I attended a wedding awhile back and snapped this photo of the groomsmen. The wedding was deep in the heart of Texas so, of course, it was held in a barn and the groomsmen were wearing matching western shirts, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. It was a fabulous wedding, the people were sure ’nuff friendly and I loved every minute of my visit to the Lone Star State.
The groomsmen stood like guys stand when they become conscious of their bodies and don’t know what to do with their hands. It’s a common problem I see with my public speaking clients every day. Each groomsman represented one of the ways I teach speakers not to stand when making a speech or business presentation — the military at ease position, the hands in the pockets, the fig leaf, and the hands the belt loop. The groomsmen were standing respectfully and they were just fine for the wedding ceremony but the problem with all these positions when you are speaking is that they inhibit your ability to gesture, which is key to being an effective presenter.
What Should You Do?
So, what should you do? How should you stand when speaking? And what the heck should you do with your hands?
What you should do is be yourself — yourself when you’re not nervous or overly self-conscience of your body. I’m going to bet that you don’t stand in any of these unnatural positions when you’re talking to your friends in the parking lot or at the water cooler. And, I’ll bet that you’re not at all concerned about what to do with your hands either.
Your Public Speaking Goal
The goal is this: to gesture naturally as you talk, the way you do when you’re telling a story or a good joke to your friends. So how do you get there? After all, you are nervous! Start by putting your hands at your sides. Then, and this is key, relax your arms from the shoulders down. Once your arms are under control, the nervous energy will travel to your legs and feet so your next step is to plant your feet solidly on the ground. Imagine that your feet are nailed to the floor. With your arms relaxed and your feet planted solidly. You’re now ready to begin speaking.
It will feel awkward at first. Most things do when you start. Remember the first time you shot a layup, tried to rollerskate, swung a golf club or went bowling? It was awkward, right? But through practice, it became second nature. The good news with gesturing is, you already know how to do it. You just need to relax. Following the steps outlined here, you gradually will forget about your body and begin to gesture naturally. I’ve seen some folks stand awkward with their hands at their sides for 45 seconds before they finally forget about their stance and began to gesture naturally. But eventually, they did. And the next time it only took 20 seconds, and the next time 10 seconds, and finally, after enough practice, they just did it from the get-go. They became themselves.
All Hat and No Cattle?
Public speaking isn’t about making you into someone you’re not — or as they say in Texas, someone who is all hat and no cattle. Effective public speaking is about making you more comfortable being yourself. Trust me, I wouldn’t steer you wrong. So go ahead, stand up straight, relax those arms, plant those feet. And before you know it, you will be gesturing as natural and as wide as the horns on a Texas Longhorn.