“My values, our values, aren’t about pointing fingers. They are about offering a helping hand.” — Kathleen Blanco, first woman to be elected governor of Louisiana
Pointing fingers and effective public speaking simply don’t go together. Pointing is often perceived as arrogant, aggressive and rude — not characteristics we want to project to an audience when making a business presentation or speaking in public.
What’s more, pointing at someone in the audience during a talk — for instance, to call on someone during a Q&A — can create a perception of “you” and “them” rather than “we” and “us.” A pointing finger can be perceived as divisive. And anything that can come between you and your ability to make a better connection with your audience should be eliminated.
But what if you are pointing at someone in a friendly way to commend them? What if you were pointing, but smiling and saying something like, “Joe here, he did a great job!” Even when you are announcing good news or saying something nice about someone, a pointing finger lessens the positive impact of your message.
What to do Instead of Finger Pointing
So what should you do instead? How do you point without pointing?
If you do need to acknowledge someone in your audience, try extending an arm toward them with an open hand. This will be seen as a much friendlier, more inclusive gesture. It’s also easier to see from a distance, which could be helpful for those in the back row if you’re speaking in a large room.
You can even use this gesture to call attention to a PowerPoint chart or any inanimate object. “Handouts will be on that table when the session is over.”
An extended arm with an open hand is a great gesture on or off the stage. Try using it in everyday conversations with work colleagues, friends and family. Use it to draw attention to people and objects. Like most things, if you do it often enough, it will become second nature.
What We Say, How We Say It
What we say, and how we say it, directly impacts our body language and gestures. Try shouting angerly and you will find yourself instinctively pointing fingers and making fists. But the opposite is true as well — by changing our gestures to open and friendly, we can affect what we say, and how we say it in a positive way.
You may find that gesturing in a more welcoming, more inclusive way, instinctively changes your word choices and the tone of your voice.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes.