I confess that I am cooking-challenged.  The only way you know it’s time for dinner in my house is when the smoke detector goes off.  But that doesn’t deter me from trying new recipes.  I seem to fall for the ones that say “Simple! Easy!”

Just the other day I tried to make an “Easy!” casserole dish.  I followed these instructions exactly as written:  “While the roux is cooking, chop the stems off the broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces, and microwave for four minutes.”  What they should have said was cook your broccoli before you make the roux so it won’t congeal in the pan.   What a mess.  It looked like something you would use to spackle your wall.

What does this have to do with public speaking?  Simple!  When we say something is easy, it is.  We won’t lie to you.  When it comes to hand gestures that enhance your words, there are three easy steps:

Step One:  Find a comfortable place for your hands to rest near your belt line when you are not gesturing.  We call this the “base position.”  Notice I did not say to find a place near your sternum – otherwise known as the “T-Rex” position.  Not good.  And for the male readers:  try to avoid having your hands crossed “down there.”  It looks like you are preparing for a penalty kick in the World Cup.  

Step Two:  Remember to use both hands equally during your presentation and avoid letting one hand drop down by your side, or wander into your pocket.  Your audience will start wondering how much change you have in there.  Effective speakers are ambidextrous. 

So when should you gesture and when should your hands be resting in the base position?  Simple!  Go to Step Three!

Find two decent sized books.  Not the dictionary, but maybe your favorite detective novels.  Put one in each hand down by your sides.  Stand in front of a mirror and deliver your presentation.  When one of the books moves, chances are you have found a natural place to gesture.  Then it’s a matter of making a gesture that underscores your words.  If the books don’t move, then your hands are best kept in the base position.

While there are many other tips and tricks we use with our clients, the above advice will help you refine your presentation style.  And it’s so “Easy!” 

– Barbara Roche