audience is on board.



Like the best actors, the best business performers, command presence.



Charisma might look natural to anyone watching in the front row, yet this skill of communication is result of practice, rehearsal and training. And if it’s a skill it can be learned. In other words- Presence can be practiced.



At PACE Development we believe acting techniques can be applied to work situations. Equipping people with the basic tools of an actor is proven to bring out star performances in the workplace. It’s not about pretending to be someone you’re not, quite the opposite. It helps you get to grips with the pressure and pain of presenting upfront, allowing you to engage with your audience positively.



Actors are trained to embody what they speak. A three minute soliloquy from Hamlet isn’t just a case of getting the words out in the right order. The sense is brought not just through what is said but how it is said. The body and the voice are deeply connected in performance. Every movement, gesture, facial expression is carefully thought out in the rehearsal room and then continuously practiced until it appears natural to an audience. For example, an actor will give close thought to how they use their hands during a speech. It has been said that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Passion and presence can be expressed as much through your hands as your words. All this leads us to the question we get asked a lot at PACE, ‘What do I do with my hands when I speak?’



Somewhere along the way, most of us have picked up this advice about public speaking: Stand still. Don’t wander about it. Keep your gestures to a minimum so people can focus on your words.



Wise words. Except studies into TED talks that went viral proved that the most popular speakers were also the most animated. According to the Washington Post, the least viewed talks had an average of 272 hand gestures. Whereas the top-ranked averaged 465 hand gestures during the same length of time. In other words, people don’t just listen to what you say, but how you say it.



The issue for many of us is working out what to do with our hands. Unless we have a plan we can easily fall into the trap of hands in pockets, or worse still – jazz hands!



It can be useful to have pre-planned or rehearsed descriptive gestures to help animate your words.



For example, if you’re talking about a small thing, pinch your fingers. If it’s a really big point, don’t be afraid to raise your hands in the air. Any time you count off less than five points, show it by counting off your fingers.












My five top tips for talking with your hands:



1. Find a comfortable base point for your hands. To avoid looking like you’re conducting an orchestra, choose occasions to use specific hand gestures which reinforce your words, and then take your hands back to a resting place. Hands in pockets can look too casual, we recommend arms by the side, or gesturing as if you’re holding a basketball between your hands. Steve Jobs frequently used this position during his public addresses. It can indicate confidence and control, as if you have all the facts at your fingertips. Your base point should avoid drawing attention to the wrong places. Some speakers clasp their hands in front of their groin. This keeps our hands locked making it difficult to use them more effectively.












2. Imagine a television in front of your torso. Keep your animated arms within this region. Anything that strays out of this area can look unnatural and distracting. Going too wide or too high can communicate insincerity. Contain your movements inside the imaginary  rectangular box in front of your chest and belly.














3. Don’t point. Audiences hate it. It’s confrontational and unwelcoming. If pointing has become second nature to you, try the politician’s thumb. Pinch your thumb into your fist as you point. It’s less aggressive, however, be warned, you are communicating high status with this gesture, so unless you’re the CEO choose wisely.





 Photo credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais














4. For those of us not brave enough to use our hands imaginatively, try the ‘Prince Charles.’ Lock the fingers of both your hands and hold them flat at torso height. As well as working as a comfortable base point for hands, it also enables you to move them around, giving the illusion of expression. Although this isn’t the most effective way of strengthening your non-verbal communication, it is simple and safe, and prevents unconscious fidgeting of fingers or clueless gesturing.

















5. Open palms. Any outstretched gesture should be accompanied with open palms. Behavioural experts call this one ‘no tools, no weapons.’ It shows we have nothing up our sleeves, nothing to hide. By showing open palms it signals I’ve got nothing to harm you, I’m exposed, you can trust me. If you want to build trust- keep your body language open, and that includes your hands.















If you’d like bring power and presence to your presentations, find out more about our Presenting with ImpACT masterclass


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