This is one of the most common questions I’m asked. Many of us use our hands when we’re talking, but the minute we enter “presentation mode” we seem to shut down this part of our communication. We feel uncomfortable and unnatural, and our arms become these useless appendages that are just a problem to solve!

The most important thing to remember about a presentation is that it’s just a conversation. So, we need to behave as we would in a conversation: that means recognisable speech patterns and gesture. If you start going off piste – throwing out wild gestures totally unconnected to what you’re saying, or standing stock still with no movement at all –  your audience are subconsciously not going to trust you or what you’re telling them.

When you’re presenting, you need to be enthusing about your idea and how it will benefit your audience. Gesture is part of that: we become more animated as we get excited, and you’ll look like you don’t care if you don’t engage your body.

On the other hand, if you move too much your audience will become distracted and exhausted.

My top tip is to video your rehearsal. We are usually unaware of our body language until we see ourselves in action. Watch yourself back and see how mobile you are, and if you need to correct any of the following:

Crossed arms. This comes across as defensive, or nervous. Neither of which you want to convey. INSTEAD, practise standing with your arms down at your side. It feels weird at first but, like everything, practice makes it feel more natural. It’s a neutral stance for re-setting – we need moments of stillness between action so that your presentation isn’t a frenzy of arm movements.

Hands in your pockets. This can look too casual, and unprofessional. INSTEAD, take one hand out and use it to gesture naturally. Suddenly, you look relaxed and confident.

Wringing your hands. Whether that’s looking like you’re antibac-ing, or interlinking your fingers, or fiddling with your wedding ring, you’ll look nervous and unconfident. INSTEAD, you could “steeple” your hands together – this is a good “thinking”, transition gesture – be careful not to get stuck like this.

Gesturing below your belly button. This looks low-power – think about footballers defending a penalty kick! You’ll come across as vulnerable and defensive. INSTEAD, keep your gestures between your belly button and your shoulders (any higher will start to look a bit wild).

Apologetic movement. Think of the person who has their arms stuck to their sides and just allows themselves to flap their hands about a bit down by their thighs. This looks supremely unconfident. INSTEAD, commit to your gesture: be clear about your movements by rehearsing them in.

Hands behind your back. Have you been arrested? Or are you waiting for your commanding officer? INSTEAD find yourself a natural “resting” position. This could be the steepling I’ve talked about; hands by your side; one hand in your pocket – whatever you decide your “still” position will be, practise it!!

Touching your face or neck. These are very self-conscious actions, and they tell your audience that you’re feeling uncomfortable. INSTEAD, practise in front of a colleague or friend and ask them to raise their hand every time you touch your face, or fiddle with your glasses, or flick your hair. If you know them socially, ask them to alert you to it when you’re outside of work, too. It’s a habit many of us have!

Standing glued to the spot. The more space you take up, the more powerful you appear. If you stay, rigidly in one place, you look like you’re too scared to move. INSTEAD, decide when you will move – don’t pace, don’t walk continually, just choose points at which you will take a few steps and do so with purpose to a specific place.

Leaning to one side. You look child-like and uncertain when you stand on one foot, especially if the other is pointing inwards. INSTEAD, stand with your feet hip-width apart, leaning very slightly forwards, sending a message of stability and confidence.

Moving constantly. If you gesture too much, it loses its impact. INSTEAD, go through your presentation and highlight the phrases you want to stand out. Use gesture as your highlighter: if you want to emphasize a particular point, decide how you want to use your hands to do this.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that your gesture is meaningful – it’s matched to your content, and driven by what you want to get across. If you spend time before you create your presentation working out what is motivating you – what your message is, and what change you want to inspire – then your movements will be part of that. They’ll be natural and authentic, rather than looking staged and prescriptive (think of politicians who have been “given” a gesture to use, and they get stuck with it – it has no connection whatsoever to the words they’re saying).

Get in touch to work with me on your presentation skills.