C.O.N.C.E.A.L. Speechfear part 3, ‘N = Never Touch Yourself!

HOW a speaker manages and hides Speech Anxiety symptoms from the audience is the topic of this 7-part C.O.N.C.E.A.L. series.  We are on part three, the ‘N in C.O.N.C.E.A.L. is Never Touch Yourself during a public speech!

While you are naturally nervous, one way to hide this is to never touch yourself or do distracting things with your hands!  There are many movements speakers can do which look nervous including a) hands, b) movement and c) posture movements.

I). Hands are a big challenge for public speakers.  What exactly does one do with them!!!?  Let’s discuss ways to look confident, calm, and controlled.

A). Don’t Touch Yourself!  If speakers touch themselves, such as clothes, face, hair, arms, glasses, jewelry, or anything else on the body, it distracts and looks nervous. For people with long hair, here’s an added note:  flipping hair or touching it can silly looking, reducing credibility. It’s in a speaker’s best interest to pull hair back out of their face so that they can avoid touching it at all, and consciously control hands so as to not touch face or clothes.

B). Don’t move hands too much, especially at first.  Initially when someone starts speaking, most people begin moving their hands too animatedly and fast; however, on a stage these movements do not appear confident or controlled.  I recommend speakers settle their hands at their sides, or on the top sides of their podium.  Hold the hands still, at least at first.  Another option is to clasp hands in a relaxed way in front.  Don’t not move hands too soon in a presentation in order to give an impression of calm assurance.  Add this with a strong posture and eye contact (covered next time), and the speaker will create an impression of confidence. 

This may all sound like it will be really easy; however, in my experience is that speakers do not find this easy or comfortable at first.

C). Hide shaking hands. Shaking is a common symptom of speech fear.  To hide shaking hands, settle them on the top-sides of the podium, using the podium for support.

D). Don’t hold anything for long or it can become a distraction.  Don’t hold or pick up anything that is thin or moves which can reveal this symptom to people.  This includes notes and clickers:Don’t handle your notes. Speakers who fiddle nervously with notes or move around anything in their hands look nervous and unsure. Instead create a page or two of notes you can settle on a podium or table so you do not hold them.  See my trainings on note cards.

Put clicker down sometimes.  Don’t over handle or constantly hold your power-point electronic devices.  When speakers never put the clicker down, the final look may include ‘choir director’ gesturing only at waist level throughout the presentation. I put mine in a jacket pocket.

Don’t slap yourself!.  You’d be surprised how often speakers do this!!! It’s a humorous to watch speakers slap themselves, yet many people throw their gestures, dropping their hand down with force onto their own legs. The impact and force is so firm that the hand-landing-on-the-leg makes a slapping sound.  Speakers do not realize how distracting or how humorous it can be to watch someone hit themselves during their speech. Be conscious of this tendency and take care to control your pace and settle your hands back down quietly after gesturing.

E). Lift gestures to the “box”.  The audience is looking at the speakers face; therefore, I recommend speakers lift their gestures near or around the face or at shoulder-level.  I refer to this as “the box“, an analogy to a camera portrait-framing a face.  This is the range where I recommend speakers move, keeping people looking directly at the face.  If speakers gesture lower, it can cause the audience view to “split”, or look away from the face distractingly.

F). Gesture large in front of a large audience, gesture above head so the larger audience can see the gesture from afar.  Speakers who move large in larger venues look dynamic in contrast with a speaker who appears still and engulfed by a large space.

G). Don’t hold unnatural poses.  There are a couple poses that end up looking silly.  Speakers will appear un-relaxed if they are clasping their hands in a death-tight grip. The audience can see tight grips.  Another is the “prayer or steeple” of the hands, which can appear condescending.  The ‘choir director’ has the arms bent at a 90* angle the entire time and moving only horizontally in front of the speaker at waist level. This occurs most if the speaker is holding something (i.e., clicker).  Placing hands on hips looks bossy and superior.  All of these are avoidable.  It can feel awkward to place hands down, holding still by sides when not in use, but often it looks the best.H). Use the podium.  I believe the most authoritative position non-verbally in public speaking is behind the podium (i.e., only experts are at the podium to speak). When speakers deliver any credible content, such as their introduction, persuasive content, doing so behind the podium looks confident and extremely authoritative.

I).  Don’t pace. If someone is constantly moving back and forth across their stage, doing the same thing over and over, this is the definition of pacing.  The speaker is going to look nervous the action will become distracting.

J. “Pace and Plant”.  The phrasing ‘pace and plant’ seems to help people remember this tip.  Any time a speaker moves, do so larger and intentionally. Movement is good because you use your nervous energy and it looks better to do something. Break up pacing by stopping and plant in one spot for a few 10-15 seconds or so.  Talk to the audience in that area while standing in one spot. Then move-on using intentional or purposeful movement across the stage. 

K). Posture:  finally, stand tall.  Surprisingly many speakers stand in front of people in a droopy, crossed feet, one-legged posture with shoulders tipped at angles verses upright confident posture.  The immediate drop in posture tips shoulders downward.  Standing on one foot causes a need to shift again in a few minutes, creating nervous-looking small movement.  Not standing up straight lacks confidence.  Speakers who stand tall, shoulders slightly back and head up will demonstrate the confident posture choice available.  It usually takes conscious effort to achieve this look.

Summarizing:  hands can be a source of distraction.  If a speaker can set their hands (either to the sides, in front, or on the podium), gesture slowly and calmly up towards the ‘box’ by their face, then their hands will not be distracting.  Do not touch your own body or hold anything in the hands.  Occasionally move intentionally and confidently, but stop every once in a while so that it isn’t constant movement.  The speaker is creating an illusion of calm, but when a speaker holds still for a bit and then moves hands slowly and lifted up (see farther down), the audience will see confidence and ease.

This article was part 3 of a CONCEAL, the ‘N = Never Touch Yourself’.    I look forward to your feedback on how this helped you and how I might be of further help.  You can also view SageForwardTraining.com for additional tips on speaking. 

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